TERRY GEORGE: It’s a biopic based on the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello. He was a Brazilian UN Diplomat who was killed by the first Al Qaeda bomb in Baghdad. And Sergio had all through his life worked for the UN but with no attachment to any country. He was a UN career diplomat and he epitomized the evolution of the UN from its peacekeeping days to its peacemaking days and Sergio was involved in all the major crisis of the last 25 years. He kind of followed some of the terrible failures of the UN to some of their successes and people really believed that Sergio would become the next attorney general and make a change. So he’s just an amazing character that allows me to tell the story of the thousands of ordinary UN workers who work on the ground and who devote their lives to the cause of peace and humanitarianism and try to stop war. He was also an incredibly handsome character who had a lot of girlfriends and finally found true love toward the end of his life, so he is the perfect movie character.
AD: What drew you to this project?
TG: There is a woman called Samantha Power who was a Pulitzer Prize winner for a book called “The Problem from Hell-America and the Age of Genocide”. She’s writing the biography of Sergio. She knew him in Sarajevo during the war and she approached me and told me that she was doing this book and I immediately latched onto it. It’s a collaboration between the both of us and will be coming out together. It’s a big writing challenge because it encompasses so much of the last 30 years.
AD: What kind of process is that for you? Do you have to disappear? I know you are in the middle of promoting a big film.
TG: I try and do that. I actually hate writing. I find it extremely painful-particularly screenwriting. I don’t mind the other stuff-journalism and what not. You are trying to distill in words and images the essence of a story. So it’s not as if you can sit and type and go fast you just have to sit there and come up with it. With Sergio I’ve been writing portions of it and going in and out of it and for this story it’s finding portions of his life that can illustrate the evolution. And at the minute, as you say, I’m promoting this movie, and you’ll always have something that will allow you to procrastinate. So I literally, at some point, have to force myself into some form of prison cell and type.
AD: You mentioned Sergio had a colorful love life, how much of his personal life will figure into the film?
TG: Well the emphasis has to be the political life and the events that he dealt with but there is a subtext in people that go into war zones whether they are journalists or humanitarians. They are kind of adrenaline junkies and tend to be nomadic and scattered in their emotional lives and their physical lives. I think that’s an element of Sergio that adds a subtext to it that is very interesting. I think for me, you always have to hang a movie on the personal life or the political-personal life of the character. Sergio did a lot of talking at the UN and negotiations and for me, that’s not a movie. It’s the tangle of his life and the weave tangle of his life, that most interests me. For me, I can’t do the All the President’s Men side of it and just do the political intrigue on its own. I want to know what the real character is like and how that changes and what that says to an audience.
AD: Your films’ subject matter is pretty heavy. What is it like to go through it and then have to let them go?
TG: Letting them go generally isn’t that hard. With Hotel Rwanda I never let it go because it’s a cause as well as a movie. Don Cheadle and I, and him more so, have become the flag waiver and motivator for getting involved with that. With Reservation Road I hope people will take away from it the message within it. It will stay with me in terms of dealing with the actors and so forth but it is a piece of work that is there for the audience to take in. Does that make sense?
AD: Absolutely. Thank you.