Based on the real scandal, "Bombshell" is a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time, 'Fox News', and the explosive story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created it.
The fuse is boldly lit in the summer of 2016 by Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), once the unswervingly perky co-host of influential 'Fox & Friends'. When the recently fired Carlson slapped 'Fox News' founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, most expected Carlson to get crushed. After all, Ailes is the untouchable master of the media universe, ready to use his influence and resources to defeat any foe. Instead, what happened next reverberated around the world. Then Ailes plummets from a veritable kingmaker to resigning in disgrace from the network he helped to build. In just 16 wild days, Ailes takes one of the most dizzying falls from elite heights in corporate history. For even he could not survive the force of multiple women coming forward with their own stories, including superstar 'Fox News' correspondent Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). But it's never just about the women at 'Fox'. What happened in those two weeks, as Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and the women of 'Fox' rang the alarm bells of cultural change, becomes a harbinger of a defining moment of our era. Just over a year later, in October 2017, 'The New York Times' reports multiple accusations against entertainment titan Harvey Weinstein (Matt Laydon), a story that would then combust, growing the small, pre-existing 'MeToo' movement into a massive global phenomenon. By then, it's clear the corporate codes of silence are being detonated across every industry. While cognizant of our divided world, the film never lets politics overshadow what the story is really about.
In the summer of 2016, the star rising at the speed of light at 'Fox News' is Megyn Kelly, host of the highly rated nightly news show 'The Kelly File'. Fiery, confrontational, charismatic and unabashedly opinionated no matter the backlash, the former prosecutor is becoming a rare mainstream breakout. Even in the wake of controversies, Kelly attains cultural heroine status after she confronted then, candidate Donald Trump about his treatment of women during 'The Republican' debates. When it comes to Roger Ailes, Kelly has successfully rebuffed his advances. Yet when Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes kicked off an internal investigation, it's clear that Kelly has a choice to make. She choses not to duck, and not to defend her boss, but to go public about her harassment experiences with Ailes. Kelly is a linchpin, the one person who can most draw the spotlight, even if she might get caught in the glare. Kelly could have kept quiet and prospered but dared to come forward. She's the superstar at 'Fox' in the process of renegotiating her contract. She has everything going for her. It's very complicated for her, which is something we don’t talk enough about, that women’s choices in these circumstances are never easy; they’re complicated and personal. She's incredibly conflicted about how much she liked Roger Ailes, even though he's abusive to her. We've to start talking about the truth of what predators look like, and that there can be a level of real seduction.
Women feel a lot of shame to admit they sometimes liked their abuser even though they just wanted the abuse to stop. Megyn is an important part of what has become an important moment in history. That doesn’t cancel out everything else she has said or done, or how we feel about those things. Megyn Kelly is the film’s narrative center. She's our Dante, who takes us deep into this world. Gretchen is the moral center in that she frames the issue and makes the most heroic choice. And Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) is the emotional center of our story, someone we identify with as she experiences harassment. Kayla’s is the story we least often hear, the story of the woman who gives in to a harasser, and what that means to her life. It's all about that tilt up and reveal that Kayla is just as horrified by this moment as you're. In that moment, Kayla reveals all the horror, the humiliation and off balanced confusion. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the film. Kelly ultimately comes to terms with the need to bring this story to the forefront in spite of those concerns saying, When you can see the power of a message even through the eyes of someone you don’t agree with, even someone who might anger you at times, that tells you there's something very real and very important there. The film explores Kelly’s internal drives and contradiction.
Gretchen Carlson is a Minnesota-born, former 'Miss America', who shocked the world by suddenly daring to confront Roger Ailes and take a bold stand for women. It's hard for Gretchen to be alone at first, wondering if others would also come forward against Ailes. It really leans into Gretchen’s beauty-pageant-winner need for approval, mixed in with her 'Midwestern' confidence. Her character is constantly self-motivating, she’s convinced you just have keep pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. With Megyn and Kayla, you get a more visceral feeling of the abuse that went on, but Gretchen’s story is more about what she’s up against in trying to make a change. A fresh-faced young weathergirl from Florida, Kayla is a hyper-enthusiastic newcomer to the cut-throat news business, prepared to do whatever it takes to emulate her idols Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, as she climbs up the 'Fox News' totem pole. But when Roger Ailes takes an interest in boosting her career, Kayla faces pressure she did not know was coming. There are a lot of different layers to Kayla and her reasons for being at 'Fox' are really moving because her main hope is to give a voice to people like her, people who she feels haven’t been represented in the culture. She captures that wide-eyed enthusiasm and core naivete of the character, which gets shaken as Kayla starts to make darker and darker choices. Her character goes from the heights of youthful ambition to a dark night of the soul.
