Billy Ray and Hayden Christensen
Billy Ray directs Hayden Christensen
in Shattered Glass.
Photo by Jonathan Wenk, courtesy
of Lions Gate Films

Years before Jayson Blair led the axe to fall on the
staff-and reputation-of the New York Times, another young,
hotshot journalist was turning fiction into fact at the offices
of The New Republic. Twenty-something Stephen Glass seemed
to have it all: a promising career with one of the country’s most
respected political journals, the respect-and continued pursuance-of
editors from publications like George, Harper’s and Rolling
, and the unwavering respect of his co-workers. They envied
Glass’ ability to always be in the right place at the right time.
As it turned out, Glass wasn’t that lucky-and most of the stories
he managed to “find” were simply products of his own imagination
and a desire to please those around him.

A new movie examines the world of Stephen Glass-and
the precarious relationship between human nature and an unbiased
media. Written by Billy Ray, a top Hollywood writer who has penned
such films as Volcano, Hart’s War and, most recently, Suspect
the film also marks his directorial debut. Featuring an
all-star ensemble including Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard,
Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson, Shattered
will be released by Lions Gate in October. Here, Ray talks
about the challenges of being a first-time director, the dangers
of the media and why you can never underestimate the importance
of luck when making a movie.

Jennifer Wood (MM): First, how did
you get involved as director of this project? Had you been looking
for something to direct?

Billy Ray (BR): Originally I was hired by HBO
in 1999 to adapt the article Buzz Bissinger had written for Vanity
. While I was doing my research and writing the script,
there was a regime change at HBO. I handed in the script to a different
group of people than the group that had hired me and the new regime
didn’t want to make the old regime’s developments. And that was
that, so it just sat for two years.

Then the first producer, Craig Baumgarten, and I tried
to resuscitate it and I asked him if he would support the idea of
me directing. Happily, he said yes. I was not one of those writers
who was dying to direct-this was not an obsession with me. But I
did feel that it was time to be a grown-up and see if I had that

MM: What was it that spoke to you most about
the story?

BR: Well, I felt I knew the characters very
well. I felt that both [The New Republic’s editor] Chuck Lane and
Stephen Glass represented parts of me that I knew well. And I felt
I understood the story. I also knew that it didn’t have any car
crashes or machine guns-scenes that I would have no idea how to
shoot; I felt like this was something manageable for me.

MM: What were some of the main themes and
ideas that immediately struck you as comprising a story you wanted
to tell?

BR: For me, the movie was always about the
idea that the truth either tortures us or sets us free, and I understood
the dynamics of both. I was very compelled by the Glass character
for all the obvious reasons, but I was equally compelled by Lane.

MM: When, where and for how long did the
shoot take place

BR: We began August something of last year.
[The shoot] was 28 days in Montreal.

MM: Were there any specific films you referenced
in discussing the look and style of Shattered Glass before shooting

BR: Oh yeah, we talked about that endlessly.
The goal was to try to make a movie that would look like an American
studio film that was made in the 1970s.

MM: It’s funny that you say that, as I noticed
a number of nods to
All the President’s Men while watching

BR: Look, this movie and All the President’s
do not belong in the same sentence, because that’s one of
the greatest movies ever made-it’s a template. We did screen it
a couple of days before production started for the cast and crew
because I wanted them to know how high I wanted to set the bar.
But we never thought we would get there-and we didn’t. Because I
am not Alan Pakula and the stage that we were setting the film on
is not that big. But in terms of the look and the feel of the movie,
we very much wanted to emulate the movies that I grew up loving-which
were the great American studio movies of the seventies.

MM: Considering the very ironic line that
you could have crossed while making this film, how much did the
idea of “authenticity” play in all of your decisions-from the initial
research to the set design?

BR: Here’s the thing: there are certain things
that we didn’t have the money to duplicate. Again, you look at All
the President’s Men
and you see the fidelity with which they
duplicated that Washington Post newsroom (which is why the
art direction on that film won an Academy Award). We didn’t have
the budget to duplicate The New Republic and frankly, we
didn’t have access to The New Republic. [The New Republic‘s
editor-in-chief] Marty Peretz did allow us to blow up those
three magazine covers that appear on the walls, but our set does
not look like The New Republic magazine office looked, and
there were so many reasons for that.

Having said that, where we felt that we had no room
to fudge in any way was in the events-in the portrayals of
the characters, in the articles that Glass was writing or in how
he pitched those articles. There was just no wiggle room at all
and, to be honest with you, I wouldn’t have taken it even if we
did have some wiggle room. Because the thing about storytelling,
at least for me, is that if you don’t feel like you’re doing it
authentically, then you just feel like a phony jerk and you don’t
want to take money for it and you don’t want to waste your time.

