Portraying Pearl: Dan Futterman

Photo: Peter Mountain/Courtesy of Paramount Vantage

Dan Futterman’s screenplay for Capote earned him an Academy Award nomination. Now he’s stepping into an adaptation of a potentially more charged real-life character as Daniel Pearl in A Mighty Heart, opposite Angelina Jolie. Logan Hill spoke to him.

How involved was Mariane Pearl in your casting?
Brad [Pitt, one of the producers] involved her in the process of choosing writers, of reading scripts—he wanted her to feel comfortable with various aspects of it. I did talk with Mariane directly, and I continue to do so. I really felt a great responsibility because at some point their son, Adam, might see this movie depicting his father. She’d say, “I feel like you’re the right person to do this. You remind me of him in certain ways.”

In what ways?
There are some surface things. I grew up in a very similar house with three siblings, in an intellectual family, interested in writing. I was raised Jewish and bar mitzvahed. His mom and dad—I’m sure it was painful for them to do—invited me and Brad and Angie over, and opened photo albums and talked about Danny growing up.

Was there one story that guided you?
Yes. Mariane talked about this in her book, and it’s in the film a little bit: When he moved to a new city or stayed in a hotel to do some reporting, he would immediately go to a local barbershop. He’d get his hair cut and try to talk to people, get a sense of the street, hear what people were saying. That immediate effort to immerse himself in the culture, in a way that doesn’t at all have to do with the story he’s writing—and the pleasure he took in doing that—that was the biggest standout.

In the film, he’s having a great day before the abduction. Were you worried that might seem glib?
One journalist told me, “Look, you’re always meeting a friend of a friend of a friend, hoping he or she can lead you to the real story. You’re often getting in a car and going someplace with someone you barely know and most of the time it ends up fine.”

Media criticism of Mariane has been harsh, for not crying on Oprah, say. What do you make of it?
I think that people are very quick to assume how you should behave in a certain situation. I think Mariane is an extremely dignified person who has a healthy sense of separation between public acts and private feelings. She was simply not willing to accede to the pressure of behaving in the way she was expected. Shortly after learning of his death, she took it upon herself to mention that people all over the world are experiencing what she herself was. I don’t know how anybody can spin that into “she isn’t being emotional enough.”

A Mighty Heart
June 22

Portraying Pearl: Dan Futterman