Roger Ailes is a man famously possessed of both a volcanic fury and a supremely personable charm. The character is so full of contrasts. He's a man loved for his generosity, but who also installed closed-circuit cameras to spy on his employees. He's known for giving undiscovered talent a chance, but also for taking control of the length of their skirts. He's revered by some as a brilliant strategist and reviled by others for unravelling TV news into partisan echo chambers. If you crossed him, Ailes could be the most ruthless enemy. He's not a showman. He's a kind of ringmaster behind-the-scenes, but he didn’t like to be seen. On the other hand, if he likes you a lot it could be equally perilous. Roger feels very proud of what he’d done for women. He thinks he said on women’s side. He says that in all sincerity in the movie. But he's also a man in the grips of his own compulsions, which you see in the scene with Kayla. By his final days at 'Fox', Ailes is a divided soul. Doug Brunt (Mark Duplass) is Megyn Kelly’s husband. Megyn and Doug are definitely a non-conventional conservative couple, where the gender roles are a bit reversed, with Doug the supportive spouse just trying to be there. Another vital family portrait is that of Ailes’s wife, newspaper publisher Beth Ailes (Connie Britton), who comes vociferously to his defense.
Yet paradoxically, Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) thrives at 'Fox'. She has this job she’s great at, but she just has to watch herself and stay under the radar with those two facts about herself. When Kayla arrives, Jess sort of takes her under her wing and gives her the lay of the land at 'Fox' in general as she sees it. They develop a friendship that's really based on humor, which is so refreshing. Gil Norman (Rob Delaney) is Kelly’s increasingly anxious fictional executive producer. A self-professed news junkie, Gil could not resist the chance to drop into the behind-the-scenes at 'Fox News'. The most exciting part is the morally gray element of his character. One the one hand, he's absolutely trying to protect himself and his own career interests, but he also sees what's happening, and he knows it will come at a cost. Julia Clarke (Brigette Lundy-Paine) is Kelly’s fictional researcher. Young, neurotic, and new to the news scene, that’s how we can describe her character. She’s way over her head when all of this goes down. Working for Megyn is her a dream job, and she’s immediately tossed into this insane election. So, it comes as a total shock to her character, just as it did to the nation, that Megyn is one of the attempted victims of Ailes. Rounding out Kelly’s team is her fictional assistant and confidante, Lily Balin (Liv Hewson).
Her character tries to underpin the things being said about Megyn with humor as much as possible. She often makes flippant quips, but really she's trying make it seem like it’s all fine. Long before Gretchen Carlson brings her suit against Ailes, another 'Fox' employee served as a warning sign as to how hard the company would fight against allegations. In 2007, news correspondent Rudi Bakhtiar (Nazanin Boniadi) lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against 'Fox News'. DC bureau chief, Brian Wilson (John Hartmann) Bakhtiar was promptly fired by 'Fox' and, pursuant to a settlement agreement, was prohibited from talking about what happened to her to anyone, a promise she kept until the 2016 scandal broke. As the accusations against Ailes brakes into the evening news, one person watching them closely is an even more powerful force than Ailes himself, the scrappy Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), the veritable king of the 'Fox' realm. Having inherited his father’s newspaper business, Murdoch turned 'News Corporation' into a vast empire of social and political influence, sparking a worldwide wave of right-wing populism. It's Murdoch who takes a chance on Ailes after he left 'NBC', and is handsomely rewarded as Ailes helped to build 'Fox News' into the number one cable news channel in America.
But in the film, Murdoch is faced with the stark reality that Ailes is suddenly becoming a liability. By the time Ailes is being openly accused, Murdoch clearly knows that Roger has to go, that there's no way he could talk his way out of this one and that they've to show they're not going to put up with any more shenanigans. While 'Fox' stars and executives are the public face of the 2016 scandal, there's also a large role for 'Fox’s' large legal team. Susan Estrich (Allison Janney) is Ailes personal attorney's. Susan’s complicated because she's a feminist, a rape survivor, an author of books about sexual assault, and she’s on the side of women’s rights. Yet she makes the choice to represent Ailes. She not only is repaying a debt, but she’s also a really smart, tough woman, and if someone tells her no, she’s going to say, oh yeah? Watch me! Whether you work at a 'Walmart' or are an accountant, these dynamics are at play anywhere there’s power and lack of power. It’s not a film that’s preachy, but it’s about something hugely consequential. It mirrors the chaotic, often clashing, mix of personal motives and decisions that are the least-talked-about part of social change. Each of the main characters starts in a different place from the others and wrestles very personally with the perils of speaking out. The characters are going through crucial dilemmas.
