The term 'extraordinary rendition' refers to the U S government's policy of secretly abducting foreign nationals who are viewed as national security threats and placing them in overseas prisons in order to 'interrogate' them. The film Rendition follows an Egyptian-American businessman who's placed into custody upon arriving back in the US from a business trip and taken to North Africa to be questioned - and tortured. Director Gavin Hood and the film's stars Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Igal Naor, and Omar Metwally took part in a press conference in Los Angeles to discuss their involvement in the dramatic movie.
Rendition Press Conference
Reese and Jake, why do you think people would want to see a movie about this policy?
Reese Witherspoon: “Why wouldn’t they?”
Why would they?
Gavin Hood: “I think your answer was good: why wouldn’t they?”
Reese Witherspoon: “I think it’s a film that has a lot of different, wonderful elements to it. There is definitely a romance to it. There are thriller aspects. It’s sort of not just a film about a message where you sit there for two hours. And, you know, I think it’s a movie that makes a lot of questions and it really makes you think about a lot of the practices that are going on nowadays, and whether or not they are legal or ethical or even constitutional.”
Gavin, this is your first studio film. Can you talk about the experience coming from Tsotsi and the upgrade?
Gavin Hood: “The upgrade…Windows, Version 70. No, it’s a fair question. To be honest, when I initially started on this movie I was somewhat intimidated by many of these illustrious actors, but they very quickly put me at ease. I remember the first day with Reese, paparazzi everywhere, down the street.”
Reese Witherspoon: “I don’t remember any of this, by the way.”
Gavin Hood: “And that’s what’s so amazing, she really doesn’t remember. On the first day we shot you playing soccer with your little son…”
Reese Witherspoon: “Oh, right, right, right, right. Now, I remember.”
Gavin Hood: “You really don’t remember, because she really is the pro that goes, ‘Let’s just do the work.’ But I had never been exposed to this level of kind of paparazzi scrutiny and I really [found] it quite intimidating for a moment. And you don’t remember saying to me, ‘Gavin, let’s just ignore them and do the work.’ You really don’t remember that do you?”
Reese Witherspoon: “No.”
What city was it?
Gavin Hood: “We were in Pasadena shooting. As some journalist pointed out, ‘Well, it’s clearly not Chicago!’ Well, that’s true. There is a thing called a budget. So we shot the only scene that was in Chicago in a house that closely resembled a house in Chicago, as if that really matters in the context of the themes and ideas of the story. And so, we were in Pasadena, and there were a lot of paparazzi trying to climb over the barricades that our assistant directors had put up, shooting on long lenses. I thought, ‘My god, what does this mean?’ And Reese literally said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Let’s just do the work.’ And as much as it affected her, I found after a couple of days that it no longer affected me either. It was a little baptism by fire. And then these guys made me feel very at home. I think the great thing about these actors is they are actors first and foremost. They focus on the work, and that’s what we did.”
So it sounds like you didn’t enjoy the paparazzi.
Gavin Hood: “No, seriously, I think that I was looking for a film after Tsotsi that I felt would be something good to follow with. And Kelly’s script came across my desk. I started reading, and I didn’t know much about rendition, frankly. I read Rendition on the cover and it could have been Beethoven’s 9th, I don’t know. ‘Maybe it’s a rendition of a song?’ You open the script and I started reading and I just found that I was captivated. I kept turning the pages and I wanted to know what happened next.
I thought that he had drawn an incredible, incredible diverse number of characters that were all emotionally rooted and real. And when I got to the end of the script, I also had a lot of questions. And I thought, ‘If I have been emotionally engaged and wanted to know what happened next and, in addition, the script has raised questions and I want to talk to somebody about these questions, then maybe an audiences will feel the same way.’ But, of course, when you’ve read a script, there is no one to talk to. So I Googled ‘rendition’ and I found out a lot I didn’t know about. Then we engaged over a period of months in discussions with Kelly and further research met with CIA agents -- spoke to them, discussed the pros and cons of this current policy. And said, ‘You know what? This is something I feel we should talk about.’
And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it briefly now, I grew up in a country where we didn’t have a constitution. We had detention without trial in the ‘80s. I was a young law student there and we looked at the American Constitution as a document that we felt our country desperately needed. And to feel that that great document and The Geneva Conventions, which America was largely behind writing after the horrors of the second World War, to see that these great principles were potentially being chipped away, it was quite a shock. And now that I have American kids, although be it very recently, I feel even more strongly about it, because I believe in the founding principals of this nation. I felt that this film would perhaps, in some way, contribute to a discussion that I feel is important if we are going to chip away at those principals in any way.”