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BEIRUT

About The Production
The story of Beirut begins long before Tony Gilroy established himself as the acclaimed storyteller behind The Bourne Identity, Academy Award Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton and global hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Back in 1991 while working on the romantic comedy The Cutting Edge, Gilroy met producer Robert Cort, who happened to be a former CIA analyst. "We had a lot of geopolitical conversations and Robert thought a movie about a foreign-service diplomatic negotiator would be fascinating," Gilroy says. "At the time, Beirut was a hot topic because Tom Friedman's book From Beirut to Jerusalem had just come out. We wanted to put a negotiator in a historical setting where it could feel true to life without actually being a true story."

Gilroy built his fictional script around facts on the ground including the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley. "For me, that was very much the model for what would happen if a high-level CIA officer were kidnapped," Gilroy says. "Buckley's body actually turned up just as I was finishing the script and there was a lot of reporting about that case that I drew on. It was all very garish and gothic and horrifying and dramatic."

Immersing himself in research, Gilroy uncovered a trove of details, which he used to devise events that could plausibly have happened in Lebanon some three decades earlier. "Between talking to people on the phone and building this massive library, I dug into the particular three-month period of time we cover in the film when Mason goes back to Lebanon," Gilroy explains. "There were many surprising things I learned. I didn't have any idea the PLO was so complicated and stratified and corrupt. I had no idea about the complexity of the Israeli desire to get into Lebanon or the contortions Israel put itself through to justify the invasion of this region. I knew about the Reagan White House when George Schultz and Oliver North and Robert McFarland came in, and I knew about the events leading up to the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. But until I started doing my research, l did not know all the intricate details."

Against the backdrop of a politically dysfunctional Lebanon, Gilroy strived to develop the interior psychology of his hero in the manner of master spy novelist John Le Carre. "His books were extraordinary, although they didn't always make for good movies because they were so hard to condense," he says. "I was highly motivated by the idea of designing a LeCarre-type film that could be put in a two-hour frame. And then the idea of a character like Mason, who's faced with great disappointment - that's very much a John Le Carre thing."

Beirut's central character prefigured the flawed heroes that would later anchor some of Gilroy's best-known works. "Mason was the beginning of my fascination with characters in need of redemption, which is also true for Jason Bourne and Michael Clayton," Gilroy says. "With Beirut, I was interested in writing about people trapped inside a political situation, while at the same time Mason is forced to confront his past and his own weakness."

After Gilroy finished his script in 1992, numerous A-list actors and directors circled the project, known at the time as High Wire Act. But Gilroy's fictionalized portrayal of U.S., Israeli and PLO scheming in 1982 Lebanon ultimately proved too hot to handle. "The problem was that the script is accurate," Gilroy muses. "The PLO didn't have exemplary behavior. Israel did not have exemplary behavior. The U.S. State Department did not have exemplary behavior. Nobody looked good at that moment in time except for the hero of this story."

When Beirut failed to generate a studio green light, Gilroy put the screenplay aside and moved on. Cut to 2003, when Radar Pictures producer Mike Weber came across the script. "It's one of the first things I read when I started at Radar," Weber recalls. "The script was great but I wondered how I could ever make Beirut, given that all the things that are challenging about getting it made are also the things that make it so good. Over the years I always had 'Beirut' written on a Postit note stuck to the corner of my computer screen."

The project graduated from a Post-it to a commercially viable project after Argo came out in 2012. The movie, set in 1979, won the Best Picture Academy Award and grossed $232 million worldwide, proving that political thrillers set in the Middle East could succeed critically and financially. Weber resuscitated Beirut with Gilroy's blessings.

"The drama in the script was still very intense but the political radioactivity had completely subsided," says Gilroy, who spent three months revising the screenplay. "There's not much argument anymore about what happened in Lebanon in the winter of 1982. At this point, we've moved on to the grandchildren of this original problem."

