Rob Ford was no ordinary mayor. He was regularly involved in controversy from 2010 to 2014 as he ran the city of Toronto. Ford was, in particular, repeatedly videotaped and photographed while intoxicated in public, culminating in his being recorded smoking crack cocaine as reported by the Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle of the Toronto Star. The Star won the Michener Award, one of the highest distinctions in Canadian journalism, for investigative journalism.
“The Toronto Star exposed Ford’s public drunkenness, boorish behavior, abuses of his office, and existence of a video of him smoking crack cocaine accompanied by members of drug gang. The Star did not waver as the mayor countered every story with vehement denials and attacks.”
And the police investigation the scandal triggered resulted in Ford losing most of his mayoral powers in a quite undignified way.
Now, while it was not surprising to find out Damian Lewis, who was born to bring massively flawed characters to life on screen, was cast to play this “flashy, unpredictable politician with no filter” the casting was surprising since Damian Lewis and Rob Ford are not exactly long lost twins… And it really took time for us to lift our jaws up from the floor when we saw pictures of Damian arriving on set…
…and then leaving his trailer seven hours later as Rob Ford wearing a “Ford Nation” tshirt, a reference to the mainly suburban supporters of Ford and his populist conservative agenda…
…and later in full costume as the mayor of Toronto! WHOA.
Damian has shared in an interview with Kit Magazine that the process of getting fitted for prosthetics involved getting his face and head completely covered in silicon strips, breathing through a small hole near the nose and he has later kindly helped us understand the process with this unsettling photo on Twitter. YIKES! 😀
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) April 26, 2018
So Damian Lewis, ahem, Rob Ford runs the town in Run This Town; however the movie is not a Rob Ford biopic. Ricky Tollman, who has written and directed the movie, explains:
“This isn’t the Rob Ford story, this is a story about people that I know and people I grew up with and a generation of people.”
Given that Tollman is a 32 year old making his directorial debut with Run This Town, when he talks about the people he grew up with, he does talk about the millennials! And while Rob Ford character is “in a few key scenes and a few key moments” in Run This Town, the plot is centered around a couple of millennials! There is a newsroom intern, portrayed by the Tony Award-winning Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt, who wants to break the story on the Rob Ford crack-smoking scandal but he is several steps behind the other reporters. And there are two young political aides to the mayor, portrayed by Canadian actors Mena Massoud and Nina Dobrev, who do their best to keep Ford in check, to keep his scandals under wraps and ultimately to save their jobs. Jennifer Ehle is cast as Platt’s character’s boss, and Scott Speedman and Gil Bellows complete the cast. And I am happy to report Damian’s reaction to Ehle’s casting is exactly the same as mine: I first fell in love with her Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and was also lucky to see her terrific performance in Oslo, a play that went on to win Tony Award for Best New Play in 2017.
This movie just got better. https://t.co/onEmR2qnEA
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) April 5, 2018
Director Tollman shares in an interview with The Globe and Mail that while Rob Ford obviously had a tumultuous time in the mayoral office, he wanted to paint “a sympathetic portrait” of the late mayor in the movie.
“I didn’t want to portray Rob in a way that people already imagined him, or in ways he’s already been portrayed in the media…. I think Rob isn’t just a caricature, he’s a person and he’s a human, he had two children and a wife and a family, and he cared very deeply about the city he was the mayor of. And this was a guy with demons. I wanted to show a side of him that people forget about.”
Now, one can argue it is not straightforward to see why Tollman has cast Damian for the role of Rob Ford because there are talented actors out there who physically look much more like Ford than Damian. But then when you hear the director Tollman talk about Rob Ford “as a guy with demons” then you know there is probably no other actor than Damian who could give a human touch to this larger-than-life character with a complicated inner world.
But Damian playing Rob Ford is certainly an opportunity for a late time talk show host like James Corden to pick on the actor! And their exchange this summer at Corden’s London special was hilarious!
Corden: “Me [James Corden], Jim Gaffigan, Jack Black, occasionally Jonah Hill, Josh Gad…we’re getting together to start a group to say we feel this is unacceptable. You’re essentially just stealing our jobs.”
Damian: “You’re looking very trim”
Corden: “No this is bullshit. Fat lives matter Damian, okay? Fat lives matter! That’s all I’m saying.”
Tollman who praises Damian as “one of the most talented actors working today” talks about why he has recruited Damian for the role.
“I thought that this is a guy that can play the moments of darkness and depth but can also play the lighter moments. Rob was a guy that was elected because people wanted to grab a beer with the guy, you know?”
Well, when you make a movie with a real-life character who was involved in numerous scandals and controversies, it is likely that the movie itself may get caught in a controversy. Accordingly, Robyn Doolittle, a Toronto Star reporter who broke the Rob Ford scandal with her colleague Kevin Donovan and also wrote the book Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story (my current bed time reading!) tweeted a sarcastic message about the movie.
I'm glad they're rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford. Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it? Ammaright? https://t.co/Nx3holhuZW
— Robyn Doolittle (@robyndoolittle) April 10, 2018
And once several media outlets shared Doolittle’s tweet suggesting that Run This Town was changing the story, Ben Platt responded with a clarifying message on Twitter:
— Ben Platt (@BenSPLATT) April 10, 2018
Ricky Tollman, in his interview with The Globe and Mail, explains that Ben Platt’s character in Run This Town is not based on any real-life journalist at Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail, or Gawker, who broke the case, and the movie is not about that story and that all characters, except for Mayor Ford, are completely fictional.
Damian also tweeted to clarify that the movie is not about Robyn Doolittle when asked by a fan about why Robyn Doolittle is not a character in the movie.
Want to be clear that Robyn Doolittle’s role in Run This Town is NOT being played by a man. This is not a movie about RD (sorry). The main journo character is fictional and loosely based on someone else entirely.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) April 12, 2018
We all know less is more with Damian on screen, that is, he can convey a lot without words and just using his face. Now that he will be buried under prosthetics, he will only have his eyes, his voice, his hands and body language to an extent with us in the movie. Thus, I cannot wait to see whether I will be able to “see” Damian in the role. And while I bet I will, I am looking forward to seeing how Damian tackles this challenge!
Run This Town does not have a release date yet, but we expect it to open sometime in 2019. It is obviously too early to make a guess about where the movie may premiere but given that this is a film about Toronto and that Toronto has its own great international film festival, I wonder if there may be a chance for a premiere at TIFF. Watch this space for more!