The story in the movie “Conviction” is so remarkable that if it didn’t happen in real life, people might believe that it was made up just for the movie. The emotional drama, which is based on a true story, stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts woman who fought for 18 years to get her imprisoned brother Kenny Waters (played by Sam Rockwell) cleared of murder charges and released from prison. During her struggle to set Kenny free, Betty Anne (a high-school dropout) decides to go back to school so that she can become a lawyer to represent Kenny in his case.
Over the long and often-frustrating journey to prove that Kenny was innocent, Betty’s marriage falls apart, and at times she is an unemployed single mother who often sacrifices time with her children to work on Kenny’s case. While in law school, Betty Anne meets Abra Rice (played by Minnie Driver), a fellow student who becomes Betty Anne’s best friend. Abra is also someone who gives valuable assistance to Betty Anne’s cause. Betty Anne, who reaches her goal to become an attorney representing Kenny, then enlists the help of famed lawyer Barry Scheck (played by Peter Gallagher) in helping uncover the necessary DNA evidence to prove that Kenny did not commit the murder.
Meanwhile, Betty Anne faces extreme resistance from the authorities who put Kenny in prison and who are reluctant to re-open the case. Kenny was convicted largely on the evidence gathered a corrupt cop named Nancy Taylor (played by Melissa Leo) and the false testimony of ex-girlfriend Roseanna Perry (played by Juliette Lewis), and Betty Anne is determined to expose their deceit in order to vindicate Kenny and set him free from prison. “Conviction” had its world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, where Swank, Rockwell, Driver, Leo, Lewis, director/producer Tony Goldwyn, screenwriter Pamela Gray and Betty Anne Waters gathered for an insightful press conference the day of the premiere. Here is what they said at the press conference.
How did you get involved in “Conviction”?
Goldwyn: I had first heard about the story because my wife saw a piece on the news when Betty Anne succeeded in getting Kenny out of prison. I got fascinated with the story and teamed up with one of our producers, Andrew Karsch, who was securing the rights to Betty Ann’s story. We met and agreed that we saw the same film and agreed that Pamela Gray was the ideal writer for it.
Pamela and I drove up to Rhode Island and spent a lot of time with Betty Anne and just talking and getting to know her. The first time, I was alone with Betty Anne, and then Pam joined me for the trip. I think we made two trips, and just spent hour and hours and hours talking to Betty Anne, and taped her conversation. She took us to meet her family. She took us to all the different places involved in the story.
And I think for Pamela and [me], I remember coming out of some of these meetings, jumping up and down and going, “God, this is really good, but how do make a movie out of it?” Because it was basically 40 years’ of story. You could make five great films out of Betty Anne’s life. There were so many extraordinary characters and experiences, so it was really, for us, an issue of focusing the film. And that continued for eight years before we got in front of the cameras.
Gray: When Tony first told me the story, I had that experience as a writer where your heart starts racing, like, “I must write this story.” It was so incredible, and when we met Betty Anne, it just reached this level that you couldn’t imagine. She’s such an amazing human being. She is a normal person who did the most extraordinary thing. As Tony said, there was so material, the richness, and those moments of “This couldn’t happen. You wouldn’t believe this if it weren’t in a movie.”
And so the biggest challenge was to take what was essentially at least four movies and turn it into one. For me, as a writer, I kept trying to do all four and balance. And the characters are extraordinary, and everybody in the movie has passion, whether it’s nasty passion or the most beautiful passion between this brother and sister, the passion of two friends trying to help each other — and the passion of revenge that would be played by Juliette [Lewis]. And Betty Anne as this force of nature and this incredible soul who did the most beautiful thing I’ve ever known anyone to do. And the great and wonderful Kenny Waters, played by Sam [Rockwell]. I just feel blessed by a director and a cast and a real human being who made this extraordinary film.
Betty Anne, what was it like for you to first see “Conviction”?
Waters: Well, I started crying a minute into it. It’s bringing me to tears again. It was, for lack of a better word, surreal. It was amazing to see myself and brother’s story come to life. It actually is the story.
