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New film ‘The Conspirator’ sheds light on an untold story about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination


Whitney Cyr

A&E Editor


On April 15, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the controversy over the people involved with his death will be put on the silver screen in the Robert Redford-directed feature film “The Conspirator.”

The film focuses on the little known story of Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), the one woman who was accused of being a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln.

The nation slowly turns against her, and her uncertain lawyer, Frederick Aiken, played by James McAvoy, must fight to find the truth as well as to save the life of his client.

Redford held a press conference in the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood Ca., where he spoke about his experiences making the film and why he wanted to film this story.

“I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot left to say about Abraham Lincoln, but this script was different. I was attracted to the story because it’s not really known,” Redford said.

The director asked himself, “What is the story underneath the story that we already know?”

Redford expressed the difficulty in showing a courtroom drama when Robin Wright’s character is put on trial for helping to assassinate America’s eleventh president.

“We wanted to make it as accurate as possible. Either side is represented.”

While [there are] archive records, there is no dialogue, so Redford said, “The dialogue must be tied very closely with the facts.”

Dramatic elements and accurate dialogue were among Redford’s top priorities for making the film.

“I’m a stickler for accuracy,” Redford said.

“We really went overboard in trying to get everything accurately,” the film director said.

Redford said there were a lot of lies around the facts, which makes it more difficult to decipher what is the truth and what isn’t.

Redford said he was interested in actors who didn’t want to enter the profession to be famous, but were really in tune with the craft.

“I wanted McAvoy right off the bat. I liked him because of his intense energy and the way he uses it,” he said.

“He has a lot of underlying passion.”

McAvoy has been nominated for the British version of the American Academy Awards, known as the BAFTAS, for his performance in 2007’s “Atonement” with Keira Knightley.

He’s also starred in films such as “Wanted” with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, as well as “Becoming Jane,” with Anne Hathaway.

“The Last King of Scotland,” the film that scored Forrest Whitaker an Oscar.

Redford said he was very proud of his entire cast but joked that Justin Long, who played the character of Nicholas Baker, needed to be reminded that he was acting in a film set in 1865.

Redford acknowledged that the film needed some comic relief, and that was where Justin Long came in. Long has appeared in films such as “Dodgeball, “Accepted,” and most recently the romantic comedy “Going the Distance” with Drew Barrymore.

As far as the process of filming, Redford said the script was worked on gradually, while the filming took place at a fast pace.

“We didn’t have a lot of time filming, we had to move like lightning,” he said.

“The film was very low budget.” The frame for the film was the Civil War, but Redford said he didn’t want to spend too much time dwelling on battle scenes, so he chose to open his film with McAvoy’s character during a Civil War battle, struggling to stay alive.

“The opening sequence was an impressionistic sketch of the Civil War,” he said.

“You know about the Civil War, so we didn’t have to go into detail. We’re trusting your knowledge to understand what is happening and the setting the film occurs in,” he added.

In addition, Redford hoped his film would get across a certain message.

“The objective that I like to shoot for is to entertain, but also to educate.”

Redford said all his films have a political message, and “The Conspirator” is no different.

“The Constitution is always under attack. It’s an ongoing thing in the film, and I hope audiences pick up on that because those complications can be paralleled to today,” Redford said.

“American audiences don’t like to be hammered with a position or message. I want them to find it, and I wanted to let the story tell itself.”

“The Conspirator” is a film in a long line of projects that Redford has been involved in.

He began acting in 1960 in dozens of television shows, but entered the film industry in 1962’s “War Hunt.” From then on, Redford has acted in 37 films.

Redford was famous for playing opposite Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Newman and Redford also partnered together in the Academy Award-winning film “The Sting” in 1973.

In addition, Redford also starred in “All the President’s Men” in 1976 about reporters uncovering details about the Watergate scandal that lead to Richard Nixon’s resignation.

He has also starred in films such as “The Natural” and “The Horse Whisperer,” but gained the most notoriety for his role in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Redford was also the founder of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, which premieres some of the year’s best films that have gone on to win Academy awards.

Now, however, Redford has focused his attention on directing because as he said, “I wanted to tell my own stories. I wanted control of my product.”

The film “Ordinary People,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1980, was his directorial debut, while he has also directed seven other films such as “The Quiz Show,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” and most recently, “Lions for Lambs,” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.

“The Conspirator” is his latest directorial effort and will be in theaters this spring, April 15.


Whitney Cyr can be contacted at wcyr@keeneequinox.com



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