Even if I’m writing a drama, and it’s set in World
War II, I’ve got to make it my business to know how people actually
spoke during World War II and what they did or I’m going to feel
like I’m really betraying the men who were there. In the case of Shattered Glass, that was triply true because you’re telling
a story about journalism-about fraudulent journalism-and
on top of that you’re telling a true story about people who are
still alive. So if you get it wrong they’re going to slam you-and
they’d be right to. So huge decisions involving development of the
script and the production itself revolved around authenticity.

And, of course, you also have the lawyer from Lions
Gate just killing you over every single comma in the script. At
one point they actually made me produce a bible of my personal research
notes, done from my interviews with the people who were there, and
made me annotate the script and account for every single reference
in the script-every stage direction, every line of dialogue. They
wanted to know where that corresponded in my notes. And I was happy
to do it because it made me feel like we were telling the truth.

MM: One of the things I love to see in a
film-particularly in a larger ensemble piece like this-is incredible
actors, even in the smallest roles-like Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson
as the Forbes reporters. Can you talk a little bit about how you
cast this film?

BR: Well, first of all, any conversation about
casting in this movie has to take into account two things: one,
I had a great casting director, Cassandra Kulukundis, and she had
cast some movies I really admired-Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Ghost World. The other thing is that I had great luck, and
you can’t underestimate how important that is. It was just luck
that the people that were available were available at the right
time and that they had interest in the script and that they got
the script on the right day and read it and had the right frame
of mind to like it and want to be in it.

Hayden was the first piece. Hayden went into Mark
Gordon’s office-a very well-known, very smart producer-and Mark
was just meeting him because he was a hot, young actor. And Mark
asked “What kind of characters do you want to play?” Hayden had
read the Vanity Fair article and said, “Well, this Stephen
Glass character interests me.” Two weeks earlier, I had sent the
script to Mark to see if he would finance it, and he had passed-so
I assumed he didn’t like it. But Mark said “Well, there’s already
a script about it and you should read it.” So Hayden’s manager read
it and Hayden’s brother read it and then Hayden read it and he wanted

So he and I went and had lunch and sort of auditioned
for one another and decided we would take our chance. Then, when
we got it set up at Lions Gate, the way it works at a studio like
that is they say “Here are the 10 actors that interest us for Chuck
Lane, actors who mean something to us and here’s how much they mean.”
And you go through all the obvious choices of people who you know
are going to pass. While that was happening somehow Peter Sarsgaard
and Steve Zahn had both read the script and both wanted to read
for the part of Chuck Lane and they flew themselves out, independent
of one another, and read for me-Mr. First Time No Experience
Director. You know, Peter Sarsgaard-the guy was in Boys Don’t
-and he’s astonishing. He read with Hayden and did a great
job and then Zahn came in and did a great job-I was in love with
both of these guys. And there was also Greg Kinnear in the mix.

I ultimately decided that Greg made the most sense
for a variety of reasons and had to call Peter and say ‘thank you,’
and had to call Zahn and say ‘thank you,’ and we went with Kinnear.
And then we said ‘Okay, how can we keep Zahn in the mix?’ So I begged
him to take the Penenberg part, and he said okay, which was just
him being a great guy. Then, about three weeks before production
started, Greg Kinnear fell out-he had some personal reasons and
couldn’t leave home and come to Montreal. So I had to call Peter
Sarsgaard and beg him to come take this part, and he did-thank
god! And while all that was going on, Hank Azaria had been in the
mix from the beginning for the Lane part, and I had to beg him to
take the Kelly part, and he did!

MM: It was really a different role for him-you
never really see him in that sort of dramatic, quiet role.

BR: Ever! That was my big selling point to
him. It was ‘I’m never going to ask you to play an accent; I’m not
going to ask you to be funny. I just think you’d lend some credibility
to this.’ There’s so much about this experience that has been gratifying,
but among the most gratifying element, for me, has been that people
have reevaluated Hank and reevaluated Steve Zahn, because they’re
playing characters that they haven’t played before-and that’s really

MM: Azaria really seemed to capture everything
I’ve ever heard or read about Michael Kelly, Glass’ first editor
at TNR, and the kind of person he was.

BR: Kelly was an absolute giant. He was the
most principled man I’ve ever met in my life. He was just an outstanding human being!

MM: The fact that he would actually help you in making this film says a lot about his character.

