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Michael Keaton: 'Spotlight' script 'ballsy' in going after church

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Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in "Spotlight."
Kerry Hayes
Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in "Spotlight."

The actor and the film's director, Tom McCarthy, have personal connections to the story of how the Boston Archdiocese covered up an abuse scandal.

Click the play button to hear the full interview with Michael Keaton, director Tom McCarthy and screenwriter Josh Singer.

"Spotlight" centers on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation within that city's Catholic archdiocese.

Following a screening at the Telluride Film Festival, The Frame's John Horn spoke with the people behind the film about keeping true to the real story, to which Michael Keaton and director Tom McCarthy have personal connections. 

Interview Highlights:

Keaton: "When I watched how well it was handled with this material and how ballsy it was to go brutally against — you know, I was raised very Catholic — to go after [the church]. I've read the script, I said the words, I was there, I knew what happened. But seeing it tonight, I thought, Holy s**t, you're naming names! There's an enormous responsibility with that, you're naming names. You're saying that guy, that person exists — not a character. That's tricky stuff. Things like this can go really wrong. This one goes really right in my opinion." 

McCarthy:  "I'm Irish-American, raised in a very Catholic family, went to Boston College, was educated by the Jesuits. I'm more of a lapsed Catholic, but I still think I identify my spirituality through the Catholic Church, and a large portion of my family is still very committed to the church. Look, when I sat down and really considered this project, there was a part of me that felt maybe I was the right person because I still have a strong emotional and spiritual connection to it, but also empathy for it. The victims and survivors, of course, are the people that were most damaged by this, but also other people who relied on Catholicism, who really felt like they had the rug pulled out [from under] them. A lot of wonderful Catholics who really lean on the Catholic Church and suddenly the institution betrays you in such a way that you're thrown into a crisis of doubt. That's a terrible thing to do to your parishioners [and] constituency. It's a harsh reality for a lot of people."

Some of the characters in the film -- the editors and reporters -- are members of the church and they have relatives who are members of the church who discourage them from pursuing this story. Did you have relatives or friends outside of the church who questioned why you were making this movie? 

McCarthy: The first person I sat down with when I really seriously considered taking this project on was my father who was a very devout Catholic and a wonderful, wonderful man. He's since passed away. I genuinely wanted him to know I was going to do this because, one, his input was important to me, and two, I knew the minute that it was announced in the press they would be hearing from it. Sure enough, the next day it was announced we were getting calls from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island -- all the places they lived... 

Calling you or your father? 

McCarthy: Calling my parents to say, "Why is he doing this? What is this gonna be?" They actually thanked me later, like, "Thank god you gave us a heads up." That's common. Look, there's a lot of Catholics there that think there's no value to reliving it. I think others -- you know, we were just in Italy with the movie. Now, you can imagine the premiere at the Venice Film Festival was probably 90 percent Catholic. By and large, the response we got was, Thank you for finally telling the story. We need to hear it and we need to hear it again and again and again until it sinks in and we get a real sense of the importance and the value of this.

Michael, what about you? 

Keaton: Well, my mom was a devout, devout Catholic -- raised that way -- an old school tough Catholic, and I was, too. My mom had passed away but my mom went to mass every morning, literally every morning, and I was an alter boy and did all that stuff. So listening to Tom speak, I thought, Wow, of course that would happen. Yeah, that probably would have happen had my mom been alive. I didn't even think of that.  

So my brothers, I was just with them. They were all visiting me at my house and there was no issue with them. Now they're not real think-hats, but they are glad it's being done because they feel really strongly. Especially my one brother who is outraged, probably who maybe closer to the church than the others.

Outraged that you were in the movie?

Keaton: No, no, no... 

Outraged by the scandal.

Keaton: They're outraged by all of it. So they're very glad I'm doing it and they're pretty old school dudes. They get scared. People get mostly afraid, I think, when there's change. You know, there's a lot of horrible things going on in the world and I think it just wears people down. The older you get, the less strength you have to say, "I won't put up with this," or "I'm gonna fight this," or "I'm gonna investigate this," or "I'm gonna be curious about it." But in this, no, I think they like what's being said and done cause they know it's the right thing to do. 

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