Emmy Contender Jay Roach on How His 1964 Civil Rights Drama ‘All the Way’ Is ‘About Now’

“Political experience wasn’t a dirty word back then,” the director tells TheWrap

Jay Roach all the way
Corina Marie Howell for TheWrap

A version of this story first appeared in the print edition of TheWrap Magazine’s Miniseries/Movies Emmy Issue.

When Jay Roach decided to make an HBO movie from Robert Schenkkan‘s Broadway play “All the Way,” he wasn’t exactly thinking about how the events of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s first year in office would reflect on today’s political climate.

But at some point, the director of the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” movies and of the HBO political films “Recount” and “Game Change” realized that Johnson’s struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 spoke powerfully to voter suppression, to racial divides in the South and to other currents playing out today.

Anthony Mackie and Bryan Cranston in "All the Way"

“I was interested in aspects of the story because of my own anxieties about the political process,” Roach told TheWrap. “But in the middle of it, you can’t help but realize, ‘Oh wow, some of this is going on now.’ Voting rights issues and civil rights issues are not resolved in our civilization. It‘s interesting that you can tell a story set in the past and have it seem to be as much about now as then.”

He paused. “One of the other things I found interesting about this film and this character is the kind of old-fashioned political experience and strategizing that LBJ demonstrated. Political experience wasn’t a dirty word back then — you see a guy who believes in the power of government to do good, and he fulfills that promise. So much of what we’re seeing now is promising people that government is the problem, not the solution.”

With Bryan Cranston reprising the role he played on Broadway, Roach said he knew from the first time he saw the play that it would work on screen. “The story itself was epic and cinematic,” he said. “He wanted to be president his whole life, and he got to be president in the worst way possible, when JFK was assassinated. He could have folded under pressure, but he took on the challenges and he got it done.”

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