A PRIVATE WAR
About The Production
"A Private War is a psychological portrait of Marie Colvin, the legendary war
correspondent of the Sunday Times," says director Matthew Heineman, who makes
narrative film debut after garnering acclaim for his work in documentaries,
Oscar-nominated Cartel Land and City of Ghosts. "We follow her for the last 10
her life on the forefront of brutal conflicts in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya,
Syria. The film is about the insatiable drive that she had to bear witness to
of war, and the toll that it had on her."
It has been six short years since Marie Colvin's death in Homs, Syria, on
2012. Heineman felt a great responsibility to tell her story as fully and
possible, similar to Colvin's own unceasingly rigorous reporting. The film was
by Marie Brenner's 2012 Vanity Fair article "Marie Colvin's Private War." But
only the start. Heineman quickly began researching Marie like he would research
documentary. He flew to London, where Colvin lived between war zones, to get to
her friends and colleagues. He dug into anything he could get his hands on: her
reporting, interviews that she had done, and interviews that Brenner conducted
Vanity Fair piece.
"For me, it's been an incredible journey of getting to know Marie," Heineman
feel a genuine connection to her - with my background as a documentary filmmaker
and an enormous kinship to how she approached storytelling: focusing on the
side of reporting on conflict. My mother is a journalist herself, and I grew up
by strong, fearless women, so it's an honor to be able to tell Marie's story. I
tried to truly
understand who Marie was and to figure out a way to cinematically bring that to
CASTING MARIE COLVIN AND PAUL CONROY
Heineman didn't so much cast Marie Colvin as welcome the force of nature that
into his life in the form of Rosamund Pike. The English actress had heard of the
through Amma Asante, her director on the biographical drama A United Kingdom,
made it her task to read it along with Brenner's Vanity Fair article. When she
Heineman was attached to direct, she pushed for a meeting. "I knew that Matt was
very original story-teller from seeing his docs," explains Pike. "I managed to
to see a screening of City of Ghosts before it was released, and I just thought
- the truth
he captures, the things he witnesses about human behavior - I want to make a
this guy, because I know that if his language is the truth of human behavior,
going to fall for any artifice."
"I had a lot of convincing to do," she smiles. "I don't look much like Marie.
than her, I'm not American. There's a lot going against me. But I really wanted
entered my soul somehow when I first read that article. I don't know why. I
the desire to serve like she did. I don't have the courage. But I do understand
having a vocation that takes you suddenly out of your own daily life and then
back in. The distortion, or the disjunction between the two, can be troubling."
Pike describes Colvin as "a truly extraordinary yet recognizable woman; a
is brilliant, brave, courageous, but has the same flaws as any of us do." Like
she had no desire to fashion a hagiography, but rather portray a woman "who had
fierceness in pursuit of a story that made her overcome any trepidation, but who
also haunted by what she'd seen, [for] the human mind is not set up to deal with
repeated exposure to trauma."
"She was one of a kind - talented, courageous, strong, funny - but she also
demons, like we all do," nods Heineman. "The toll that war had on her was
For me, embracing Marie's complexity was really important. I didn't want to make
piece of hero worship. I wanted to show the incredible work she did but also the
lingering effect that it had on her." After they first met, Heineman and Pike
other essays of who they thought Marie was and found them to be strikingly
Discovering themselves on the same page, Heineman and Pike felt an instant
knew right away that I wanted her to be Marie," says the director. "Rosamund has
tenacity that Marie had. She fought for that role and she nailed it. She spent
time researching Marie, understanding Marie, climbing inside of her head, her
learning how Marie moved, how she held her tension in her neck and shoulder,
down to every single detail."
Also key was finding an actor to play Paul Conroy, the British
who accompanied Marie on many of her adventures. Enter Jamie
Dornan, whose eclectic body of work includes impressive turns in war-dramas
Anthropoid and The Siege of Jadotville as well as starring in the Fifty Shades
and playing serial killer Paul Spector in the BBC series "The Fall."
"He spent so much time preparing for this role," says Heineman. "It's uncanny
much he resembles the real Paul, how much he sounds like him. He worked so hard
get there. He and Paul became dear, dear friends."
