Tim Robbins and Victor Garber on How They Were Inspired by the True Story of ‘Dark Waters’
In director Todd Haynes‘ “Dark Waters,” a film based on the true story of lawyer Robert Bilott’s ethical and legal battle with corporate titan DuPont Chemicals over the health hazards caused by the Teflon product, Tim Robbins and Victor Garber play two boardroom men who start on the same side but end up on opposite ends of the table. Entertainment Voice spoke with Robbins and Garber about their role in the film based on Bilott’s brave journey.
Mark Ruffalo plays the lawyer in the movie and working with him was part of what drew both actors to the project, as well as the subject itself, of course, which Robbins remembers reading about in 2004. “When I read about this story, I immediately got rid of my Teflon. I had small children at the time, and I remember shopping in a store a few years later, after the information had come out about the product being poisonous, and I see Teflon being sold, again, under a different name, rebranded; it made me angry. So, when this project came along, I knew it was super important to tell this story, because people needed to see how short our memory can be.”
Robbins plays Thomas Terp, Bilott’s superior in the film. “What drew me to this role was the dichotomy of playing a senior executive who works for a law firm which represents chemical companies that’s taking on a major chemical company and suing them.” Robbins said. “That’s not normal behavior for these kinds of law firms. I was curious about what kind of person this was, and I was able to talk to with the real figure and understand what his motivations were, which was what’s right and what’s wrong. What kind of morally reprehensible company knowingly sells products that they know are poison what is that all about? The rationalizations that people make to justify their work.”
Garber plays one of the very people who Robbins speaks of, a glad-handing businessman named Phil Donnelly, who is also based on an actual figure from the case but was renamed for the film. “All villains, people who we consider bad or are misguided, are all people doing what they think they should be doing,” Garber said. “The man was doing things that were unconscionable, but he was a company man; he believed in what they were doing. But, of course, it often comes down to money and greed. It was a very interesting character to embody because it isn’t just one color. In a way he’s a victim of his own making; he made a pact with the devil, so to speak.”
Garber’s presence and cadence feels like the kind of character Paul Newman might have played in a ‘90s legal thriller, post “The Verdict” and pre gangster villain in “Road to Perdition.” While Garber is only in a few scenes, albeit a couple of big ones, his mogul presence looms over the entire movie. “It’s almost like what we see every day in our government,” Garber said. “I hope that people are motivated by the movie and realize that we have to be conscious of what’s happening around us and do what we can in our own individual ways to make the world a better place.”
Garber also reminisced on bonding with Robbins while working on the project. “Tim and I had a great time in Cincinnati eating dinner together, which was a kind of way of releasing the day’s angst. For me as an actor, I knew I was called for something that was worth doing. There’s nobody better to act with than Mark Ruffalo. I enjoyed every day that I worked on the film.”
“I admire my friend Mark Ruffalo more than any other actor in Hollywood,” Robbins seconded. “There’s not a lot like him, that use their position in the industry to help others in a constant way, and in a hands on way. He’s got courage and moral character.” The actor continued, “I wanted to do this film to inspire others in the world to step out of their comfort zone, and think about their rationalization of what might be harmful to the communities that they serve, to make decisions based on morality rather than profit margin; I find that inspiring and I wish there were more people like him.”
All involved in bringing Robert Bilott’s battle to life on the big screen were clearly inspired by the invigorating true story and relished the opportunity to help spread the word of his vital actions. “What I am looking for is to act with actors that I like,” Garber added. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with great, great people. I love seeing great performances; that’s always inspiring.” Haynes’ film boasts an ensemble of excellent actors that also includes Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, William Jackson Harper and Bill Pullman.
“Dark Waters” opens Nov. 22 in select theaters and expands Dec. 6 to theaters nationwide.