Hilary and Sam, can you talk about playing real people and how that might be different from playing fictional characters?
Swank: It’s challenging, especially when the person you’re playing is still alive. You want to do justice to their story, especially when it’s a story that’s as magnificent as Betty Anne’s is and Kenny’s. Betty is my real-life hero. And in the beginning, I actually didn’t know if I wanted to meet her right away Eventually, I wanted to, but I didn’t want to meet her right away, because the accent, I didn’t want it to be a parody.
I wanted to understand her heart, and I wanted to understand her passion and drive and unconditional love came from for her brother. I listened to tons of stories that she shared with Tony and Pam, as they just explained. I guess listening to her heart and listening to her stories and listening to her childhood, Betty is so gracious in sharing anything about herself with such humility and grace, that was extraordinary for me.
And when Sam came on board, Sam came on four weeks before we started filming. And I’d already been on for a couple of months. Oh, longer than that, but I started my preparation a couple of months before that. And Sam’s like, “I want to meet Betty Anne! I want to meet the family! I want to meet everybody!” “OK! Well, I’m going with you!” Because I thought that would be a great bonding experience for us, playing brother and sister, to meet Betty Anne and Abra and the family. And that’s when we all got in the car — Tony and Sam and I — and drove to visit Betty Anne and her family.
This opportunity for me was so life-enriching and a reminder to me of what’s important, which is family. I grew, I feel, as an actor, but Betty Anne has changed my life in who she is and how she chooses to live her life. It’s the best of both worlds. You get this opportunity as an actor and as a human being have this experience.
Rockwell: Yeah, I think we drank some delicious beer, too. It’s always a responsibility, I think, when you’re playing a real person. It’s an extra thing, like an accent. It’s a responsibility you have to take on — but fun. You do feel you owe this to this real person to represent their passion. We hung out with Betty Anne and interviewed her and she told stories. We went to the actual town where some of the movie is in and hung out there. You do your own private research in addition to whatever. You work on the accent, talk to the real people.
Do you think it’s a disadvantage to meet the person that you’re portraying because it might cloud your judgment of how you do the job?
Swank: If you sat here right now and asked Betty Anne any question that you can think of, she would answer it in such great detail and with such memory, not ever afraid to show all different sides of herself and tell us herself. I think she’s my hero, yet she’s so human, too. I hear these stories that she shares with us, and some of the stories that you see in the movie.
And you have this idea that she’s this tough woman and she’s going to get in there and she’s driven. And you have this idea in your head that she’s tough and talks tough. And look at her: She’s over here crying and all heart. She wears her heart on her sleeve. The dichotomy of what you see on paper and what you really get is a great lesson for me as an actor. When you read something and you think, “Oh yeah, this veneer,” but look [she points to Waters]. It was just extraordinary to play all those different colors of Betty and for her to share all those different colors and Pamela captured all those different colors. It was remarkable.
Betty Anne, can you talk about what happened to Kenny after he was released from prison?
Waters: After his release, he was free for six months. And for those six months, he had so much fun. It was the happiest days of his life. And he died after he fell on his head. The most I can say about that is he died a free person.
Was it difficult to take the wrongful conviction civil lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts forward after Kenny died?
Waters: Yes and no. It wasn’t difficult because the DNA evidence proved that Kenny was innocent and wrongfully convicted, but it didn’t prove what Nancy Taylor did to my brother to convict him. And that’s what the lawsuit did. It took years to recover state’s evidence that we did not know about at the time of the crime that showed they already knew he was innocent. That lawsuit proved that they purposely put him in prison. It meant a lot to me, and it would’ve meant a lot to Kenny.
The real murderer in this case has not been found. Is the murder case still being investigated?
Waters: I don’t believe so. I don’t know. You’d have to ask the officials in Massachusetts.
Whatever happened to Nancy Taylor?
Waters: She’s retired and living in a small town in Massachusetts. Nothing criminal has happened to her, even though it’s been proven that she lied and knew that Kenny was innocent.