"Bombshell" drops audiences right into the chaotic center of a 24/7 cable news network, with all the energy, speed and crazy-making tension of the real thing. Most of the film takes place in what could be visually conventional, confining, interior spaces. A big part of the film's style is getting in close with characters and letting the camera react directly to the action rather than vice versa. As a way of introducing the 'Fox News' offices, Kelly leads an on-camera tour through the building, speaking directly to the camera. It becomes a great way of introducing the building, the place and the character. One of the favorite sets is the famed 'Fox News' basement, the nexus of the operation. In stark contrast to the warren-like frenzy of the basement is 'The 17th' floor, where Megyn Kelly and all the powerhouse anchors have their lavish offices bespeaking their top-of-the-food-chain position. Lining the walls of the executive offices is artwork by Georgia-based artist Steve Penley, whose presidential portraits and politically themed landscapes have become decorative must-haves for many GOP leaders.
From there, each individual character’s persona led that way. 'The 2nd' floor is the realm of Ailes himself, shared with the network’s legal and 'PR' offices. Finally, all roads at 'Fox' begin and end on 'The 8th' floor, where 'The Murdochs' hold sway. 'The 8th' floor is command central. Stylistically, it’s very elegant, full of glass and light. Gretchen Carlson changes her look after leaving 'Fox'. Her look softens from her very recognizable on-air persona and takes on a more approachable feeling. She’s very vulnerable in this period of time, so the film uses a lot of soft tones for Gretchen. Gretchen has that very stylized 'Fox' look, with lots and lots and lots of hair. But when Megyn becomes the star anchor, she takes more risks. Megyn Kelly is a little bit more casual outside the office, but still very chic, because in every photograph of Megyn we see, she’s always pulled together. Kayla is someone who decides to come to the table and play the game, but that game kind of breaks her. So, the film takes her from softer, purer, 'Southern' kinds of colors, into a more brittle, cosmopolitan style.
Based on the real scandal, "Bombshell" tells the explosive story of the women who brought down the man who helped create the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time, 'Fox News'. But at heart of the film is also an exhilarating portrait of how courage is forged in the moment, as three very different women resolve to fight back against unchecked power and abuse. No one sees it coming. Not a soul could have predicted that one of the first strikes in the catalytic movement to overturn the long history of workplace harassment would come from inside the least likely place; at the core of deeply conservative, profoundly loyalist 'Fox News'. Yet, as the world would soon come to see, this is not an issue of right, left or center, but of righting a legacy of wrongs. The film turns another slippery, challenging but absolutely watershed moment of our times into an intense and incisive human drama. Likewise, though set in the belly of partisan TV, the story isn't about politics. Instead, it insisted on being about something deeper; how very different kinds of people can choose to stand up against powers that seem greater than themselves. It's the story of the very first major sexual harassment case in 'The U.S.' But the story of how the 'Fox News' women takes down their seemingly invincible boss went even further. It shows how three hugely competitive women ultimately upended the attempt to pit them against one another and instead turned against the power structure itself.
This is a story about people’s rights being violated, and that’s not partisan. The bottom line is that we should all be free to be ambitious, to pursue the things we believe in and to do our jobs in a safe environment. You can have a healthy debate about the right way to go about the news business. But no one should ever be in a position where you feel that your ultimate goals will be taken away from you if you speak the truth about someone in power. The film finds a way to glean something more morally complex than what you saw in the news, something funnier at times and also sadder at times. "Bombshell" demands a stylistic approach that might break down walls and perceptions, that might invite audiences to engage with life inside the 'Fox News' world in ways they maybe never anticipated, regardless of how where they came down on the network’s slant on the news.
We're thinking about the fact that a lot of women are in this situation right now where if they step up, they don’t know if anyone will support them. There’s still so much to be talked about, and this film is just part of the conversation. But you never know, this story shows, sometimes it only takes one person speaking out to start something. It's an exhausting process of constantly trying to deflect, or develop entire personal strategies for handling day-to-day adversities when you’re in an abusive situation. Yes, the story takes place in the heightened pressure cooker of a newsroom, and reverberated with reflections on the whole idea of public image and media power, but it takes aim at a bigger phenomenon.