In Part 2 of our coverage of the Showtime miniseries THE COMEY RULE, premiering in two parts, Sunday, September 27, and Monday, September 28, we hear more from writer/director Billy Ray and actors Jeff Daniels (who plays former FBI Director James Comey), Michael Kelly (who plays FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe), Jennifer Ehle (who plays Comey’s wife Patrice), Oona Chaplin (who plays FBI lawyer Lisa Page), and Steven Pasquale (as FBI agent Peter Strzok).
Ray gives his reason for making the miniseries. “I felt that the Russians had had a profound and unhappy effect on our political process in 2016, and I wanted the American public to know about that before they went to the polls in 2020. I would love to hear from my actors, why they felt it was important to be a part of this.”
Ehle offers, “I thought it was an interesting thing to be involved in an interesting story to help tell.”
Kelly relates that he felt, “It was an important story to tell, and never more evident than now when we know for a fact, just like we knew for a fact all the intelligence agencies saying in ’16, that there were foreign actors doing their best to influence that election. It’s happening again, and I think it’s so important to remind people to tell this story. I did not do this to sway anyone’s vote, but I do think it’s important – I don’t care what side of the aisle you are on – to be as informed as you can possibly be. I look at this project as an incredibly informative piece.”
Chaplin opines, “I thought that this was a really important piece of drama to dive into, first because of Billy and all of the amazing cast, but also because I felt really curious about the people. Politics is kind of the same, whether you are on the left or the right. It’s kind of an old‑fashioned and obsolete system. No matter how much integrity [someone has], you roll through those systems. We get undesirable result after undesirable result. And I just wanted to feel through the personal journey of somebody that’s actually a part of those structures and then go through the disappointment at those structures always playing against us as people.”
Pasquale says, “In this information war that we are in right now, the right‑wing media echo chamber has painted the Russian investigation and the Steele dossier as if [they were] completely debunked, absurd, deep‑state conspiracy. To me, getting in the room with the FBI, which has to deal with a decades‑long intelligence ally, [Christopher] Steele, who was providing reliable intelligence for decades, and what to do about the intelligence that he was bringing to them, is a story that I feel like a lot of people maybe don’t know because they’ve been drinking the Kool‑Aid of this absurd media landscape that we are dealing with right now. So, for me, it was really about reminding people that the FBI has to do things by the book. They are incredibly dedicated, as Billy would describe them, radically competent people, and I wanted to get inside of that and share it.”
Daniels agrees, and adds, “This project mattered, it would have relevance. Those who felt they knew why Comey did what he did will learn things because not all of our information is available on Twitter. Sometimes you’ve got to dive deeper, and this is a deep dive into why Comey did what he did. Also, you find out that he was an apolitical guy, really tried to stay true to that. Many followed him, like Fiona Hill, and Maria Yovanovitch, and Colonel [Alexander] Vindman, and William Taylor, and others. This country is so deeply divided that it was a relevant story to tell. I also felt also that [Comey] was vilified, certainly by Trump. That’s the only part of the story that we knew, Trump’s version, which is, ‘Comey is a liar.’ Okay. Here’s the other side. You decide. See you on November 3rd.”
How did the other actors approach their parts?
Kelly had read Andrew McCabe’s book. “I was also able to, through Billy, get in touch with Andrew. We talked first via email, and then he agreed to meet me for a coffee, which ended up turning into a lunch and a hang for a couple hours. Billy had said, ‘I don’t want you to “do” him. I want you to grab the essence of him.’ So, my whole mission in sitting down with him was to try and grab the essence of the man and understand him. It ended up being great, because we talked family and politics and policy, and everything that I wanted to know about him, I learned just in having conversation with him, if that makes sense. And I have great, great admiration for him. You know, here’s a lifelong Republican, someone obviously from the other side of the aisle from me. But it’s more like you disagree on policy. All this other craziness that’s happening now is a different world to him as well.”