Melissa, can we assume you did not have access to Nancy Taylor?
Leo: I have to say that I was even under the impression that Nancy was a composite character, that this breadth of the actual story required something belated. So I played her under the impression that she was in fact not such a real-life person. And no, there was no contact with her.
Goldwyn: She sort of is a composite person, but only in terms of offense. Nancy was not the person who initially arrested Kenny. However, she was the primary driving force once … she decided that Kenny was the prime suspect and went after him extremely aggressively. One thing I would say about playing real-life characters, for Pamela and my approach as filmmakers and for every actor — and certainly for me as a director working with the actors — you have to approach it like it’s a piece of fiction, even though we all have responsibilities to honor the spirit and the truth of what the movie is about, which honors Betty Anne and Kenny’s story, but it’s about something larger and has to stand on its own. It’s not a documentary.
Nancy was a character in the script, but I feel when I watch Melissa’s incredible performance that she gives a very balanced, complicated [performance]. I’ve never met Nancy Taylor, but I think Betty Anne would say [it’s] an accurate representation of this person. In the same way that if you see a picture of Kenny Waters, Sam doesn’t look like Kenny at all, but I knew that Sam embodied the essential elements, for me, to honor the truth of Kenny.
Pamela, can you talk about how you developed the characters in the movie that you didn’t have access to talk to in real life?
Gray: Just in all those years of creating these characters and recreating them from the true-life pieces, each actor took each character to another level. And I was lucky enough to be there during rehearsal and during production. And each question I got asked helped me understand the characters more. Melissa, in particular, it’s very had to get inside someone who I think was inherently evil, and to understand. For Melissa, she had to keep asking, “Who is the person who would do this?” And in fact, Nancy Taylor was much worse than we portrayed her in the film.
Juliette’s character, Roseanna Perry, was one of the exes of Kenny’s who helped put him in prison. And I knew stories about her from Betty Anne, and I took those stories and quoted the quotes that Betty Anne gave me, and I created scenes. And then Betty Anne managed to get me cassette tapes of the real woman it was a humbling experience as a writer, my response was, “I could never have written this, because my mind — as you can see by the performance — you can’t put yourself in the position of someone who thinks that way.
Lewis: The bad grammar, the made-up words that don’t exist. When I saw it [in the script], I was like, “Do you want to fix this word?”
Gray: So I got to incorporate the real language, the real brain into what I’d already done. And then shape it, because it could’ve been the whole movie of this insane woman talking. And yet, all these people believed what they were saying, and there was a truth to each character, even if the character was a little bit off-balance.
Melissa and Juliette, can you talk about the total lack of vanity you have to go through to play these characters?
Lewis: Love it!
Leo: I dropped myself into it, and I understand the woman to believe there were a lot of unanswered questions about Nancy. I made it up my own mind. I talked with Sam a little bit history of what maybe happened 20 years prior to the film, how these people knew each other in this very small town. And I just invented a back story that not ever spoken of because it doesn’t aid the story [on screen]; it aids the story of the character.
Evil? I don’t know. I think Nancy felt that she had been wronged and abused. That’s the stepping-off point for me. And she’s then trying for her whole life to right a wrong, because she thinks it’s been done to her. Evil? No.
Lewis: She’s a web spinner, so it sort of starts when you’re younger. It’s really juvenile. The motivation can be … “F*ck you!” Except she does it on the witness stand, and the consequences are destroying a human being’s existence. And then from there, add chemicals. It’s just a shady existence. For me, it’s a pleasure because I work in energies. And so this is a person with a destructive energy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a person who shakes you your space, and it’s nice to have that person leave your space.
And I wanted to play a person [like], “I want you to feel me. I want you, when the scene is done, for you to take a deep breath.” She’s disturbing. She tells one lie, and then you tell a lie upon a lie upon a lie. And then you have this person who’s believing their own fiction. I loved drinking the $2 wine in the afternoon.
Tony, can you talk about filming the prison scenes in “Conviction”?