Just as it did for Pike, having Heineman as director sealed the deal for
Dornan. "I think
Matthew's main focus, like most documentary makers, is to tell the truth," he
that isn't always the case in film, so it's a really refreshing having someone
to honor the truth, rather than glamorize it or make it some sort of Hollywood
what's going on."
In supporting roles are Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci, the former playing
editor Sean Ryan and the latter playing her romantic partner in the last couple
her too-short life.
"Sean Ryan is the head of the foreign team at the Sunday Times," explains
"It's an interesting dynamic between the two of them because he is her boss but
very headstrong, brilliant woman who does her own thing. On one level he's an
exasperated boss, on the other hand he's her very concerned friend because she's
often in very dangerous situations."
Hollander shares why he felt a particular desire to be part of the project.
"I knew Marie,
a bit. I'd met her over the years, socially, so I was very happy to be involved
in this story
about her. She was a very strong and charming character. I felt that the script,
heart of the film, was very much in the right place."
As for Tucci's character, it is one of very few creative liberties that A
Private War takes,
choosing to create a composite character out of respect for the real life
"Tony Shaw is a composite character," says Tucci. "There was a person she had a
relationship with at the end of her life, but the name is different and there
aspects of him that are different. He's someone she meets at a party towards the
the film and they end up having a really loving relationship."
Taking the role was an easy choice for Tucci: "I got a call, read it, thought
the script was
great, and loved the people involved - Jamie is a friend and Rosamund is a great
actress who I've always wanted to work with."
INHABITING MARIE AND PAUL
Just as Heineman spent a year earning the trust and drawing on the knowledge
people closest to Colvin, Pike too went through extraordinary lengths to inhabit
character. In the end, this commitment to the role literally changed her
each step of the transformation was vital to the credibility of the film and
earn the validation of those who knew and loved Colvin and have noted the
way in which Pike manifests her on screen.
"I knew I had to get out of my own body," she says. "Marie had an
physicality. I worked with a dancer called Scarlett Mackmin and it allowed the
to enter me with gait and posture. The interesting thing is, I actually shrank
centimeter-and-a-half while doing the film because Marie held herself in a way
was prepared for attack."
Pike also worked with American dialect coach Francie Brown to replicate
distinct vocals. "She has such a cool voice! Wonderful. Everybody talked about
had a smoker's voice, which I don't have, and such power in her consonants and
vowels. It's a Long Island accent, but mixed in with having lived in London. She
great raconteur. There's a muscularity to her voice."
Pike pored over every scrap of film and every snippet of voice recording,
footage of Colvin from the cutting-room floors of the documentarians who had
their lenses in her direction. She gained invaluable insights from friends to
help her to
fully "unwrap Marie".
"Rosamund has captured the way Marie looked, right down to the gleam in her
eye when she spotted a scoop," says Sean Ryan, Colvin's former editor at the
Times who is portrayed in the film by Tom Hollander. "She moves exactly like
the voice is so authentic. There were several Maries, each with her own
mood, and Rosamund nailed them, from the party charmer to the witness-bearer,
furious to fragile. It was so uncanny that it took me a few days to get over
Costume Designer Michael O'Connor worked with Heineman and sifted through
thousands of images of Colvin. He met with Conroy and some of Colvin's real-life
such as journalist Rosie Boycott, to ensure that Pike never failed to look the
"They had articles of her clothing," he says. "You know, a jacket that she'd
day... So it was great because you could have the real thing in your hands and a
of her wearing it and then we'd give it to Rosamund." Same was true for Paul,
O'Connor, "Paul Conroy had the coat that he was shot in on the day that Marie
Syria; he brought it in and it had blood stains as well as the cigarettes and
lighter in the
pocket from the day. I treated it like a semi-period film, because I could make
For example, I made the pinstripe suit that she wears to an award ceremony, and
made a party dress that was similar to one that she wore and was photographed
get a sense of her amazing style."
Dornan, too, immersed himself in research, and had the added benefit of
having the real
Paul Conroy to consult, first during pre-production and then during the shoot,
was on set almost every day, both in Jordan, which doubled for each of the war
and then in London.
"In the early days, I struggled a wee bit because it's tough to embody
just out of your eyeline," grins the actor. "But once we started to get to know
another, I loved having him there. I could go up to him and say, 'Would you
this?' Or 'Why did you react like this?'"
