Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie Give Powerhouse Performances in Fox News Drama ‘Bombshell’
One of the biggest workplace sexual misconduct stories in recent years comes alive in “Bombshell,” a compelling drama exploring the power dynamics at Fox News and the eventual downfall of it’s chairman, CEO and founder, Roger Ailes (a brilliantly monstrous John Lithgow). The film, which was directed by Jay Roach and written by Oscar winner Charles Randolph, brings together some of the biggest actresses in Hollywood, including Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who bravely sued Ailes for sexual harassment before the first wave of the #MeToo movement.
A lot has been made of the physical transformations both Theron and Kidman, as well as Lithgow, went through, which were accomplished thanks to their patience and long hours spent with prosthetic makeup designer Kazu Hiro and a skilled makeup department led by Vivian Baker. But the real magic is in their powerful performances, especially Theron as Megyn and Kidman as Gretchen, whom we witness transform from personalities at a conservative news network to unlikely feminist heros.
Theron and Kidman also wore other hats before and during production, and it was Theron who brought the script to Roach and served on the team of producers, which included four women. She also provided immense support to the other actresses on set, especially Margot Robbie, whose fictional character Kayla represents the non-famous women who fell prey to Ailes. Said Roach during a sit down with Entertainment Voice, “Margot’s character, the vulnerability she has to get to, was so, at least I imagine, such a dark place to go to. To walk off the set and have Charlize right there to give her a hug, and encourage her, was a real cool part of it.”
As for Kidman, she helped develop the scenes in which we see what happened with Gretchen behind closed doors, including a key scene in which she likens her lawsuit to jumping off a cliff. Because Ailes worked hard to pit women against each other and installed fear in them, as we see here, she didn’t initially have the support that she thought she would. “We didn’t have access to the story, because Gretchen Carlson had signed an NDA. She couldn’t talk to us about the details. Nicole pushed us to go deeper, ‘Make up stuff if you have to,’” revealed Roach. “She had such great notes.”
Eventually, Megyn joins her side, but before this we see through her eyes her infamous heated dealings with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Everyone knows about Trump’s accusing her of “anger menstruation,” but here we get a fascinating glimpse at what happened behind closed doors and how Ailes used her as a pawn to bolster Trump, whose candidacy was ratings gold.
It was also important for Roach to also tell the story of those women at Fox News who lacked the star power of Megyn and Gretchen and didn’t have access to agents and lawyers. Along with Randolph, he conducted a number of off-the-record interviews with former Fox employees, and from their stories came the character of Kayla, an earnest and eager young employee from a conservative Christian background who dreams of being in front of the camera.
Robbie is heartbreaking to watch as Kayla meets with Roger in good faith, hoping to prove herself, but instead is victimized to the old leacher. The emotional core of “Bombshell” is her unlikely relationship with Jess (Kate McKinnon), another composite character, a lesbian news producer who hides her liberal views at work. Unlike Kayla, who grew up in a Fox News home, Jess sees the job as a mere stepping stone. Despite their differences, the two become close, and in the most emotionally-charged scene we witness Kayla confess to Jess what Ailes did to her behind the locked door of his office, what we the viewer didn’t even see.
Despite the weighty issues explored in “Bombshell,” there are also plenty of moments of levity. Roach, who helmed the “Austin Powers” movies, does an excellent job of balancing the light with the dark, and the more humorous scenes include the ones in which character actors bring to life the colorful cast of characters who work at Fox News, including Kimberly Guilfoyle (Bree Condon), Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach), and Geraldo Rivera (Tony Plana). We also seen Megyn unwind and laugh with her supportive husband, Doug Brunt (Mark Duplass).
While conducting his interviews, one thing Roach found time and time again was that those who survived abuse and trauma often used dark humor to cope. “It almost would be fake to not have some sense of humor, to give these women their strength to joke about something. It takes a hard reality to find some hope through humor.”
“Bombshell” opens Dec. 13 in Los Angeles and New York, Dec. 20 nationwide.