Spotlight, out Friday, Nov. 6, is an ode to the power of journalism, long before Google replaced library searches and emails replaced working the phones. It’s a special movie that focuses on how journalists can become unlikely heroes when they dig into a topic—and dig and dig and dig and dig and dig. The film follows The Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team, which was tasked to cover the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. What they uncovered was a world of cover-ups that reached the highest-ranking officials in the city and the Catholic Church. Their work won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. The film features an ensemble of stars as the Globe’s team of journalists uncovering and then covering the scandal, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James, and Liev Schreiber.
We caught up with the cast at the Toronto International Film Festival, where they said that it was an incredible experience to play journalists who used their jobs to do good for their local community. “When I read this script, I thought it was a remarkable love letter to local investigative journalism,” said Schreiber. “It’s something that we really, really need in our culture and society. It’s something that’s incredibly important and something that we’re in danger of losing.”
James, who plays the reporter following the case, Matt Carroll, supports the integrity this film portrays. “At the end of the day, it is about people who are truly passionate about what they do and are telling stories that need to be told,” he said. “If there is anything this movie could do to tilt journalism back towards that in any way that would be a huge success.”
Slattery, who plays Ben Bradlee Jr., the Globe’s deputy managing editor, agrees. “People get their news from a lot of different outlets now, but it’s more of a headline digest—instant and with less depth,” he said. “If you don’t commit the resources to have journalists dig into a story over a long period of time in a really thorough way, than you’re not going to get to the bottom of the a lot of issues. Some of these newspapers can’t afford to cover their own state legislatures or police and fire departments. It’s dangerous. Newspapers offer a check and balance.”
That’s why the cast spent time with their real-life counterparts to properly portray them and their work on the big screen. To prepare for his role as Martin “Marty” Baron, the editor in charge of the Globe at the time, Schreiber visited with Baron himself at his new job in Washington, D.C., as the editor of The Washington Post. “In speaking to him, I realized what a delicate balancing act it is to be an editor, period,” he said. “One of the things that I admired immediately was his tact and his restraint, combined with a real intensity and doggedness when it comes to investigative journalism. It was very intimidating to play someone like that.”
Yet, he was compelled to take the role. “Once or twice in your career you have the opportunity to do something really substantive, and the sense I got from this is that we were getting to play some very special people in some very special circumstances,” he said. “I could tell that we were on to something really unusual.” Indeed, when you watch the film, it will make you appreciate the newspaper business, and how investigative journalism can truly make a difference.
Watch a trailer for Spotlight below.
With additional reporting by Karen Levy.