It’s July 7, 2003. The camera focuses on Karl Rove in his office, fuming at Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on TV the day after a New York Times op-ed piece written by retired Ambassador Joe Wilson accused the president of deliberately misleading the public by citing false data about Iraq purchasing uranium from Africa.
“What is that tit-fuckin’ homo Fleischer doing to us?” screams Rove into his office phone. “Call Mary. Call Scooter. Call Hadley. We need to get a hold of this. NOW!”
The sequence is one of many explosive re-imaginings of Fair Game, a new film based on the saga of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, which was written by Jez and John Butterworth and based on Plame’s autobiography. (Screenplays inevitably go through multiple drafts, and the version obtained by The Daily Beast has no cover page to denote when it was written.) The film goes into production this month.
Rove doesn’t show up until page 71, throwing a hissy fit after Ari Fleischer’s press briefing concerning the Nigerian yellowcake controversy. By the next page, the White House conspiracy is hatched.
Sean Penn, fresh off his Oscar win for Milk, just signed to portray Wilson, which would reunite the actor with his 21 Grams co-star Naomi Watts in the role of Plame. Doug Liman, the hip auteur behind high-velocity spy movies such as The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith—and also the son of famed Iran/Contra-era attorney Arthur Liman—is on board to direct. The Washington D.C. Film & TV Office says Fair Game’s production scouts have been checking out various locations and shooting could begin as early as this weekend.
Though the former president and vice president only appear via news footage in the 115-page draft of the screenplay, several scenes feature invented dialogue from prominent administration figures such as Rove and, of course, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Most of the script revolves around relationship struggles between Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, as well as some international covert ops that depict Plame as a quick-witted, globetrotting Jack Bauer type, instead of the low-level “glorified typist” caricatured by GOP pundits.
So-called “breakdowns” that went out to Hollywood casting agents recently were still seeking actors to portray former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Bush’s chief of staff Andy Card, Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Control official Joe Turner, and—finally, some good news for the scores of laid-off newshounds—several extras to play “various reporters, journalists, and businessmen.”
In the draft currently making its way around Hollywood, Rove doesn’t show up until page 71, throwing the hissy fit recounted above after Ari Fleischer’s press briefing concerning the Nigerian yellowcake controversy. By the next page, the White House conspiracy is hatched, with Libby exclaiming, “This has become a trust issue for the president. We can’t get behind this. We need to change the story.” And Rove then asking ominously, “Who is Joe Wilson?” just before—off-screen, naturally—Mrs. Wilson’s top-secret employment details are leaked to conservative columnist Robert Novak. Several key players in the real-life saga, including former Deputy Secretary of State (and the admitted initial source for the leak) Richard Armitage, are absent from the Butterworth scenario.
Libby is frequently seen scooting intensely around CIA’s Langley headquarters, causing such high anxiety among agency analysts there that one of them pukes in the men’s room sink. Much funnier (and less nauseating) are some dinner-party scenes set at the Wilsons’ home, where casual cocktail chatter falls along the lines of “Can I ask a dumb question: What is an aluminum tube?” Though she plays naïve, Plame is hardly a CIA lightweight. Indeed, the script has her taking credit for “seizing” suspect cylinders in Jordan originally headed for Iraq, leading a covert team in the field that eventually brought samples back to WINPAC.
With so much intel regarding Plame’s actual CIA activities still classified, it will be intriguing to see how the real intelligence community reacts to Fair Game. Plame’s bestselling memoir was thoroughly reviewed and heavily redacted by the agency prior to publication—all CIA officials must sign a “lifetime obligation” not to reveal classified information, says a CIA spokesman—but screenwriters, obviously, are under no such restrictions. When I broached the subject during an interview with Plame for Politico back in late 2007, Plame said the screenwriters were “factual up to a point and, where there were areas I couldn’t speak to them about, they drew from their vivid imaginations.”
Jeffrey Ressner, a writer based in Los Angeles, has worked for Politico, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone and Us Weekly.