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Interview with Alexandra Ryan and James Gandolfini, Producers of 'Hemingway and Gellhorn'

HBO

You were involved with this project from the beginning. What drew you to the material?

Alexandra Ryan

Initially, I had seen 'Pollack,' the Ed Harris film. I just loved the dynamic of that marriage so I had a general meeting with [writer-producer] Barbara Tuner, and she mentioned doing a movie on Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn had such an interesting life you could do a mini-series about her, but I thought it might be more interesting to focus on her marriage to Hemingway. That's where she grew and was challenged the most. We started there and as these movies do, we really needed an advocate, someone who would help us when it got difficult. Barbara and I were totally obsessed with 'The Sopranos' and she had the genius idea of attaching James to the project.

HBO

James, what was it that interested in you in this story?

James Gandolfini

Alex and Barbara are quite a powerful pair. The story sounded intriguing.

HBO

How much did you already know about his story?

James Gandolfini

Honestly, I knew very little. I hadn't really read any Hemingway, unfortunately, but I wanted it to be that way going in. It may sound like laziness, but I wanted to come to it like someone who was seeing it for the first time. I didn't want to know his life or her life because then you fill in the blanks yourself. After it became clear I wasn't going to do the movie, I listened and read more, and investigated more. I found the whole thing fascinating.

HBO

Both Hemingway and Gellhorn lived epic lives. How did you wrestle with the material?

James Gandolfini

Barbara and Alex did nine months of research. They want to Cuba and Key West, they went everywhere and figured out how to consolidate the story.

Alexandra Ryan

Hemingway and Gellhorn went to Spain, back and forth, three different times. And as war correspondents, they traveled all over the world. You do your best to tell an interesting story and it's all dependent on the budget. We consolidated some of their time in Spain. Using special effects allowed us to travel to a lot of great places. So the scope was a lot broader than we thought, but we just started off wanting to tell the story.

HBO

Besides the scope of their lives, what storytelling challenges did you face?

Alexandra Ryan

There are so many myths about Hemingway. He was the most famous person in the world, but also a human being. We were trying to get to the truth of that, to really understand where he was coming from. We needed to figure out how to handle that in an honest and a compassionate way where you don't judge him. And Gellhorn was flawed too. No one is a victim in this situation.

HBO

Do you have a favorite moment in the film?

Alexandra Ryan

The scene I always envisioned is when Hemingway steals her job and her seat on the plane. How would Gellhorn react to that? Talk about striking where she lives! I always wondered about how that would be executed, and Nicole [Kidman]'s reaction was so right on and authentic. I think that's my favorite scene.

HBO

What do you think people will most relate to about their story?

Alexandra Ryan

I think this type of marriage, this type of relationship is going to be really relatable. Hopefully people who aren't even necessarily drawn to Hemingway will understand the power struggle in this relationship. And there's a way of looking at Martha, that she was tough, that she could take him or leave him. But in our research that wasn't the case. She really was devastated. But she chose her mission over the domestic life he wanted with her. I think Phil [Kaufman, the director] had such a love and affection for Martha. And from what I saw, that was his guiding light in developing this.

HBO

Is there anything you are particularly proud of having accomplished with the film?

Alexandra Ryan

People are excited that a film like this can be made. It's really encouraging other people who have passion projects. Our first meeting was in 2001 - it's been an evolution: Barbara with the original idea; and Jerry Stahl's valuable involvement got us to the finish line. There were so many competing projects and somehow we kept pushing forward. There were times where we needed someone to step in and protect us. Jim was an inspiration throughout the process.

James Gandolfini

Barbara and Alex did all the heavy lifting. I got involved for a while and then we left it in Phil's capable hands. They were nice enough to ask my opinion of a few things.

HBO

Such as...?

James Gandolfini

There was a lot of discussion about the Spanish Civil War. It's something that's hard to grasp if you don't know anything about it. And again, that was a little bit of my value because I didn't know a lot about it. So they had questions about how to get that distilled down to something people could follow. Also, trying to understand Hemingway's motives, that kind of passion, the fist-fighting with the critic - people used to break things!

HBO

He was such a larger than life person. Did you ever worry that Hemingway's story might overshadow Gellhorn's?

James Gandolfini

If she had been some meek wife, she would be overshadowed. But she wasn't overshadowed by him -- in real life or in the movie.

Hemingway & Gellhorn

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