This Sunday marks the premiere of HBO’s new movie Recount, which chronicles the Florida ballot debacle of 2000 (chads!) and stars basically every serious actor you’ve ever heard of. The film has also stirred up massive debate among reviewers and pundits over its warts-and-all depiction of how the political nightmare was (mis-)handled by all involved. Former Buffy nerd Danny Strong, who makes his splashy screenwriting debut with the project, talked to Vulture about his inspirations, his Zen-master director Jay Roach, and the apoplectic response the project has sparked.
Did you know it was going to cause such a stir? The New York Times piece seems to have set people off...
That was the first piece that came out, but now everyone’s complaining. I don’t see how you can make an honest telling of the story and make either side happy. It’s just impossible, because it was no one’s finest hour. In the last few days, there’s literally been 20 or 30 articles on it. Everyone’s griping. Everyone’s complaining. But the overall sense you get is that the film got it right. We’ve always believed that the film got it right. And I expect many more people complaining that what we’ve heard so far, and if they weren’t, that would mean that we hadn’t told the story truthfully.
We guess it can’t be a priority to make people happy when you’re making a movie like this.
Exactly! We never intended to make anyone happy.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re big fans of Buffy and Gilmore Girls. Have you abandoned acting entirely?
The focus now is definitely screenwriting. With acting, I used to take absolutely anything that was offered to me. Now that’s just...not the case.
How did the idea for this project come about?
I saw a play called Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum, which chronicled the build-up to the Iraqi war told from many different perspectives, and I was so inspired by the play that as I walked out of the theater I told myself, I have to write something like this. The idea for Recount popped into my head literally about 30 seconds later. I didn’t really know much about the Florida recount except for the news blurbs that we all saw on TV. So I got in my car, jammed home, found a few used books on Amazon — you know, the 99 cent ones? — and got to work. Halfway through the first book I thought, Oh my god, this could make the most amazing movie. Because no one knows the true story! It all kind of died after 9/11.
Obviously [director] Jay Roach is known for his comedies. Was that cause for concern?
Well, you know, Jay Roach is a winner. That’s all Jay is. Everything he sets out to do, he succeeds 1000 percent. Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Borat — these projects are cultural phenomenons and they’re completely successful pieces of entertainment. He’s also the Zen master.
Really. He’s calm, he’s sweet. He’s the antithesis of everything you would expect from a Hollywood director. You expect these comedy guys to be these big comedy personalities — and they usually are — but he’s the opposite.
Well, obviously the project went well. What’s next?
I’m about to start writing the story of Brown v. Board of Education. One of my first jobs out of college was as the third assistant to Gary Ross. He ended up reading Recount and called to ask me to write this movie for him. And I thought, Wow, if I can write a movie for the guy I used to bring Diet Cokes to, that would be. . .pretty cool. That and the fact that it’s an amazing, amazing story that I’d really feel honored to work on. It’s corny, but it’s true. —Sara Cardace
Related:Video: The Premiere of HBO's ‘Recount’ [Daily Intel]