Bombshell’s miniskirt-harassment scene between John Lithgow’s Roger Ailes and Margot Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil was the most “excruciating” sequence director Jay Roach has ever filmed — and it wasn’t easy for its actors, either. Lithgow told Vulture at the film’s Monday-night premiere that getting it right on the day and making sure both parties were comfortable and consenting while his Ailes demanded Kayla lift her skirt to the line of her underwear required deep discussion and rehearsal before Roach’s camera rolled.
“What is this scene really about?,” he posed. “It’s the scene that motivates the entire film in so many ways because it’s not behind closed doors; it’s inside those closed doors. It’s acting out the worst of what people imagine. And we just both understood that that was our role.”
So they broke it down into two parts: First is the initial meeting between Ailes and Kayla — an opportunity that she pursued herself by following his secretary (Holland Taylor) into the elevator. Kayla is eager and cordial while standing up for Megyn Kelly during her Black Santa controversy, and Ailes is endeared to her.
“If you look at the scene, the structure of it right up until the middle point is very amiable. You see Roger at his most welcoming, most encouraging and supportive and charming,” Lithgow explained. Then Ailes requests through heavy breaths, “Why don’t you stand up and give me a twirl?” That’s when everything changes and, as Lithgow put it, the clouds roll in. “But it was very important that the first half of the scene be there in order to express the real horror of the second half,” he added.
“[Margot and I] worked together beforehand, we rehearsed, and it was a matter of just talking it out and agreeing exactly what we were doing here. We just embraced the project,” Lithgow said. “It’s a matter of talking about the scene in those terms, almost technically: How are we going to have the greatest impact?”