A Director's Vision

With Weber's ambition to make Beirut reinvigorated, the producer asked Brad Anderson to direct the picture. A veteran indie film writer-director, Anderson had demonstrated a flair for character-driven suspense in his own movies including The Machinist, starring Christian Bale and Transsiberian, starring Woody Harrelson. "Brad really understands tension and pacing," Weber says. "Transsiberian had the kind of nonstop momentum that Beirut needed. He understood how to bring out the thriller aspects and instilled a real sense of excitement to the story."

Anderson says he responded strongly to the script's exotic milieu and interpersonal drama. "I was very taken by the world of Tony's story. I frankly didn't know very much about Beirut, so for me it was more the character elements that drew me in. I was fascinated with Mason as this tortured soul who's trying to redeem himself by saving his friend. That's a very classic dramatic sensibility."

In terms of tone, Anderson cites Peter Weir's 1982 Indonesia-set film The Year of Living Dangerously as a major touchstone. "That movie really puts you into this sensual, dangerous world," Anderson says. "It's also an emotional journey about characters in this war-torn part of the world who are trying to find some goodness or something hopeful that they can hang onto. That's one of the things we wanted to do in Beirut. We also looked at unresolved dramas like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold that take place in the world of espionage."

Once Anderson agreed to helm Beirut, Weber brought the project to ShivHans Pictures producing partners Shivani Rawat and Monica Levinson. "I felt Tony's script had drama, mystery, suspense - it's the perfect thriller.," says Rawat, whose credits include Captain Fantastic and Trumbo. "Thrillers today tend to be violent, over-the-top action movies or else they rely heavily on some kind of technological solution, whereas Beirut is very human."

When Rawat and Levinson met with Anderson, they came away impressed with the filmmaker's commitment to authenticity. "Brad had a real vision for how he would tell the story," Levinson says. "He immediately started talking about locations, so we went on a preliminary scout to Morocco. Walking through the city of Tangier, Brad knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and I could see the movie taking shape just by the way he perceived things. In that sense, Brad took the story much deeper than I could have imagined when I read it on the page."

Jon Hamm - The Negotiator

Sorting through a stack of offers after completing his Emmy-winning run as Don Draper in the hit "Mad Men" TV series, Jon Hamm was pleased to find Beirut, a thoughtful thriller that offered a refreshing alternative to formulaic action blockbusters that currently dominate Hollywood. "Big political themes don't get addressed very often in movies anymore," the actor notes. "I was excited to make a movie that dealt with something important rather than just having the action element or a comic-book element, which seems to be the tenor of most large-scale movies right now."

Hamm was also intrigued by Beirut's straight-shooting protagonist Mason Skiles. "He's a communicator rather than just a terminator," Hamm says. "He's not some guy who solves everything by throwing a magic hammer or casting a spell or doing things that don't really exist in life. As a negotiator, Mason's gift is that he's able to talk to people not in a backhanded or sneaky way but by basically saying, 'You have something I want and I have something you want. We have to find that place where we both leave something on the table and ideally, each of us gets a little of what we want.'"

To infuse his character with that pragmatic, horse-trading demeanor, Hamm drew inspiration from real-life statesmen. "I've had the good fortune to meet several career diplomats in my life and it's always interesting to hear their take on situations," Hamm says. "When people live in a country not their own they need to have tremendous respect for local culture and local politics to understand what's actually happening on the ground. That's pretty much what I tried to do with the character of Mason. He's a facilitator. He wants both sides to win. He's not there to undermine the other government at all. There's a great deal of respect and intelligence that goes along with that approach."

As he schooled himself in the world of Beirut, Hamm, a self-proclaimed Tony Gilroy fan, plied the author with questions about the political quagmire dramatized in his script. "Tony told me that tensions have been percolating for a long time but we've only recently seen large-scale eruptions, whether it's 9/11 or Syria or Islamic State. Tony said all these things are interconnected geopolitically and that really struck a chord for me. When you think about the terrorism and fundamentalism and the political intractability in Beirut, which is all still sadly true today, I think it's important to look at the reasons behind all that. How did we get here?"