Goldwyn: We shot in a real prison. This movie was made for a modest budget. We didn’t have the money to build [prison] sets, frankly. But I also know that the real environment was very, very important to me. I know that as an actor myself, it’s a very powerful thing to spend in some time in that space. It creates its own energy. It’s very depressing.
Also, the thing that was critical in telling the story is that everything in it feel absolutely authentic … and not feel presented in any way, not feel theatrical. The camera style was almost exclusively hand-held, but in a subtle way. You might not even see it, but there’s a volatility to it.
Shooting in a real prison was extremely important to me. Sam will tell you that sitting in that cell, it’s pretty grim. We created a visiting-room space; we took a space and we converted it and did some work on that, but it was painfully real.
Rockwell: It’s alarming how small those cells were. It’s very claustrophobic.
Was “Conviction” shot primarily in Michigan?
Goldwyn: Yes, that’s correct. We took advantage of the incentives in Michigan. We did the film in three sections. It takes such a long period of time, the change of seasons was critical to me, and it turned out the way our financing came together, we were shooting in the winter in Michigan.
So we went up with a very small unit and no actors in October  to Massachusetts, and shot in Boston, went to Ayer, Massachusetts, the real town where Betty Anne grew up and where the crime took place. I took a bunch of shots that I knew I would need: aerial shots of fall foliage.
And then it we shot in the winter in Michigan. And then we went back with a half-unit in the springtime in Michigan to shoot the stuff with the little children and to pick up some other, so that way we had a sense of seasonal passage.
To anyone on the panel, can you talk about how your feelings about the American criminal-justice or legal system may have changed as a direct result of doing “Conviction”?
Driver: I come from a much-smaller country than the United States. We don’t have the state differentiation in Great Britain; we are more centrally run [in Great Britain]. I was astonished by how federal involvement is so minor; the state has jurisdiction. And that so much evidence can actually be discovered — it was actually sitting in a box in the back of this place, after all the years. And it didn’t inspire great faith. I felt that the archaic British system was kind of sadly but honestly superior. It [the American legal system] terrifies me … Barry Scheck had a lot to do with changing the way the system works now, in terms of physical evidence. It’s a fascinating story to be part of, and it [the American legal system] is obviously continuing to change now.
Swank: Yeah, there are definitely faults in our legal system, to say the least. Obviously, Betty Anne and Kenny’s story is a sad and enlightening reminder of that. I have a friend who was exonerated and who lived on death row for 19 years. And Betty Anne can shed a little light on this as well, because she obviously knows it way more intimately than any of us. My friend who was exonerated came out with such light, not anger, just happy to be free. Justice prevailed for him, even though 19 years of his life was taken because someone needed to find and label that “this is the person,” so people would feel safer in the world.
It’s astonishing to me that that can happen. It leaves me speechless. When you think of the depth of Kenny’s soul in prison for a murder he did not commit, there are people right now living that life, right now, as we sit here free talking about it. It’s unfathomable. Hopefully, talking about it can help the situation …
Rockwell: We shot in the prison for a very short amount of time. The last day was a very important day, and we lost the film. We had to go back in the prison and re-shoot it. It was very tough. I remember Betty Anne saying, “Well, now you’re going to know what it’s really like to be a prisoner.” And it was kind of a “Groundhog Day” kind of thing, at least as close to what I would get. It’s a thousand times more for somebody who’s actually there [in prison]. That’s all I have to say.
The wrongful imprisonment of Kenny Waters changed Betty Anne Waters’ life forever. Hilary, is there anything that happened to you that changed your life forever?
Swank: It’s really hard to compare my life to Betty Anne’s. I’m someone who plays heroes like Betty Anne, in the movies. And it’s a blessing for me to be able to live my dream while portraying such remarkable people. But in the end, that’s all I am. I’m just an actor. So I would say that it’s really hard to give an example that compares to Betty Anne’s life. I didn’t give my life of service to anyone, really, but myself. I can’t give any example that would give any sort of comparability.