BR: Of course, particularly since he was haunted
by this experience. It made him miserable that he had not caught
Stephen Glass, and he hated the Buzz Bissinger piece in Vanity
that this all was based on. He would have loved to derail
this movie-and could have-at several different junctures. And each
time, his personal humiliation was outweighed by the fact that he
was a journalist and wanted to see the story told correctly. That always was the higher value for him.

And then Rosario came into the mix, because she had
originally read for the part of Caitlin, which Chloe Sevigny plays.
And how can you not be struck by Rosario, she’s so sensational!

MM: When we interviewed her for our Summer
cover story, she said that the role she wound up playing was originally
written for a man, but she just wanted to do anything to be a part
of the movie.

BR: That’s priceless. How can you do better
than that as a first-time director? To have someone who could tell
you to go screw yourself instead come in and do four days of work-two
of them were all-nighters-to take a part that was supposed to be
a man just to be in the piece?

MM: How much time did you have for rehearsals?

BR: Almost none, which is just part of the
deal on a movie like this. And there was never a time where the
entire cast was there-ever!

MM: Being that Hayden came on a lot earlier,
did you have more time to work with him? I was really impressed
with his work in the film; he did an incredible job of bringing
you into Stephen Glass’ world-of highlighting the attributes that
made Glass who he was.

BR: I know Hayden got beat up by critics after Attack of the Clones, and one of the things I’m most hopeful
and excited about is that they’ll feel very differently about what
he does in this movie, and it will be really good for him. Imagine
being Hayden’s age, being as handsome as he is, being in a movie
that just grossed a gajillion dollars and still maintaining
some level of humility, of self-awareness-the ability to blow a
whistle on yourself when a performance isn’t being real. Hayden
has that! He actually has the ability to step outside himself and
say, “Okay, I’m not doing good enough work.” That would be pretty
rare in a 40-year old guy, but he’s 21.

MM: What were some of the conversations
that you had with him-how did you go about nailing this very specific

BR: One of the things I was fortunate enough
to read is Directing Actors by Judith Weston. I read her
book, and one of the things I learned most specifically from it-and
it’s so simple-is don’t give actors adjectives, give them verbs.
Meaning, if you go up to an actor and say ‘be sexy in this scene,’
well then the actor has to think “What is sexy to me? What is sexy
to you?” The actor then becomes totally self-involved and self-conscious.

What Weston is saying is go to that same actor and
say ‘Okay, seduce him in this scene.’ Then the actor, by definition,
is putting his energy and concentration on the other actor-stepping
outside him or herself. So we talked a lot about that, about breaking
down each moment of the script in terms of ‘What does Stephen Glass
want in this moment? What is this line designed to get him? What
is the subtext of every single line?’ We broke it down line by line
and on the set that’s what the conversations are always about-the

MM: How lucky did you feel when the news
about Jayson Blair broke-knowing how much of a field day the press
would have tying his story together with
Shattered Glass?

BR: It was great; it was just great. It’s so
terrible for America as a whole, and for American journalism specifically.
And the only way I can live with myself being happy about it is
that I’ve somehow twisted it in my head to be ‘Well, if that makes
more people see the movie, the movie’s ultimately good for America,
too. So I guess I can live with that.’ I may be one of the great
rationalists of all time!

I think what Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass did are
very dangerous things-and they were the reasons I wanted to make
the movie. The more people talk about it and the more that magazines
and newspapers feel scrutinized, I think the better. If, for example,
Watergate happened today, would people believe The Washington
just as an article of faith? Would they go after a President
who needed to be gone after? I don’t know, maybe they wouldn’t.

Even within the context of The New Republic,
Stephen Glass was selling what he knew his editors would buy. If
you’re writing for a famously liberal magazine, of course you’re
going to write a piece in which young conservatives get bombed out
of their brains and then rape an overweight girl just to torture
her. Because you know that every liberal in his heart of hearts
is thinking ‘I knew it! I knew all those Bible-thumping Republicans
were really evil.’

MM: Do you have any plans to direct again?

BR: We’ll see if anyone asks-I don’t want to
presume. We’ll see how the movie does. And if the right opportunity
were to come along, and someone indeed wanted to pay me to direct
again, I would certainly have to take a very hard look at it. The
thing about directing is that every single day on that set and every
single day of pre-production and also every day of post, I would
go back and forth on almost on an hourly basis, “I can do this job./No,
I can’t do this job. Yes, I’m talented enough./No, I have no talent.”
You just sort of flip-flop. And ultimately where I fell on the question
was: I can do this job if I have a lot of help. If I have a fabulous
DP, like I did. If I have great editor, which I really did-Jeff
Ford is sensational. If I have a great first AD running my set,
like I did. If I have producers who support me, like I did. If I
have great actors, like I did, then I guess I can do this job. So
we’ll see.