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Arts & Entertainment

David Mamet on stretching the 'truth' in HBO's 'Phil Spector'

Writer and Director David Mamet draws on the life of Phil Spector for his HBO film,
Writer and Director David Mamet draws on the life of Phil Spector for his HBO film, "Phil Spector," starring Al Pacino and Helen Mirren.

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You won’t find a more diverse and prolific list of credits than that of David Mamet's. "Glengarry Glen Ross," "About Last Night," "Hoffa," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and "Wag The Dog" are just a few examples of his willingness to embrace controversial topics with style and substance. This time around he takes on the weirdness that was the Phil Spector trial, for HBO.

Mamet has said that the film, starring Academy Award-winners Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, is a “work of fiction.” Fiction or not, the portrayal of the iconic “Wall of Sound” producer who was famous for pulling guns on musicians well before he was famous for his eccentric coif is already drawing attention. Critics have praised Pacino for his portrayal of Spector and the dynamic between Pacino and Mirren, who plays Spector’s defense lawyer. 

Writer and Director David Mamet joins AirTalk with guest host Patt Morrison to talk about the inspiration for this film, why he chose to depict Spector’s personal side in such a way, and the relationship between Spector and his lawyer that drives the movie.

Interview Highlights:

On how the film isn’t a biopic:
“It's a movie, it's a story! Every time I see a movie that says ‘based on a true story’ my immediate thought as a member of the audience is ‘I don't care if its based on a true story, I care if it is a true story.’ Which means, is it consistent? The study of what happened, as I understand it is called ‘history,’ so you live through a couple of generations you see one generation's historical certainty is revised in the following generation and back and forth we go in time.”

On how stories change as they’re told through different people/media:
“It’s also because we human beings are a crazy bunch of monkeys and we want novelty. For example in the movie Al Pacino playing Phil Spector says to Helen mirren playing his lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden, ‘Why'd they kill Christ?’ She says ‘Because he was the son of God,’ He says ‘no they killed him because he was still the son of God, still is not news."

On what about Phil Spector that engages him as "still" Phil Spector?
“I don't know! I mean I don't know Phil Spector. I got in touch with him through his lawyer and I said I liked to come visit and his lawyer wrote back, ‘Thank you for your interest he'd rather have privacy.’ Of course I understand that … I think the question that's driving some of the newspapers nuts, as if they needed any help, was what relationship does this have to reality? And my question is ‘how the hell do we know?’ I mean if you look at the newspapers, what relationship does any politician’s reputation have to reality?"

On allegations that the film is misinforming:
“Anytime you put somebody up on the screen, what you're doing is a fiction. Even if you call it a documentary, it’s still a fiction because at the very least you have to choose what you're going to show and the order you're going to put it in. It doesn't matter that they say shoot for show and cut for dough, unless you wanted to show nine months of 12 hours a day of the O.J. case, what you're showing is a fiction, because if you had some scissors and pot of glue you could cut the actual footage to look like he's a monster, or you can cut him to look like he's an innocent victim.”

On what drives the movie:
“So the question of the movie is really not about Phil Spector, it’s about the character Linda Kenney Baden, who's his lawyer. The question is although she's convinced he's guilty, although she hates him, although she despises him and wants nothing to do with the case, she's tested, and her test is to what extent can she put aside prejudices and fulfill her oath as an officer of the court to see that he gets a great defense.”

On if he thought Spector was wrongly convicted:
“It doesn't matter to me as a filmmaker, I would hate to think that an innocent person went to jail. There's an ancient Talmudic phrase which is ‘Where there is law, there is injustice,’ so what we've come up with in the West as a substitute for ordeal, you know let’s throw them in the water and see if they sink, if they sink they're innocent, or let’s torture them and see if the devil comes out, or let’s draw lots to see if they're guilty or not. What we've come up with is an equally imperfect but perhaps more humane system whereby we say ‘We don't know if he's innocent or not, nobody can know what happened in the room it's impossible.”

Weigh In: 
Does a fictionalized account of the Phil Spector trial sound interesting? And for that matter, what is the line between fact and fiction when telling the story of a life recklessly lived?

David Mamet, writer and director of HBO’s “Phil Spector” that premieres Sunday at 9 P.M. on HBO