Updated: February 12, 2013 6:10AM
Kathryn Bigelow knows about life imitating art. She also knows about how real life intervenes with art.
The Oscar-winning director was deeply entrenched in her latest project, “Zero Dark Thirty” when the history books changed.
“Originally, we were working on another project about the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden when May 2, 2011, happened,” she says.
On that fateful day, U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden. “After much soul searching, we realized that it would be hard to make a movie about the failed hunt, so we pivoted,” she says.
Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal — a solid team after their box office success and best picture Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” — pivoted in a big way. During a recent interview, a regal Bigelow in a black pantsuit and bright blue shirt sipped tea at the Ritz Carlton in New York City. She also explained how she’s quite adept at rolling with the punches.
“Mark is an investigative journalist,” she says. “We changed the movie to report on the current story as history revealed itself and created the change for us.”
In “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA operative who will stop at nothing to hunt down Bin Laden. Based on a real-life female operative, she tracks him to his compound in Pakistan where he was killed.
“What was so poignant about this story is this woman spent the last 10 years of her life exclusively in the pursuit of one man,” Bigelow marvels.
The pursuit of this story has come into question. There have been rumors that Bigelow and her team received unprecedented assistance from U.S. government agencies. Bigelow allows her screenwriter to answer.
Boal says, “As you’re aware, there was a bit of election year controversy about it. I won’t get into it in great deal. This movie was made independently. It was financed independently. There was no arrangement or deal of any kind with any agencies. I approached this like any reporter since the dawn of time. You work through every channel you can including the public affairs offices of the agencies.”
How did he create Maya? “I discovered early on that women played a prime role in this hunt. We decided to tell the story through the eyes of this character and based on a real person. There were many other women in the CIA who were represented.”
Bigelow says filming torture scenes including waterboarding was tough.
“The methodology is controversial, but there was no debate on whether or not to include this in the movie. It’s part of history.”
Bigelow says the ending of her film offers as many questions as answers.
“In the end, Maya in our film triumphs, but it’s not a victory at the end of the day. There are so many larger questions: Where does she go from there? Where do we go from here?
“The weight of those questions is quite heavy.”
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