In “True Story,” Michael Finkel, a star reporter at The New York Times, loses his job after he fictionalizes a story about modern-day slavery in Africa.
Reeling from his swift dismissal, Finkel learns that an accused murderer, Christian Longo, assumed the reporter’s identity prior to being apprehended. Later, the ex-reporter and imprisoned alleged murderer agree to meet. As Finkel interviews Longo for a book about the case, the writer’s professional detachment from his subject blurs.
British director Rupert Goold makes his feature film debut with “True Story.” An award-winning stage director in the U.K., Goold also co-wrote the film adaptation of Finkel’s 2005 book, “True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.”
“All my life, really, I’d wanted to work in film,” Goold said.
But becoming a film director seemed unlikely for Goold. Coming from a family that didn’t even own a camera, the world of cameras, lenses and filmmaker were out of his reach.
“I grew up with books and theater,” he said. “So that was the world I gravitated into. I had made my peace with that and thought, ‘Well, I’m going to be a stage director and that will be my career.’ ”
Goold’s direction of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” featuring Patrick Stewart — for London and New York stages and then British television — changed his trajectory.
“Not only did ‘Macbeth’ turn out well, but I loved doing it,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is crazy not to try and give this (directing films) a go. I got very lucky with ‘True Story.’ ”
After “Macbeth’s” success, Goold flew to Los Angeles to pitch his talent to Hollywood.
“I took a whole bunch of meetings,” he said. “Didn’t really expect anything to come off, but I thought it would be a great experience.”
“True Story” was among the director’s favorite prospects for a feature-film debut. The “True Story” producers turned their script over to him and he worked on it for the better part of year.
“I wanted it to feel like an affair, a deep and meaningful encounter between these two men, which I think it genuinely was,” Goold said. The director caught a break when actor James Franco, who’d seen the TV “Macbeth,” expressed interest in playing Longo.
“Once James came onboard, things really began to snowball,” Goold said.
From a story perspective, “True Story” interested the director because he’s fascinated by shame. That particular human emotion is a huge motivator, Goold said, especially when it’s experienced by men. It so happened that, during the film’s development, Goold’s brother lost his job.
“I witnessed what that did to a man, losing his livelihood, the humiliation of that,” the director said. “I found that very moving. My brother’s loss was, in some ways, like Longo’s and Finkel’s loss.”
Having helmed one feature film, Goold definitely wants to do more.
“I’d love to. But you can line something up and then things fall apart. Finances fall apart, actors aren’t free anymore. A million different reasons. It’s a miracle any film gets made. That’s less true in theater.”