“You say money is the root of all evil, but have you ever asked yourself—what is the root of money?” Esai Morales paces a clearing of people and delivers his lines like he’s in a sword fight—dodging an insult from one partygoer, overpowering an objection from another.
TAS Executive Director David Kelley and I were on the set for the last two days of filming to watch key scenes and dialogue that Kelley had discussed with producer Jeff Freilich on a previous TAS visit to the Either-Or Production offices.
Kelley also conducted interviews with a number of the performers in the movie, including lead Samantha Mathis (playing Dagny Taggart). Filming and editing the interviews was co-screenwriter Duncan Scott, who also worked on the We The Living
movie and The Objectivist History Project
, a series of high-quality interviews with prominent figures in Objectivism. The Atlas Shrugged
actors discussed their experiences in playing the heroes and villains of Rand’s novel. “It was fascinating to hear the cast talk about their roles,” said Kelley, "To take one of many examples: I asked Patrick Fabian whether James Taggart actually believed the altruist statements he makes about the public good. Patrick pointed out that James is such a hollow man that you can't really say he has any genuine beliefs. And that comes across in his scenes." The videos of the interviews will be available on The Atlas Society’s web site in the near future. Much like Kelley’s commentaries on Part 1 ,
the interviews will serve as a resource for viewers who wish to better understand the philosophy in Atlas Shrugged
and the challenges in bringing it to the screen—or for the avid fan who just cannot get enough.
I took part in what’s become a parade of activist cameos in the movie. Searching the background scenes, people familiar with the liberty movement will find Easter eggs such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, playing a disheveled wino
. While TAS was on set, Michael Shermer of Skeptic
magazine participated as an extra in the wedding scene (along with his daughter). Logan Darrow Clements, a filmmaker who recently created the documentary Sick and Sicker
about socialized Canadian healthcare, mingled as a wedding goer. Joining me as extras were Chelsea Krafve, a coordinator at Students for Liberty
and Ross Kenyon, a member on the board of directors for the Association of Libertarian Feminists
and an editor at the Online Library of Liberty
. Also joining me was my friend, Caitlin Ewing, now an entrepreneur. In college, Caitlin spent late nights with me at house-parties, writing “John Galt” on sleeping drinkers’ arms so they might wake up in the morning and ask the great question.
“The purpose of The Atlas Society’s involvement with Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is to provide the larger philosophical context for the movie’s message.”
A number of the other people who worked as extras gravitated to the set for all the old, familiar reasons: they read Atlas Shrugged in high school or college and it changed their lives or inspired their careers. For others, a flailing economy and a bloated US bureaucracy, highlighting the prescience of Ayn Rand’s novel, motivated them to read the book now, and they’ve seized the opportunity to be part of the movie. I talked to a charcoal-haired woman with a tan, open face and muscular shoulders in her short sleeve dress. Her name is Karen Jones, but she introduced herself as “Snakebite” and described hosting a number of Tea Party events in southern California. Slipping off her high heels between takes, laughing and rubbing her feet, she said, “I’m not used to these kinds of shoes. I’m conservative in some ways, but really I’m an old hippie who loves her sandals.” Saranac Harris and her husband, Kevin, were also on set,— winners of a contest hosted by the movie team. People on set not familiar with Atlas Shrugged—aspiring actors trying to expand their network, hopeful entertainers taking night jobs—soon became curious about all the people so passionate about Rand’s ideas. Kevin Garcia, a real estate agent and musician, asked me questions about Objectivism. “I knew nothing about Atlas Shrugged,” he said, “but now—talking to people—I find it interesting. I’m probably going to research it."
While the purpose of The Atlas Society’s involvement with Atlas Shrugged Part 2
is to provide the larger philosophical context for the movie’s message
, there was something to be gained in watching the actors encounter the characters in their own way. Kim Rhodes (who plays Lillian Rearden) explained about acting: “You have to have empathy with the character you’re playing. Lillian might be an awful person, but she doesn’t wake up thinking ‘I’m going to be awful today.’ She has motivations for her behavior. Obviously power is very important to her. She lashes out at what threatens her.” Rhodes is an elegant woman with a salty vocabulary. She described Lillian’s plight more simply, in between takes of a spiteful encounter with Dagny: “Damn
, she just handed me my ass
.” Esai Morales burst into song between takes of Lillian’s scene—Foreigner’s
“Cold As Ice.” Larisa Oleynik, playing Cherryl Taggart, parodied her character’s naiveté with a comical, blank smile and big-eyed blinks. (A 90s TV/movie generation, especially, will recognize Oleynik from her title role in Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack
and from Ten Things I Hate About You,
as the ditzy, boy-crazy Bianca.)
It is Rand’s ominous warning in Atlas Shrugged: the violence of fascism will come dressed in finery.
As in the book, James and Cherryl’s wedding scene is a beautiful playground for various treacheries. Atlas’ set construction crew brought the luxurious Bank of America interior to new heights: golden wall hangings with scarlet insets, bonsai trees dotted with tiny white lights, champagne-colored tablecloths, and red and white roses bursting out of fluted vases, all tied together by a sweeping marble staircase. Oleynik, as Cherryl Taggart, wore a dress with a sweetheart neckline and her hair cropped close to her face; long diamond earrings glinted against her bare neck. Patrick Fabian, as James Taggart, perfectly expressed a description Rand used for her villains: a smile on the fine line of baring one’s teeth. The vision for the scene is to have predation as a characteristic of the whole crowd. Billy Delano, Second Second Assistant Director, yelled to the background actors before each take: “Remember, people! You are rich and you are having a great time. You are the only people in the whole country whose lives don’t suck.” It is Rand’s ominous warning in Atlas Shrugged: the violence of fascism will come dressed in finery.
The eerie discordance of the scene resolved on Francisco D’Anconia and Hank Rearden. As Francisco strides out of the party after his speech, Hank calls to him. Esai Morales gave an almost imperceptible smile before turning to respond. As Morales explained it, “That was bringing back some of the lightness to the character. What he’s doing is serious, but Francisco is about joy.”