“Zero Dark Thirty” Scribe Talks Secrecy, Influence and Entertainment

Written by Mark Boal, the new film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is a rarity in Hollywood. It's a screenwriter's film.

"Zero Dark Thirty," the new film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a rarity in Hollywood, a screenwriter's film. Mark Boal, the investigative journalist-turned-movie scribe is the star of the show, despite largely maintaining his anonymity.

Actress Jessica Chastain gives an emotionally charged turn as Maya, a CIA analyst who's been on the hunt for OBL for more than a decade, and she will no doubt continue to rack up trophies and nominations all through awards season. Director Kathryn Bigelow, who's already won an Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," will more than likely find herself in the running for another Academy Award.

But it is Boal, who also won an Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," whose tireless research and hard-charging narrative make "ZD30" such a compelling film. A New Yorker born and bred, for Boal this story was too important not to get right. He returned recently to his hometown to talk about the new film.

On what drove him in pursuit of this story:

9/11 was a personal day for me. I was born and raised in this town. So Bin Laden attacked my hometown. I grew up on 11th street. But with this piece in particular I didn't approach it with any agenda. I didn't know what the story would be when I sat down. The characters came from the reporting. For all of us… it's been a decade that in a lot of ways was shaped by 9/11so it's hard to draw the precise lines of influence. Hopefully the piece captures some of the ending of a particular chapter--at least I'm hopeful that it's the ending of a particular chapter.

On concerns the Obama Administration or others had any influence over the film:

As you're aware, there was a bit of election-year controversy [the film was originally scheduled to be released before the presidential election, but got pushed back so as not to appear to be trying to influence the outcome] and I'm not going to get into it in great detail. The movie was made independently, it was independently financed. I emphasize that because there was no arrangement or deal with either of those two agencies and as far as how we approached it we worked through every channel we can, including public affairs departments at those agencies. It was a distraction in terms of filming the movie, but I think the movie speaks for itself.

On the true identity of Chastain's character:

One of the things we're not going to do, on principle, is talk about the real-life people the film is based on. Because many of them are still working and we take protecting their identities very seriously. So while it's an interesting question… Look, the issue of government transparency is going to become more and more important as the war on terror continues and expands and we got, I think, sucked into that debate a little bit but we're trying to make a movie here. And with all due respect to that debate, we hope people view this as a film.

On balancing entertainment and facts:

Look the material is inherently dramatic and if you grew up like I did reading James Bond novels and to get to work in the behind the scenes of the real thing is pretty exciting. You've got people running around Pakistan chasing dangerous terrorists. Not that it wrote itself, there was a little work involved. But it's one of the great stories.

On finding humor in such a dark story:

I don't think that the movie is dark but that's probably more a comment on me. I find it encouraging to tell a story about the ruthless world of counter-terrorism about real people and that they're not all ruthless killing machines. Maybe that does sound dark. In terms of levity there are a few jokes but it just comes down to the performances and to find a little bit of humor in what is an otherwise buttoned-up professional environment.

"Zero Dark Thirty" opens Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Contact Us