Dornan devoured Conroy's memoir Under the Wire and spent many nights in the
with his subject, building a friendship while soaking up his every
characteristic. As for
pointing a camera correctly, it helped that Dornan has long been a keen
himself, though he was unfamiliar with digital technology.
"I shoot everything on film. I have eleven cameras," he says. "But Paul gave
couple of tutorial days in digital. We went out and shot some stuff. But yeah, I
to hold a camera and where to put it to my face!"
The overall transformation is impressive, though Conroy did have to step in
at the start
of the shoot to offer some vital advice. "I noticed early on that Jamie was
holding back a
bit," he explains. "I said, 'Look, if you're in a situation where mass graves
uncovered, that is your reason for being there. Don't be shy about pushing
people out of
the way. You can apologize later'." This was especially key in many of the
environments that Heineman created to allow for action and dialogue to unfold in
Conroy also parted with some of his personal possessions to help the actors
quest for veracity. "I gave Jamie a couple of cameras I'd used in Libya, and the
was blown up in. And for Ros, I lent her Marie's lighter, so every time she
cigarette..." He trails off, emotions rising. "I was watching [recreations of]
conversations that we'd had. On a few occasions I let myself go. I realized how
missed Marie and what we did. It was poignant."
And does Conroy feel that Pike successfully captured his dear friend and
"When I first met Ros, out of makeup, I was like, 'Really?' But she was like a
gave her a lot of video that I'd shot of Marie over the years. I saw her for the
first time in
costume on set in Jordan, and I was like, 'Wow'. It wasn't just her hair, makeup
patch, it was the mannerisms, the way she walked, the way she held herself. And
stayed in character the whole day. The first time I heard her speak, I was at
monitors with the headphones on, and the hairs on the back of my neck went up.
really had transformed."
GOING TO WAR
"We started shooting in Jordan first," says Heineman. "It was amazing to be
capture Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria all within one country. We
to find locations that felt distinct. We spent many, many months creating all
war zones, researching them and trying to mimic, as much as possible, what they
looked like and felt like. With Bob [Richardson] and Sophie [Becher], I tried to
make it as
honest a depiction of war as you can do in a narrative film. We were on a movie
set, so I
wouldn't describe it as harrowing, but we were attempting to create the feeling
war is like."
Production designer Becher explains, "For A Private War, I did extensive
immersing myself in each of the six countries where the action is set:
religion but also the most mundane of details like street lighting, building
how a man prays to how he eats is important to me. Matt has considerable
of shooting in conflict areas, and it was important to both of us that we
individual war zones as realistically as possible down to the smallest detail.
on Jordan as it was the most realistic and offered us lots of varied landscapes
harness in the design process. Having made the big decisions as to where and how
were going to create the worlds, I then start to focus on the personal, the
make you care. A pile of bombed out rubble is just a pile of rubble, but when
you add a
single shoe or a broken toy, the audience starts to relate without words what
happened or even who might be below the rubble. Those small details make all the
difference and start to build a bigger picture of the human consequence of war."
As soon as the actors came on board, Becher gave them a 'bible' full of
images so that
they might project themselves into the physical surroundings. "I talk at length
actors who do their own research into their characters," Becher continues, "and
I start to
bring their ideas, thoughts and emotions into the set designs." She also, of
worked closely with Director of Photography Robert Richardson to marry their
aesthetics. "I'd go to Bob and say 'These are the wall textures' and we'd test
out all the
wall textures," she says. Their process was one of "sharing and talking," and
Richardson's decision to shoot A Private War with very little lighting meant
and every detail had to be accurate and precise.
For his part, three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Richardson,
longstanding working relationships with Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and
Tarantino, found the experience of teaming with Heineman "immensely satisfying."
"Matt's desire was to have nothing false in the frame," he explains. "His
vital in defining how he visualized it in his head. He was crystal clear about
wanted to avoid - places he would not enter, and those he wanted to. We spoke of
composition, of lighting, of what method to move a camera. All of this stemmed
"It was uncanny how Jordan was able to stand in for all these different
recalls Pike. "The terrain was so varied. We went to a forest and Jordanians
said, 'I had
no idea this existed in our country.'"
