About The Production
The story of Beirut begins long before Tony Gilroy established himself as the
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
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
Gilroy built his fictional script around facts on the ground including the 1984
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.
to people on the phone and building this massive library, I dug into the
period of time we cover in the film when Mason goes back to Lebanon," Gilroy
were many surprising things I learned. I didn't have any idea the PLO was so
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
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
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
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.
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
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
worldwide, proving that political thrillers set in the Middle East could succeed
financially. Weber resuscitated Beirut with Gilroy's blessings.
"The drama in the script was still very intense but the political radioactivity
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
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
"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
In terms of tone, Anderson cites Peter Weir's 1982 Indonesia-set film The Year
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
Once Anderson agreed to helm Beirut, Weber brought the project to ShivHans
producing partners Shivani Rawat and Monica Levinson. "I felt Tony's script had
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
the hit "Mad Men" TV series, Jon Hamm was pleased to find Beirut, a thoughtful
offered a refreshing alternative to formulaic action blockbusters that currently
"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.
communicator rather than just a terminator," Hamm says. "He's not some guy who
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
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
As he schooled himself in the world of Beirut, Hamm, a self-proclaimed Tony
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
whether it's 9/11 or Syria or Islamic State. Tony said all these things are
and that really struck a chord for me. When you think about the terrorism 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
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
Anderson to keep a firm hand on the tiller once filming began. "Brad was
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Pellegrino and Larry Pine as CIA and State Department staffers tasked with
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
as "Hank" in "Breaking Bad," appears nearly unrecognizable in a toupee and thick
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
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
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
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
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
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,
prepped for the movie by learning about the real-world circumstances surrounding
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
(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
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
Working from descriptions provided by Gilroy, Rosario created specific looks for
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
"She grew up in Lebanon, left when the civil war started in '75, then went back
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
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
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
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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