In addition to Beirut's politically charged themes, Hamm looked forward to exploring the personal trauma that lends depth to Mason's journey. "When we first meet Mason, he seems to have it all together, trying to do good things in the world." Hamm says. Then, in a few terrifying seconds, Mason's life falls apart. "It takes a while for Mason to pull himself out of this profound tragedy. When he goes back to the place where it all happened, that's where Mason begins to find some happiness and his place in the world."

Using Gilroy's script as the blueprint for his performance, Hamm relied on director Anderson to keep a firm hand on the tiller once filming began. "Brad was intensely knowledgeable about the script and what he wanted to see in the frame," Hamm says. "At the same time, he allowed everybody to bring a little something to the table to create this kind of creative buffet of sights and sounds and experiences and words and images. Brad was like the conductor of an orchestra, intimately aware of the music each person needed to play."

From Anderson's vantage point, Hamm perfectly embodied the haunted man of action conceptualized in Gilroy's script. "Jon and I were very interested in creating a real sense of Mason as this damaged soul in a damaged city," Anderson says.

Rosamund Pike - the Handler

British actress Rosamund Pike is no stranger to dangerous fictional scenarios, as she proved with her breakthrough portrayal of femme fatale Amy in Gone Girl. For Beirut, the former "Bond Girl" of Die Another Day got the chance to be an independent woman in her role as Mason's savvy CIA handler Sandy Crowder. "Sandy's a pretty cool customer," Pike says. "She's sort of a protofeminist who's there for the adrenaline rush. I suppose she also wants to serve her country, although she's not waving a banner or flying a flag."

To prepare for the part, Pike read Robert Fisk's history of Lebanon, Pity the Nation, and researched how women were treated in the CIA 35 years ago. "It was a tough world for women in the agency in the '80s," she says. "There were very few female agents. I think there are 14 pay grades within the CIA and most women hit the ceiling at around level seven."

Sandy Crowder's job description as a keeper of secrets impacts the character's personal life in compelling ways. "She can't really trust anyone so Sandy doesn't let people get too close, although Brad allowed us to play a few moments where you get a bit of a window into her soul," Pike says. "I had a great time playing Sandy because she didn't have to make some man fall in love with her, which is quite liberating. She's defined by her actions. Sandy's decisions under pressure eventually affect the outcome of the whole story and for me that was pretty exciting."

Pike's on-screen chemistry with Hamm helped personalize Beirut's storyline with palpable tension. "Ros was quite wonderful to work with," says Hamm. "She comes in as this mystery person in the second act, so it was interesting to forge the relationship between Mason and Sandy. He doesn't really know this person but he has to trust her. But how much? That dynamic dovetailed very nicely with the film's political nature and intrigue as we figure out where the story is leading and why."

Diplomats and Spies

Beirut boasts a stellar supporting cast including Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Mark Pellegrino and Larry Pine as CIA and State Department staffers tasked with controlling the uncontrollable turmoil in Beirut. "It's like this thieves' gallery of CIA guys," says Anderson. "Dean and Shea and Mark and Larry all really got into creating their characters from this time period, with the bad hair and the awkward suits and all that stuff."

As CIA agent Donald Gaines, Norris, acclaimed for his SAG Award-winning performance as "Hank" in "Breaking Bad," appears nearly unrecognizable in a toupee and thick glasses. "We didn't want people to go, 'Oh, that's the guy from 'Breaking Bad,'" Anderson says. Norris sees his character as someone who represents a hardball approach to international problem solving. "You need both the carrot and stick," Norris says. "You hope Mason can make diplomacy work but you always need somebody like Gaines so you have the heavy hand of the CIA backing it up."

Shea Whigham portrays shifty political operative Gary Ruzak. "We used Ollie North as a kind of template for Shea's character," says Anderson, referring to President Ronald Reagan's infamous Iran-Contra affair military liaison. "Ruzak's loyalties are to the president. He's very much a company man who's in Lebanon to fix this situation before it goes bad and he'll make a deal with the devil if necessary."