Did winning your first Academy Award change your life?
Swank: I’ll just say that the Academy Award gave me the opportunity to play more roles, like Brandon Teena, like Betty Anne Waters. There’s no doubt that as an actor, my passion lies in playing characters like Betty Anne. So the Academy Award has given me the opportunity, certainly, to continue to explore areas of the human spirit and light and that inspire me.
There’s a scene in “Conviction” where Betty Anne’s sons ask if they would risk their lives for each other. Betty Anne, did you ever struggle with that question for yourself when you were helping Kenny?
Waters: I didn’t think that’s what I was doing. I just did what I did, one day at a time.
Did you resent the fact that people thought you sacrificed time with your kids to work on the cause to exonerate Kenny?
Waters: No. My children are very proud of everything I’ve done. They’re happy for what I’ve done.
Swank: Betty Anne’s unflappable and unconditional love for Kenny is such a reminder, like I said earlier, of what is important in life. If we could carry a small piece of that within us, the world would be a much better place.
Hilary, if you were faced with the same situation, would you have the same qualities to do what Betty Anne did?
Swank: I would say that I’m a determined and strong-willed person. Those are characteristics that I have. I’ve asked myself many times. I have a brother, and my brother is eight years older than [I am]. We’ve been in and out of each other’s lives, just because of the age difference. He was in military school as I was growing up, so we weren’t close as kids. But my brother is my family, and my brother and I are so close now. I can’t help but think that if the same thing were to happen to him that of course I’d want to do everything in my power, but at what point?
Betty Anne said, “Each day at a time. I didn’t know how long it was going to take.” And yet it took a long time. Betty Anne sacrificed so much of herself and her life. I don’t really know unless you’re in that exact position. It’s so remarkable. I don’t know if it’s something I could do. But feeling my brother’s spirit and my love for him, I’d hope we’d have strong enough people around me that we’d all help as a team to have justice prevail.
Goldwyn: I think one of the things that I hope that people take away from this film, and it has to do with that question, the important thing is not exactly what the answer is for any individual, because you never know until you’re in that situation. But I do think that people will experience this movie and those they love or say they love and think about, “What am I willing to do for these people that I care about most in my life, that I’m connected to, that depend on me and whom I depend?”
Because what made me want to tell this story was beyond the extraordinariness of Betty Anne’s achievement, what it really was about for me was what I imagined to be the bond between these two people [Betty Anne and Kenny Waters] and the extraordinary love that they shared. That, to me, was the thing that fascinated me: her faith in him and his in her. Betty never doubted for a second; she knew he was innocent when everyone else thought he was guilty. Kenny never doubted for one second that Betty was going to become a lawyer, find the evidence to somehow get him out, and he, not for one moment, did not have any doubt about her. What is that connection about?
I think it’s the thing we all crave in our lives: that kind of human connection. If people come away from the movie, thinking about the person next to them who might be their sister or brother or spouse or father, “What would I do for this person?,” I think that’s an important question for us all to answer.
Pamela, as the screenwriter for “Conviction,” was it a conscious decision for you to not have Betty Anne ask Kenny if he really committed the murder?
Gray: Yes, in the same way that I agree with Tony that on the outside, we can all ask that question about our own lives? That question was a no-brainer. Of course, he’s innocent. And she never had to ask the question, “Will I do this?” She may not have known at the beginning of the journey how she would do it.
She didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to become his lawyer.” It was at point of hopelessness and that sense of, “We cannot penetrate this legal system. We do not understand how this can work, the way it’s not working. And we will find a way to overcome that.”
But she never had that question. She never had her moments of despair and pain over how long it was taking and how many obstacles there were, but she didn’t have to ask if he were innocent, and she didn’t have to ask, “Why do this?” And we were hoping to raise those questions for the audience, but to have a character whose heart just knew what it knew.
Betty Anne, did you ever ask Kenny if he was innocent?
Waters: No, I always knew he was innocent. Everything she said was exactly true.
