Pearl was infamously kidnapped and beheaded by Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan

Dan Futterman is probably most well known for his TV work. He had a recurring role on the long-lived "Judging Amy" and numerous guest spots on sitcoms like "Sex in the City" and "Will and Grace". He gained critical acclaim by writing Bennett Miller's Oscar winning Capote. Dan takes his acting career in a completely different direction with his riveting portrayal of murdered Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl. Pearl was infamously kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. A Mighty Heart tells the story of the aftermath of the kidnapping. The love affair between Marianne and Daniel Pearl is mostly seen in flashbacks. It is a tragic story, spectacularly acted and directed. Angelina Jolie plays Marianne Pearl with great distinction, but Dan Futterman breathes life into someone only known from the dreadful circumstance. A Mighty Heart is not to be missed, and is one of the great films of 2007 so far.

Did you get a chance to meet Marianne Pearl?

Dan Futterman: I was incredibly nervous about meeting her. Presuming to portray her beloved husband, I was terrified of that. She was instantly reassuring and instantly took it upon herself to make me feel comfortable with the situation and that speaks to her as a person.

How did you get involved in the film? Was there an audition process?

Dan Futterman: It's boring. I got sent the script by my agent who said that they're coming to town. Then I sat down with Michael [Winterbottom, the director]. You get the feeling that Michael doesn't meet with a ton of people. We talked about this script, about his movies, about Capote, which he had seen. And I think that he liked the fact that I was a writer also, and had particularly written about journalism and that felt comfortable for this part.

What was it like working with Angelina Jolie? She's terrific here...

Dan Futterman: That actress is, I truly think, one of my generation's truly great actors. I am acting with someone who is giving that sort of utterly transformational, beautifully emotional performance who's incredibly smart and finely tuned. I was completely knocked out by her. She's comfortable. You can not dare her to do anything that she's not willing to do. It was completely a pleasure to work with her, I really loved it. And having said that, we were in a bit of a different movie from what everybody was doing. The bulk of the movie, and then everything I shot, was predated Danny's abduction. They had a true love affair and were deeply connected. They were expecting a kid, which completely thrilled them. They were doing work that fascinated them in a part of the world that at least he loved. We were trying to create that and it was as if we were in a completely different film.

You seem to have really connected with the characters on a personal level...

Dan Futterman: Maybe, (laughs) that's my failing as actor. But there were times when, just as a human being, you're deeply involved in a scene and some part of you steps back for a second and just watches the person that you're playing with. Maybe other actors are better at concentrating than I am. (laughs) I think Danny admired Marianne as a woman, as a journalist, as an intelligent person, his traveling partner. And so it can kind of feed a way into the scene too.

Was there any improvisation in those scenes?

Dan Futterman: Initially I had read John Orlock's script and I thought it was fantastic. He talked about a couple of things that he was going to work on. I didn't see much of a need for it but that was in his mind to do. I had very little to say about changing the script, I thought it was terrific. And we did improvise, but you're working with this terrific foundation that assimilates so much information about that part of the world, that particular situation they were in as well as this relationship, this love affair that Danny and Marianne. You feel extremely well supported in that and you always turn to the script.

What drew you to this role?

Dan Futterman: I was moved by this story enormously from reading Marianne's book. I was also thrilled to work with Michael Winterbottom in particular. I think this is an incredible cast of actors. I felt really honored to be a part of it.

You had to recreate the photographs, those horrible photographs, of Danny kidnapped with a gun to his head. What was it like filming those scenes?

Dan Futterman: Many people have those pictures in their heads from back in 2002. I certainly did remember seeing them and watching reports of this story play out. I think we felt a great responsibility. They were extremely painful documents for people who knew and loved him and for people who cared about him who might not have known him. We tried to do it as simply as possible as with no editorializing. So that day we were just quiet and let's just do this and get done with it and move on to something else, because it was necessary for the film but very painful to do.

What characteristics of Danny did you learn to play him?

Dan Futterman: I was really conscious playing him that he has this beautiful five year old son now who is never going to be able to meet his father. He's only going to be able to learn about him from other people, from his mom, from Danny's family and friends. He will be able to see this film and hopefully this captures something of his father. Something I admired about Danny... he was someone who really delighted in meeting new people, compulsively social... not...congenially socially which I suppose is more of what I mean. He would strike up a conversation with anybody he possibly could, which was part of his work but part of what he loved about life.

Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman