One thing I’ve learned as a writer: everyone loves origin stories. The first question I get asked is “how did you become a writer?” It is usually followed by “how do I get an agent?” but that’s another ball of wax. Right behind that is: “how did this particular movie come to be?” This is the story of THE DOUBLE, which opens in theaters in New York and LA on September 23rd, and expands to eight other cities the following weekend.
Michael Brandt (my writing partner) and I had a simple idea in the summer of 2000: what if an American/Russian double agent was assigned the task of hunting his secret identity? Partner him with a young FBI officer who has no idea he’s standing next to the man he’s hunting, and we might just have a suspenseful NO WAY OUT, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR spy movie. We worked out the beats of the story, fleshed out the characters, and took it to MGM, who bought it in the room as a pitch. We were off and running. Soon, we finished a couple of drafts and the president of production at MGM said, “let’s go find a director.” One of the junior producers of the movie balked though, saying the script needed more work. In essence, this killed the project at MGM. Momentum is a fickle beast, and a strong producer knows to keep the ball moving forward. Our junior producer fumbled in the backfield.
The WGA, however, has a policy wherein the writers of a screenplay can regain the rights to their original material after seven years of idleness from the studio. Our manager, Andrew Deane, remembered the project, checked on the reversion rights, and we filed a successful claim to regain the screenplay. This time, we wanted to make it ourselves; Michael would direct and I would produce. To do that, we had to have some star power attached to the script.
Richard Gere’s agent expressed interest in Gere playing the main character. We knew if Gere committed, we could get the movie financed. Michael flew to the Hamptons, pretended he was already planning to be there, and gained an audience with Gere at his home. “Hey, I’m in the neighborhood, mind if I stop by?” The actor had read the screenplay, and the two of them talked for hours about the part and Michael’s vision for the film. Michael created a “look-book” – images he had culled from magazines that provided texture for the look and feel of what he wanted to create – and gave that to Gere. The actor was a gracious host, and at the end of the meeting, committed to playing the part.
Next, we took the movie out to financiers and several expressed interest in making the movie at the desired budget with Richard Gere starring. We were most impressed by Hyde Park, who put together a list of actors they would approve to play the part of the young FBI agent. Additionally, they would fully finance the film, and they put together a schedule to shoot the movie in Detroit, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.
Next, we sent the script to Topher Grace, whom we respected from his work on TRAFFIC, his cameos in the OCEAN’S movies, and his portrayal of a young executive in IN GOOD COMPANY. We were told not to get our hopes up, because Topher’s nickname was “no-fer” for all the times he rejected potential roles. A week went by and we hadn’t heard anything. Just as we were about to move on, Topher called Michael and asked for a dinner meeting. The two hit it off immediately and Topher grew excited about a chance to appear in a spy film alongside Gere. Plus, I think his mom wanted to meet Richard.
With the main two characters in place, we cast the other roles: landing Stephen Moyer of TRUE BLOOD fame, Odette Annable to play Topher’s wife, Stana Katic to play a Russian whore named Amber, and the inimitable Martin Sheen to play the Director of Central Intelligence.
Michael directed the hell out of the film and I tried not to screw up the producing. The trailer broke earlier this month and the response was: “you gave away the twist of the movie!” No, we gave away the conceit of the movie… it was always about a spy assigned the job of catching his alter ego. And trust me, there are plenty of twists, turns, surprises and suspense left. Richard Gere hasn’t played this shade of gray since INTERNAL AFFAIRS, and Topher brings a weightiness that will surprise a lot of his fans. I hope you’ll check it out.
DEREK HAAS is the author of the THE SILVER BEAR, COLUMBUS, and DARK MEN, which will be published in December 2011. Derek also co-wrote the screenplays for 3:10 TO YUMA, starring Russel Crowe and Christian Bale, and WANTED, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, and Angelina Jolie. His forthcoming film, THE DOUBLE will be released in October 28th. Derek lives in Los Angeles.