Pasquale explains, “Oona and I play Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who have been as vilified in this process as anybody. Peter Strzok’s got a new book out. I’m dying to read that. But these are two people who were dedicated, lifelong public servants and really good at their job. And the fact that they were summarily smeared and dismissed because of who they sleep with by a bunch of people who are defending a person who is a lifelong sexual predator is the height of hypocrisy. I wanted to get inside what that relationship was a little bit.”
Chaplin says, “There was very, very little footage or interviews or anything with Lisa Page. She’s a very private person. So, I trusted the script. And I observed very closely a dear friend of mine who’s a very serious writer, very bright and very passionate. And then, funnily enough, when we were filming in December [2019, Page] started speaking out, so then I got to see her a little bit. And, actually, she was quite close to my friend. I could almost see them being sisters, so I was happy that I had that hunch. But I relayed a lot on the other cast members.”
“I relied mainly on the script and on Billy and Jeff,” Ehle relates. “I never met Patrice, but I communicated a little bit with her a month or so before we began, but just a little bit. I mainly treated it like any script. And any chance to stand opposite somebody amazing like Jeff. And to work with somebody like Billy, who also knows Patrice and respects her and cares for her.”
Ray compliments his cast. “However they approached it, they all wound up with the same result, which is, they just killed it. Great actors delivering great performances and being truthful. What more can you ask for as a director? I mean, my cup runneth over.”
Brendan Gleeson portraying Donald J. Trump in THE COMEY RULE. Would any of the actors ever want to tackle playing Trump?
Pasquale replies, “Oh, man. I wouldn’t want to touch it with a ten‑foot pole, but Brendan seems to ride the line completely between what is an impersonation and what is a real person so that you don’t get lost watching him do Trump. You get to watch him play from inside the character. I think what he does in it is extraordinary.”
Daniels, on the other hand, says, “I’d love to play him. I’m glad Brendan did, but, yeah, I would have jumped at it. Because there’s risk involved. You could fail miserably. If you do it right, he’ll hate it. All those reasons.”
Kelly agrees, “But I would be petrified, because it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to get skewered. I think that’s cool. I’d be up for the challenge, but I’d take it for what it is.”
Ray urges Chaplin and Ehle to answer the question as well.
“Of course I want to play Donald Trump,” Chaplin declares. “I think I’d do a pretty good job as well. I might need some time and burgers, but it would be good.”
Tongue in cheek, Ehle maintains she’d decline. “It would be typecasting.”
Ray reveals, “By the way, Brendan said no the first time that we offered him the part. Jeff and I had a lot of consternation about that, because we thought he’d be so right for it. Happily, a month later, he changed his mind. I’m very, very glad that he did. And I’m very glad he’s in Ireland [where Gleeson lives] right now, away from all of this craziness. I wouldn’t want to expose any actor to the flack that I imagine Brendan is about to get from our current president.”
Does Ray know what caused Gleeson to change his mind and play Trump after all? “I don’t. I never asked him, because it didn’t matter and I didn’t need to know.”
Daniels suggests, “I think his manager was leaning on him pretty hard.”
Was there a particular scene that each of the actors found especially tough? Daniels says, “For me, it was the family scenes, the stuff with Jennifer. That was just hard, because that’s where you learn how it impacted the family, and it isolated Jim even more.”
Ehle isn’t sure. “I mean, emotional scenes are fun. It’s fun to go to work on on a good script. I don’t take it personally, I guess. So, I don’t wake up in the morning and look at the call sheet and go, ‘Oh, God. Today’s that day where I have to go to that place.’ I don’t know.”
For Chaplin, “The last day was, I think, the toughest day, because I had such a good time with everybody here and everybody that was on that set, it was really sad to say goodbye to everyone.”
Pasquale says, “The people in the Crossfire Hurricane room, which was Oona and Michael Kelly and Steve Zissis and maybe Brian d’Arcy James and myself and Jeff, ‘emotional’ maybe is the wrong word, but there was a feeling of pressure to really get it right. Billy wrote really FBI-friendly language, which is hard to do, so I think we wanted to get it right more than anything else. That had a certain amount of anxiety attached to it.”