Betty Anne, can you talk about what it was like to work with Barry Scheck?
Waters: I loved working with Barry Scheck. Barry Scheck is my hero. He has done so much for not just my brother, which is how I came to know him, but he has done so much for so many other people who were wrongfully convicted. I’ve been in the room with 200 people at conferences that have been released after spending close to 18 years in prison also, some of them more or less [prison time]. And I find it amazing that he single-handedly, and with his Innocence Project, has done this. He goes all around the country, spending all of his time and energy helping all of these people that he can that are in prison.
Hilary and Minnie, can you talk about portraying the Betty Anne and Abra’s friendship?
Swank: They should have their own show. I wish [Abra] were in the room so you could get a gander of Abra. To have a friendship like that… First of all, you have these siblings (Kenny and Betty Anne), as Tony was saying, to have a love like that is enough to have people, when you watch the movie, say, “Do I have someone who would love me enough to do that? And do I love someone enough to do that?” That’s a real love story.
And to have a best friend like Abra and Betty Anne, to see their friendship, I think a lot of people would say, “Do I have a best friend like that?” Put aside how much of Betty Anne’s life she devoted to getting her brother out of prison, she has such extraordinary relationships. It also speaks volumes of her being and her person. It’s so fun to watch them and hang out with them.
Driver: I don’t look anything like Abra, but I have two great friends. [She says to Waters] I always feel like she was your angel, that she came in … and she was this hilarious, witty underlay for what was going on in Betty Anne’s life. She’s one of the most rip-roaringly funny, quick-witted [people], this alacrity. She’s heaven and she’s funny.
Hilary, do you have a friendship like that in real life?
Swank: Yeah, I do. Thankfully, I do.
Tony, how much time did you have for rehearsals for “Conviction”? And how much improvisation took place during filming?
Goldwyn: The most important thing for me in rehearsing for a film is really talking with the actors. I spent a fair amount of time … hours and hours and hours talking about the character and what the movie is about. For me, what it’s about for each of them so we’re on the same page and we’re telling the same story. So that’s the most important thing for me.
It’s funny, as opposed to the theater, where you rehearse for five weeks, I find rehearsals in movies [to be about] a week. Generally, if there’s a lot to do, we get together, and we get together we rehearse intensively for a week. And we play around and then do a lot of talking. The most important thing is that everyone is on the same page, that we know what the guts of the scene are and what we want to try and create. I like to go to the environment if at all possible, even if the sets aren’t ready, just to feel it and rough it out.
But you don’t want to over-rehearse in a film, because when the camera turns on, it needs to feel like it’s the first time. You have to make magic there, so when you show up there, we’re all in sync and what we’re setting up to do. So I — as opposed to a great director like Sidney Lumet, who rehearses for a month — I worked a lot in the theater as an actor, and it’s just a whole different process of rehearsals. That’s just my approach. We all seem to be in sync with that.
Swank: I will say that side by side with “Million Dollar Baby” and this film [“Conviction”], they were the best experiences I’ve ever had in my career. It was so much fun with this movie, even with story that we were telling. As actors and with Betty Anne on set, we found a lot of levity. You have to. I’ll answer the part of if there was a lot of improv.
In the jail sequences, when we had all that stuff within the prison, Tony extraordinarily and thankfully had two cameras rolling on Sam and [me]. The nature of the material, what was so great about it, is that it gives you the opportunity to [improvise]. Sam is a great improv’er. He will just come up with some of the funniest stuff that would have me in tars. And I imagine that that’s what Betty Anne and Kenny were like. And to thank Tony, who brilliantly was bale to capture some of that stuff. When you’re on one side, and let’s say that he’s improv’ing away, then we have to remember that when it comes over on my side [with the camera], I’ll say that stuff and try and have the same reaction to it. It’s essentially what you’re doing anyway, but it’s so fun when you’re improv’ing to just be able to rip back and forth with two cameras rolling and to capture things like that.
