The Program: Interviews from the Red Carpet

Irish Sports Journalist, David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) is convinced that Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) is using performance enhancing drugs to fuel his Tour de France victories, so starts to hunt for evidence.

We attended the red carpet for The Program at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival and had the opportunity to ask Denis Ménochet (Actor) and John Hodge (Screenwriter) some questions about the movie.

The Program arrives in UK cinemas 16th October 2015.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here

Denis Ménochet - Actor
What attracted you to this particular project?
Well first of all, meeting Stephen Frears (Director). I was very happy to meet him in person and we talked about this project and then reading the script, it was such a good script, a modern days kind of story that was still actually in the news, I was very excited about it.

Has this inspired you to go cycling?
Not really, no.

Were you aware of the whole doping controversy with Lance Armstrong before you took on the role?
Yeah, everybody was aware of this, it was in the news already.

Could you see some controversy around the film, in the fact that Lance Armstrong had fought through cancer and could be an inspiration to some people, but this film could possibly be tarnishing his reputation?
I think the documentary already did that, but this film, first of all its Stephen Frears’ film with a great performance by Ben Foster, so you should see it for that. Within that you have the human aspect of what it is like to do those things, you see it, you actually feel it because of Stephen’s talent. So, you make of it what your own opinion of it, more than being force fed a documentary that would tell you to burn someone or love someone and that’s why you should see this film.

What was it like working with Stephen Frears?
He’s just this incredible, smart, funny character who, to me, is like this old painter who just looks at you and *taps on sholder* does that and it’s perfect. I am very lucky to have worked with Stephen Frears.

How do you feel to be presenting this film at the London Film Festival?
Very happy and honoured. I’ve just moved here actually and it’s the best moving present possible.

What do you have coming up for yourself?
I am currently filming the Assassin’s Creed film, which is exciting, but I won’t be able to tell you anything about it.

John Hodge - Screenwriter
It is quite an ambitious project – a lot has happened in the last few years, how would you go about starting to make sense of that and to bringing it together?
Well first of all, I tried to read around it, David Walsh, the journalist, spoke to him a lot, talked to other cyclists, worked with David Miller and he introduced us to other cyclists who were very candid about their experience as cyclists and whether they had doped and so on. That was very helpful. Really just trying to soak up as much factual information as possible. Looking on the internet, one of the greatest things about Lance, as with any modern celebrity, you can watch their life on YouTube now, which is kind of strange. If you were doing this twenty years ago or even ten years ago, it would have been difficult to get access to what really happened. It’s not so much what was being said, it’s looking at his body language and making you think “What’s going on there?” and obviously Ben captured that and bought it to life. Those are invaluable sources for shaping your thoughts about it, then you try and find a structure and you think “Should I just tell a moment?”, but I think this is a story that needs to be shown beginning to end. It’s a character arc; it’s a rise and fall. Lucky young athlete from Texas, he’s going to be a winner, but he gets cancer and then, boom, he turns into superman. I think to understand the fall; you have to watch the rise.

Did your perceptions change once you started the project?
Yeah, I started off thinking “The guy’s a cheat”, but then, of course, very few people are all evil. When I look at Lance Armstrong, I don’t think of someone who is just a cheat. I see someone who has worked very hard and is obviously a great athlete in his own right. I think if he stuck to the triathlon, we could be looking at a champion triathlete, because he’s a great swimmer and runner. I think the more you get to people, the more you give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s my experience. Yes, the guy’s a cheat, but it was just cycle racing, other people have done much worse things. When the Volkswagen scandal broke in the news, I thought that’s just the same, the unfortunate side of human nature, a reminder to all of us to be slightly cynical and if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the unfortunate lesson I keep having to re-learn and I don’t think I am the only one.

From what you knew about Lance Armstrong, is Ben Foster’s portrayal what you had in mind?
I thought it was great. I know people who know Lance and they have said they think he’s got it perfectly. They really saw Lance on screen, which is fantastic. Not just physically, it’s about the behaviour, just how he is with people. I thought he did a great job – he bought it to life.

As a screenwriter, would you say it’s more difficult to write a fiction story than a real life story?
The real life is more difficult, many more constraints, on the one hand legally, but also there is a moral responsibility not to depict someone as having cheated when they didn’t, but at the same, if someone was, trying to capture that. In fiction, if you want someone to do something bad, they just do it. Fictional characters can’t complain. It’s definitely trickier.

Did you feel that there were any parts you had to tip-toe around?
Definitely, there were some characters in real life who one thinks must have known something, but there is no evidence that they did. In that case, I can’t really depict that they know something, not only for the moral responsibility, but also legally, so yeah, you have to be very careful.

What’s next in the pipeline for you?
As a scriptwriter I am working on endless scripts, most of which never get made, but Danny Boyle recently said we are making Trainspotting 2, so if he says it, it must be true. We’ll find out. We’ll find out next year.


The Program arrives in UK cinemas 16th October 2015.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here


Article Written On:
11th October 2015 22:00 PM

Interviewed On:
10th October 2015 19:00 PM

Words By:
George Armstrong
George Armstrong

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