LOS ANGELES (JTA) – The first publicity releases last summer for “A Mighty
Heart” heralded the choice of Oscar winner Angelina Jolie to star as
the widow of Daniel Pearl, but made no mention of who would be playing The
Wall Street Journal reporter killed by Islamic militants in Pakistan.
It was assumed that director Michael Winterbottom had not
yet picked an actor for the role. But he had chosen Dan Futterman, and the actor and writer was even taking part in a hush-hush 10-day shoot in
Karachi and Islamabad.
Given the volatile situation in Pakistan, the shoot was
disguised as a documentary production, without the usual Hollywood
trappings. There was another security consideration: Futterman not only
resembled Pearl in appearance and age, but like the slain reporter is Jewish.
It was only after Futterman returned safely to the United
States that his name and role were made public.
Futterman, who just turned 40, recently sat down in a
Hollywood hotel to talk about the film and his own background.
“I was born in Brooklyn but my father, a lawyer, and my
mother, a psychoanalyst, moved to Larchmont, a New York suburb, when I was a
child,” Futterman recalled. “I had my bar mitzvah at Beth Emeth, a Conservative
Futterman has had successful and parallel acting careers on
stage, television and film, and as a screenwriter, garnering an Oscar nomination for
his first feature screenplay, “Capote.” His plan is to concentrate
on writing, which he finds “endlessly challenging.”
“I see actors like Angelina and Philip Hoffman [in “Capote”],
who undergo really astonishing transformations in different roles,” Futterman
said. “I don’t operate on that level. I’m more suited to writing.”
Futterman and his wife, Anya Epstein, have just completed
the screenplay for a romantic comedy, “Finn at the Blue Line,” to star Sarah
For “A Mighty Heart,” Futterman explored Pearl’s character during long sessions with the journalist’s widow, Mariane, as well
as his parents, friends and colleagues. He also read many of Pearl’s writings.
Futterman also met 5-year old Adam Pearl, born a few
months after his father’s murder.
“He is a wonderful kid, a real mix of the two
parents,” Futterman said. “I think about him a lot.”
The more Futterman learned about the man he was portraying,
the more impressed he became.
“Daniel was a really good man,” Futterman said. “I couldn’t find anyone who
could say a bad word about him. He had a genuine love of people.
“It helped my understanding that Daniel, like me, was a
person who felt comfortable in his Jewishness,” he added. “I’ve gradually come
to think of him as a ‘lamed-vavnik,’ one of the 36 righteous by whose
merit [according to ancient rabbinic teaching] the world exists.”