Goldwyn: Another thing about the improvisation question. Pam’s script was so good that that really is the best platform for improvisation, because we would always shoot the scene was written. It’s not as if we made a change specifically, but once you’re in the scene, there’s quite a lot of improvisation that in the editing room we could either chose to use or didn’t. Much of it is in the film.
But when the scenes really work, it enables to you to feel free and have an idea and go with it. Some scenes were literally as written, and some were [improvised], particularly with Sam, who really had cut loose on what was required. The scenes had to feel very immediate, and some of the stuff he has to go through is extremely painful and complicated. And he had to improvise. It was like, “Go! Don’t turn the camera off! Don’t cut!”
Rockwell: It was a very tight script. It’s not improvised like “Ghostbusters.”
Goldwyn: [He says jokingly] That [“Ghostbusters”] was my inspiration.
Rockwell: I mean, Pam wrote a very tight script, like a [David] Mamet play. It’s a very beautiful screenplay. Our scenes in the prison were truncated. They were in mid-conversations, so we had to create a reality before and after. So sometimes we had to get that going and warm up before we started the lines. I think a lot of that came from that.
For people who may know the outcome of this story before seeing this movie, how difficult was it for you to create suspense and anticipation?
Goldwyn: This was very important to Pam and [me]. I’ve experienced [this film] with people who’ve seen it and know what the ending is [before seeing the film]. It’s a classic genre where you sort of have a feeling how it will turn out. What we were trying to achieve was this seed of doubt throughout the movie, where you think Kenny might have [committed the murder].
I don’t know if each of you felt this way, but it’s something we really tried to weigh in there: “What if he did this? What if he turns out to be guilty? Or what if she can’t get him out?” And Sam’s Kenny suggests a couple of times in the film that he might have done it.
And that seed of doubt is important. Number one, it creates a sense of tension, in a sense with the audience going, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure where this is going.” And the other thing that is critical is that to me, when I first heard the story, the question I asked myself was, “What if she wasn’t successful? Or what if, God forbid, she had been mistaken, if the evidence came back positive? Would that have made her act of faith in vain? Would that have made it wrong? Would that have made her 18-year struggle in vain?”
And the answer is very much “no.” It didn’t matter whether she succeeded or not in this case, it was the fact of their love and their connection — and the fact that his act of faith and her act of faith in him, that’s what the movie is about. Hopefully, the audience will have an idea of where it’s probably going, plot-wise, but you built in things that make them go, “Wait a minute.” But more importantly, there’s an emotional thing that’s happening in this story that supersedes the plot. If we’ve been successful, that’s what I think will resonate, as opposed to going in with, “Oh, I know how this ends.”
Betty Anne, can you talk about what your on-set visits were like and which of Kenny’s qualities that Sam Rockwell embodied the best?
Waters: I spent a lot of time on set. I was there in the beginning and the end for a couple of things. It was quite an experience for me. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out in the end, because he doesn’t look like my brother. But when I saw the movie, it was unbelievably my brother. I felt my brother. I felt like he got Kenny, as far as his personality, the things he said, his movements, his actions. And he totally nailed Kenny. He really did.
And one of the things on set that will always stand out in my mind is the scene where Kenny is released and leaving the courthouse. And Hilary that day was so upset. She was actually crying about how Kenny isn’t here. I actually had to console her.
For the actors on the panel, what’s next for you?
Driver: I’m shooting a movie right now. I’m not really here. I’m in Wales. It’s called “Hunky Dory,” which I’m in love with. I also have another movie at the festival called “Barney’s Version” with Paul Giamatti.
Swank: I spent a year since this film producing. I have a movie coming out called “Something Borrowed” that I’m not in but I’m producing. June 11, 2011.
Rockwell: I just finished a movie in Sante Fe. I shaved my moustache [for it]. “Cowboys and Aliens.”
Lewis: I want to see it! I’m so happy not to be on tour in a van, although I did love touring Canada and the U.S. So I’m done with that for a minute. I have a rock’n’roll band, if you didn’t know. That’s mainly what I’ve been doing for the last six years. So this is sort a re-emergence for me and my great love of film and a character. So my next movie for me is “Due Date” with my old friend Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. And that will be out. It’s such a good comedy. I laughed out loud with the script. That’s out in November .