Dornan remembers the Jordan shoot with a small shiver. "There wasn't an easy
he says. "We were dealing with horrific situations - the plight on innocent
through some brutal totalitarian regimes. A lot of the time Heineman was using
Syrian refugees as extras. You'd hear someone wailing and one of the extras
breaking down because it was digging up the past for them."
For Heineman, this was a key element of shooting the war zones. Through a
casting process, he found non-actors, who were refugees living in Jordan.
was my North Star and this was especially important with the depictions of war.
wanted to surround Rosamund and Jamie and the other actors with people from
regions with real stories who shed real tears about real atrocities. I think
this was tough
at first for Rosamund and Jamie, but ultimately created a heightened, emotional
environment that allowed real drama to unfold." For example, the women in the
"widows' basement" in Homs were really from Homs and had been forced to live
in similar shelters. After interviewing a number of different potential women,
decided to feature two women and had them tell their own stories, which were
similar to what was scripted, but in their own voice.
Pike recalls the moment of shooting that scene well - and with reverence.
came to shoot the scene in the basement, this room was filled with Syrian women
children for whom that was their reality. So when I spoke to them - when you see
tears of the women I speak to - that is their real story. When I behaved as
have behaved and really asked them - I learnt a lot from Matt about interview
- it all came back. It was a very fierce and profound experience. Similarly,
filmed the footage of the clinic, which then became Marie's final broadcast that
on CNN, the man who was playing the father of the boy who was killed was a man
whose nephew had been hit by a sniper bullet while on his shoulders and was
And so the grief that came out of that man on the day we were filming was
almost couldn't bear. It's a film that's narrative and yet it has a tremendous
documentary about it, too."
When shooting the final scene in the film, Heineman held a moment of silence
and for all of the innocent civilians senselessly killed in Syria. It was one of
emotional moments for the director as a featured extra and a stuntman - both
Homs - came up to Heineman and Conroy with tears in their eyes and thanked them
making the film. The featured extra had bullet and shrapnel wounds in his chest,
the stuntman actually remembered seeing Paul at the media center in Homs. Both
lost many friends and family members.
Conroy, a man who has seen more than his fair share of war zones while as a
and then a journalist, insists that both the research and the production design
faultless. "We were at an Iraqi checkpoint, and I needed to go to the toilet, so
away into the desert and found myself looking for landmines. Then two days later
be in a palm grove in Sri Lanka. It was like being at war but with the luxury of
and a cold beer at the end of the day."
The London scenes, meanwhile, were granted a different aesthetic. "The
was to paint London with a finer brush - less rugged," says Richardson, though
important that the 'home' and 'war' scenes co-inhabited the same film, meaning
visual distinction was blurred a little. "There are sequences that are
others which harken back to the war zone. We sought a balance."
Pike is keen also to stress that the London scenes, shot later, brought their
stresses. "It felt like we'd done all the harrowing stuff [in Jordan], and now
London, and social scenes. But actually, for Marie, the fallout from war zones
when she was at home. It was in London that I had to confront the cost as she
what she'd seen and the truths she told." She lets out a breath. "I've seen a
what war correspondents see, but I've seen images that never make the front
because they cannot - the reality of war is so much more violent than anything
public is exposed to. In order to play Marie, I had to look, to see. She took in
of some of the most abject horrors and sufferings."
"You can't see the things Marie saw without experiencing an intense form of
Pike continues. "And really Matt's made a film - and wanted to make a film -
about the addiction to danger, the addiction to telling the truth, the addiction
to living in a
world where your stakes are life and death, and then the PTSD that can follow in
dark, private moments at home, and where on earth you put everything you've
THE MUSIC OF THE MISSION
Also key to A Private War's potency is H. Scott Salinas' score, which seeks
complement the images but to never get in the way or to manipulate.
Salinas points out that the music here is actually of greater subtlety than the
provided for Heineman's documentaries, City of Ghosts and Cartel Land.
"In Matt's documentaries, he blurs the aesthetic lines between documentary
narrative film by using music to amp up the adrenaline or heighten certain
more than other docs do," Salinas explains. "In A Private War, he really never
the music to get ahead of Marie and her emotional journey. So we found ourselves
simplifying and being very delicate in certain areas."