Whigham, who worked previously with Anderson on the HBO crime drama "Boardwalk Empire," says he approached Ruzak from the inside out. "I never judge my characters. You have to have empathy for guys who might walk both sides of the line. For Ruzak, it's Agency before individual, so I tried to find that depth and present both sides of who he is as a human being."

Peppering Gilroy with questions about the Beirut backstory, Whigham came to appreciate the intense commitment required of members of the U.S. intelligence community. "These people operate in the shadows and put themselves on the line 24/7 for our country."

CIA agent Cal is portrayed by Mark Pellegrino (The Big Lebowski, "Supernatural"), who prepped for the movie by learning about the real-world circumstances surrounding his fictional character's plight. "I read some books that informed me somewhat about the political insanity in this story," Pellegrino says. "Cal has this deep friendship with Mason because of what we've been through together. We're like war buddies. We're cemented to each other ideologically and personally."

Augmenting its colorful collection of American character actors, Beirut introduces a fresh face to English-speaking audiences: Paris-based Algerian actor Idir Chender as the adult Karim. "Idir astounded me when he came in to audition for the role," Levinson says. "I think he really felt the emotions of what this character would have gone through and the challenges he faces in life while having to maintain his position as the top man of this terrorist cell."

Dressing A Multicultural City

French costume designer Carlos Rosario, who trained with Oscar-winner Colleen Atwood (Sleepy Hollow, Chicago) before breaking off on his own to create the wardrobe for indie hit Don't Breathe, quickly realized that Gilroy's Beirut script contained a multitude of cultures that needed to be represented through wardrobe. "Once I understood what was happening in Beirut at the time this story took place, I knew what I needed to do artistically as a costume designer," Rosario says. "All these different categories of people came together in the same city, so the clothes needed to reflect that in an authentic way."

Rosario, whose team fabricated all the clothes on location in Morocco, designed costumes that doubled as a form of cultural identity. "We needed to understand who the Sunnis were and the Shiites and the Druze, and the Muslims in the west side of Beirut, and the Christians in the east," Rosario says. "There were so many different categories of costumes, it felt like I was recreating not just one world but all the different worlds of people from different religious backgrounds."

Working from descriptions provided by Gilroy, Rosario created specific looks for each key character and learned about the period by watching old documentaries about Beirut. But the most valuable source of inspiration came from a Lebanese woman he met in Morocco during preproduction. "She grew up in Lebanon, left when the civil war started in '75, then went back to Lebanon in the early '80s, which exactly matched the timeline of our project," Rosario says. "She got so excited about helping us that she texted her friends in Beirut and they emailed all these images that enabled me to assemble a collection of authentic pictures of people living in Beirut in the early '70s and early '80s. That helped tremendously."

For Mason, Rosario created three distinctive changes in wardrobe that reflected the character's shifting fortunes. "When Jon Hamm's character is in Beirut the first time in the early '70s, he's extroverted, almost like he's showing off," Rosario says. "That's why we put him in party duds with the off-white suit. I felt like this cocktail party was his territory. He was in control."

Ten years later, Mason's outfits signal his slide into alcoholism as a demoralized, backroom labor negotiator. "It was important for me to create a disheveled, deconstructed type of mishmash of different things in order to communicate the fact that Mason's life is falling apart," Rosario says. "Then when he comes back to Beirut, I wanted the audience to focus on the character and plot more than his wardrobe, so I went with very classic jackets and shirts."

Anderson encouraged Rosario to craft costumes for Mason that would accentuate the American interloper's struggle to find his place in the ravaged Middle Eastern city. "There's one shot midway through the film where Mason's dressed in an Oxford shirt and loafers while he walks through a deserted city square that's just been completed destroyed," Anderson says. "That's the kind of contrast that was really exciting to me, as a way to show Mason's alienated state of mind."

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