For Kelly, it was the scene where his FBI Deputy Director McCabe “takes a stand on the phone against Trump and then has to sit down and assume [Comey’s] seat at the table. Leading up to that, you put a lot of pressure on yourself because you want to get it right. You want to be faithful. You want to do the best job you can do. But when you’re doing it in the moment, like Jennifer said, that’s fun, man. That’s where you really feel. I felt all through this thing, because I think a lot of us feel so passionate about this project and about what we are saying. But when you feel it, when you’re there on set and you actually feel something, you can’t duplicate that.”
Pasquale adds, “When Michael Kelly was shooting that scene where he’s talking to Donald Trump on the phone, I remember thinking to myself the last line of dialogue is Donald Trump saying [to McCabe, about McCabe’s spouse Jill, who had lost a senatorial campaign], ‘Ask your wife how it feels to be a loser.’ I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way that that writing is going to fly.’ But it’s not writing. It’s what Donald Trump actually said to Andrew McCabe on the telephone. That is an actual thing that this person said to Andrew McCabe on the telephone. So, the people who are watching need to understand that. See you on November 3rd.”
Ray recalls, “Right before we started shooting, I went to dinner with Jennifer and with Jeff, and I said to them if, by the end of this shoot, this isn’t the best working experience you’ve ever had, I’ll be disappointed. That’s how I feel about my actors. I love them. I love them for taking a chance on me, I love them for taking that leap. And I try every day to make it the best working experience that they’re ever going to have, because they earn that. And yes, some scenes are tougher than others, but they were all so supportive of each other. They were also supportive of the project itself that you could see them sustaining each other through things, and it shows in their work.”
Kelly returns the compliment. “I’ll speak about you right in in front of your face here, Billy. You can’t ask for a better leader. The guy is the hardest worker I know, and he’s the only director I know that will personally go up and thank every single crew member by their name at the end of the day. That guy is there before you every day. He’s there after you [leave] every day. You know when he goes back to his hotel room at night, he’s working harder than you are. So, you try to live up to Billy.”
Ray seems embarrassed by the praise. “Thank you. Next question before I start blushing.”
Have there been any new revelations that have surfaced since THE COMEY RULE was completed that has made anyone involved rethink any elements of the miniseries?
Ray responds, “I would say the only thing that has come out in the last couple months that made me rethink anything has been I have decided we took it too easy on Rod Rosenstein, and way too easy on Donald Trump Jr.”
Pasquale adds, “This revelation that Rod Rosenstein really got in there and made sure that Mueller had got guardrails that would prevent him from following where the facts may lead in terms of the Russia investigation, Trump’s ties with Russia, his financial dealings, his business dealings, which clearly and obviously would lead to tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering. That investigation, according to Peter Strzok in his new book, has yet to happen, and that’s completely absurd.”
How does Ray believe the current U.S. President will react to THE COMEY RULE? “I gave up predicting how Donald Trump would react to things about five years ago. I have no idea how he will react. I imagine it will be on his radar, and I think it’s likely that the IRS will start auditing my taxes, but that’s just a guess. I think, at the very least, I’m in for a mean nickname on Twitter. We didn’t make this series to change people’s votes, at least for me.”
How does Ray think people in general will respond to THE COMEY RULE? Comey has, after all, received large amounts of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. “I have not seen any signs in the last four years that the American public has lost its appetite for information about Donald Trump, or our democracy. I think this country is one hundred percent engaged, and one hundred percent curious, and I think that, although they may all have a point of view about Jim Comey, just like they all have a point of view about Donald Trump, I don’t see a way for them not to watch this, because the actors are too good, and the buzz is too strong. And I think that, once they are watching, they are going to see that it’s actually a very fair and critical look at a lot of people and the decisions they made in 2016 and how it affected our democracy.”
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Article: Interview with writer-director Billy Ray and actors Jeff Daniels, Michael Kelly, Jennifer Ehle, Oona Chaplin and Steven Pasquale on THE COMEY RULE mini-series – Part 2