The score began at script stage and continued all the way through until the
otherwise locked, with Heineman and Salinas prepared to "re-examine" and
"deconstruct" the music once the film was fully laid out before them. This
probing resulted in some truly remarkable music during the war scenes.
"For the most part, it is all about Marie's internal state, and designed to
slowly build in
tension and intensity, with an inevitable dread, as it becomes more and more
she isn't going to stop until it maybe it's too late," Salinas says. "We used
sounds in the
score that are bomb-like, and other atmospheric devices to project a sense of
Also part of A Private War's soundscape, playing over the end credits, is a
new song by
music icon Annie Lennox. 'Requiem For A Private War,' written and performed by
Lennox, forms a fitting tribute to Colvin and her work.
"I'm known as a singer-songwriter, but it's eight years since I've written a
I've been working as an advocate and activist for women and girls," says Lennox.
thought, 'Well, if I can write a song, it'll be miraculous.' But I couldn't stop
it because Marie's life and the way that Marie died has been so poignant and
Marie drew me. She was a unique, courageous individual who went into the most
dangerous parts of war-torn countries to let people know what was going on. She
her life doing that. She went beyond her own fears. It's an honor to be a part
GETTING THE STORY OUT
Told with sincerity and authenticity, A Private War is at once a harrowing
war drama and
an enthralling character study of an extraordinary woman who sought to unearth
personal in the political. It has been six years since Marie Colvin's tragic
death in Syria,
but all involved feel that A Private War is every bit as relevant now as it was
"The film is not just an homage to journalism but also an homage to the tragedy
what's happening in Syria," says Heineman. "The film ends in Homs, where Marie
reporting on the horrors that the Assad regime is committing on its people. It's
and poignant that since then, this story has only been exacerbated. Assad is
bombing his own people and over 500,000 innocent civilians have been killed
revolution began. These are the people that Marie fought to shed light on. I
this film can help to continue that undertaking."
For Pike, it was vital that Marie's story should be heard, just as Colvin
fought to tell the
tales of so many others. "We try and include Marie's vivacious spirit," says the
"She entered a room and everyone was transfixed. It was a sort of glamour but it
with conviction of purpose. She was funny and outspoken and irreverent; she
herself too seriously but took her job passionately seriously. There was
commitment to the cause in the field." Furthermore, A Private War, Pike
stresses, is a
film about the art of long-form journalism and its importance in this time of
information. "It's a culture that takes time to understand," she says, "It's not
beep on phone that makes you feel outraged for a second."
Conroy picks up on the journalism theme and applies it to the fake news
media suffers a lot so I think it's the perfect time to say to the world, 'Hold
on, don't tar
everyone with the same brush,'" he says. "This is the opposite of fake news.
This is the
harsh reality that some people will go to bring the truth to the world."
Tucci agrees, declaring, "Journalism is in peril. Not only in countries like
Syria but in
America, too. Free and open journalism is crucial to a democratic society."
Hollander adds that "the news world that she was part of is changing,
these newspapers are losing their power," before offering another angle as to
Private War is now more pertinent than ever: "Marie's story is that of a woman
man's world doing it better than the men around her," he shrugs. "In that sense,
contemporary, and I hope people will find it inspiring. Marie Colvin is a
Dornan adds, "Awful things are still happening to civilian people in many
parts of the
world, and the more you can shed light on the people who are trying to feed us
rather than what's given to us by the mainstream news, the better. Not enough
changes. People live under awful regimes, and a lot of times when people do come
different countries looking for help, we just think they're opportunistic
want to take our jobs. It couldn't be further from the truth. It angers me."
It is only right that the final word should go to the man who knew Marie
than anyone. "We've now had six years without Marie," says Conroy. "It takes
the dust to settle. There's a lot of emotion. I would like the world to know the
such a remarkable character, someone so devoted to the story that she's become a
story. It would be amiss not to tell it, to look at her life as a whole, at what
in order to tell the truth. I just hope that people see this film and walk away
an extraordinary person.'" He pauses. "I think she'd have a wry smile about this
concludes. "She was quite humble. She wasn't someone who sat at bars telling war
stories. But I think she'd be quite touched to be recognized in this way. Deep
inside, anyway - she'd never say that."
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2019 80®, All Rights Reserved.