The new film "Kill the Messenger," based on a book of the same name, tells the true story of investigative reporter Gary Webb. In 1996, Webb wrote a series of controversial stories titled "Dark Alliance" for the San Jose Mercury News. In it, he connected the crack epidemic, which swept through Los Angeles in the 1980s, to the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua.
But shortly after, several news sources discredited Webb's series and his own newspaper even backed away from him. Webb eventually left the San Jose Mercury News and never worked in daily newspaper again. He later committed suicide.
Actor Jeremy Renner both starred and served as executive producer. Renner was born in Modesto, California, not far from where Gary Webb did most of his groundbreaking work, which turned this project not into something he wanted to do, but something he "had to do creatively."
What compelled you most about this story?
The story goes back to why I enjoy my job as an actor. The stories I like to tell are everymen in extraordinary circumstances. And that it was this true story that happened 70 miles near where I grew up and knew nothing about, turned it from a story I wanted to tell creatively to a story I had to tell creatively. It was just too dang important to pass up.
Knowing that I was going to have to jump on as a producer, and what that means is I would have to do it for free, gladly. It was something I knew we would have to get very creative in how to make it and make it for budget and call in some favors from some friends and luckily everything fell into place.
Of all the preparation you did for this role, what helped you the most in terms of unlocking not only what it's like to be a journalist but the kind of journalist Gary Webb was?
For me, where I had to start was with him as a man, as a father, as a husband and a human being outside of journalism. Then that's sort of what bled into him and why he liked his job. I ask a lot of whys. Because why we are what we are in life makes us very specific. Because there's a lot of journalist out there, there's a lot of actors out there. But why we do what we do makes us specific. And I found there was a very courageous, brave man. Kind of rebellious, stubborn, self-righteous. I could come up with a dozen other adjectives that sort of define a leader or a shepherd or a pain in the ass, even. And I think Gary Webb is all of those things and what made him great was also the very thing that brought him down, I think—his pig headedness, which made him great in his search for the truth and his stubbornness to find that also took him down rabbit holes that lead him to his depression, his demise.
In your opinion, why didn't Gary Webb, a husband and father, go a safer course?
It wasn't in his nature. If he felt he could have stopped and did stop, why do something halfway? From where I sit, I honor what he does, I think we need more Gary Webbs in the world.
Gary Webb committed suicide 10 years ago, seven years to the day of when he resigned from the San Jose Mercury News. If you had a chance to talk with him, what would you ask?
If I had a moment to chat with him, I'd want to know what he laughed at. There are a lot of smaller things I'd probably prefer to know as opposed to one big question.