Leo: This fall, I have “Welcome to Rileys,” directed by Jake Scott, with James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart, coming out. And later in the year, David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” [with] Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and seven actresses my age and a little younger … I play the mother of those nine [in the film].
Sam mentioned earlier that some of the “Conviction” film got lost and you had to re-shoot it. What happened?
Goldwyn: That’s a good story, actually.
Swank: It ended good.
Rockwell: It ended good, yeah.
Goldwyn: You’ve seen the film, so you can see those prison scenes were very intense. And we had a very limited amount of time to complete them all. The toughest day of all was in the last day in the prison and they did the four most difficult scenes [that day].
Swank: An 18-hour day!
Goldwyn: An 18-hour day. It was the longest day of the movie. At the end of it, Hilary and Sam were jumping up and down, saying, “Thank God that’s over! Thank God!” And we were all hugging each other, thinking the work was so great. The next day, I guess we were shooting in downtown Detroit. My friend and partner Andrew Sugerman, our producer, comes up to me [he pauses] … I’m sorry, I’m getting hives; you just have to bear with me … and says, “We may have a problem.” I said, “That sentence doesn’t work for me.” And he said, “The film, on its way to the lab at the airport, was X-rayed by Northwest Airlines.”
Leo: Oh my God! Even though all around the film canister it said, “Do not X-ray”?
Goldwyn: Yes. We had paid an exorbitant amount of money that we didn’t have to have a special courier, bringing this hand-delivered. Anyway, it was X-rayed and it might have been destroyed. We had a big day of filming to do, and it was 8 o’clock in the morning. And I said, “Let’s find out if there’s a problem before we tell anyone, because I don’t want anyone to panic.” They had to focus on the day at hand.
Leo: That’s a good director!
Goldwyn: So two hours later, Andrew said “We got a bad lab report, and the film was destroyed.” I go into Hilary’s trailer and said, “Let’s meet up. I’ve got to talk to you guys.” And I bring them in, and sit them down … Hilary went in the bathroom … And Sam goes, “How does it look? How did it go? You know, I was thinking about that scene in the prison, and I felt like at that moment I could’ve made it different.”
I said, “That’s great. That’s a really interesting idea.” Hilary comes out and I said, “Guys, I have bad news.” And I break the news to them. Tears just burst out of Hilary, just streaming tears. And Sam just starts rolling on the floor
Swank: It’s all so quintessential to our personalities. [She says to Rockwell] You grabbed your stuff and went, “Oh no!” But then I stopped and said, “Wait a minute. A film’s spool is tight and then it goes out” So maybe there’s some in the middle … that could be preserved.” And then I said, “Did you see it all?” “No, I haven’t seen any of it.” I’m like, “Well then, you don’t even know!” And he’s like, “Well, they [the lab] saw it.” And I’m like, “All 18 hours?” I was thinking there was something we could save.
Goldwyn: There actually one savable shot. And it was the only shot I actually needed.
Swank: No way!
Goldwyn: And what happened was we went back [to the prison]. I said, “We can do it in two weeks when you’ve gotten your head out of it or …” And they said, “No, we want to do it now!”
Rockwell: Hilary said we’ve got to go back in.
Goldwyn: And we went back to the prison and shot it again. It was kind of an extraordinary experience, because we were like this little triumvirate, and we were going to do it. “You guys can do this.” In fact, the other filming that we did was in 12 or 14 hours. We re-shot the whole day, and it was better than the first day. Interestingly, it was the scene where [Kenny] finds out that [he] is innocent.
The one shot we didn’t have to time to get [in a re-shoot] was kind of an overhead shot, and I needed it for perspective. And it was the only shot that was salvageable. It was when you run out and there’s sort of an overhead shot of you going, “I’m free!” So anyway, that’s the story.
For more info: “Conviction” website
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