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As blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo,” Bryan Cranston resurrects a dark chapter in Hollywood history. While the actor will never know how the late screenwriter would react to his performance, other famous names who survived the blacklist era have seen the movie — including Kirk Douglas, who turns 99 next month.
During a recent lunch in New York to celebrate this week’s release of “Trumbo,” attended by Michael Douglas as well as the cast of the film, producer Michael London recalled the experience of joining Cranston for a screening of “Trumbo” for the older Douglas, who’s portrayed in the movie by Dean O’Gorman. “We waited in the living room,” London said, during a Q&A moderated by blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein. “He came out and gave Bryan a huge, huge hug. He was very moved. He loved the movie and talked a great deal about how much Trumbo had meant to him.”
London addressed the younger Douglas, who was seated nearby. “Obviously, this has been a big part of your father’s legacy,” London said. “It was a wonderful thing for us to get that approval. It made us feel as if 50 years had just vanished.” London turned to Bernstein. “That’s what really make it feel like all of this is very present and could happen anytime — because it’s so alive in your minds,” London said. “That’s a great gift to hear all of you talk about it and realize the emotional impact.”
Earlier in the conversation, Cranston recalled the educational process he experienced when preparing for the role. “I’m ashamed to say I only knew a cursory amount of history about the blacklist,” he said. “This was an opportunity to to dive into it and find out the truth about what really went on. The most surprising — and disappointing — thing I found out in my research was the collusion that was perpetuated: Our union contributed to solidifying the blacklist.”
For Cranston, Trumbo’s refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee was an act of necessity. “I don’t think Trumbo sought this fight,” Cranston said. “It came to him. I don’t think he’d consider what he did heroic. Now, we look back, and there was some heroism going on. But when you’re not living a hypothetical — it is happening in your life — all you can do is fight.”
Bernstein added that the blacklist wasn’t an anomaly in American society. “It’s a question of remembrance,” he said, recalling how FBI agents used to search through his garbage and confront him on the subway. “We have to remember that this country isn’t just the shiny city on the hill. A lot of bad things went on, and there’s the propensity for them to continue. A film like this is a strike against that — apart from being wonderful entertainment.”
“Trumbo” opens in limited release this Friday.