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Director Stephen Frears says Lance Armstrong movie The Program is a crime film, not a biopic (+ video trailer)

The Program has world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival this weekend

Oscar-nominated British director Stephen Frears, whose film The Program about Lance Armstrong has its world premiere this weekend, says he was attracted to the subject because he wanted to make a crime movie, not a biopic.

Starring Ben Foster as the disgraced cyclist, the movie will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this Sunday, and hits UK cinemas on 16 October.

Ahead of its first public screening, Frears told The Hollywood Reporter why, despite not being a cycling fan, he felt compelled to make a story about the seven-time Tour de France champion who was stripped of those titles in 2012, and later confessed to having cheated his way to those victories.

“Because I wasn't interested in making a biopic, was interested in making a crime film,” said Frears, whose previous credits include The Queen, for which Dame Helen Mirren won a Best Actress Oscar, and High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby novel.

“In January, Armstrong did an interview with the BBC where he was much more straightforward and used the word ‘criminal’ for the first time,” he continued. “I think this is a modern crime story. It's a very American tragedy.

“Yes, he raised millions for cancer. And he cheated, he lied and he bullied. … I don't know him, so I'm reluctant to pin the term ‘psychotic’ on Lance, but his behaviour was definitely very, very odd.

“And cheating is only part of it. Even just a year ago, I think people wouldn't accept that he did what he did. On the surface, he was the classical American hero.

Asked about why he chose Foster, best known for the 2013 film Lone Survivor, for the lead role, he said: “Leo Davis, who casts all my films, suggested him. When I met Ben, he didn't know what the project was about.

“When I told him, he leapt onto the couch and went into one of Lance's poses, underneath his seven yellow Tour de France winner's jerseys. It was incredible. And then he did enormous training to make himself physically like Lance — pro cyclists are so incredibly skinny. He was phenomenally disciplined.”

The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that there is an ongoing lawsuit against Armstrong involving the US Department of Justice, which joined the whistleblower case originally brought by his former team mate, Floyd Landis, himself stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.

While that is a civil and not criminal action, albeit a potentially ruinous one for Armstrong, the website asked Frears if he believed the former US Postal rider should be in prison.

“I don't know,” said Frears, before drawing parallels with Tony Blair, around whom his 2003 film The Deal was centred.

“You know, he [Armstrong] had an incredible capacity to deceive himself,” he said. “We had a prime minister who behaved a similar way. I dread to imagine what he thinks at night.

“David Walsh [on whose book, Seven Deadly Sins, The Program is based] recently met a French rider [Christophe Bassons] who had been regularly bullied by Lance.

“He said: ‘Lance used to look you straight in the eye. Now his head is down.’

“It can't be easy, to fall from such a great height,” added Frears.

“The strange thing is, in the end, the French were right. When he won his first Tour de France, the French — and Walsh — said, ‘Oh, he's doping.’

“No one wanted to believe it, but they were right all along.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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tedder | 8 years ago

High Fidelity is definitely on the list of top five movies about record store owners.

lolol | 8 years ago

The Hit is a great film, well worth the searching out, whearas High Fidelity....

WolfieSmith | 8 years ago

I do wish articles would stop describing Stephen Frears as the director of films like 'The Queen' and 'High Fidelity'. This is the genius who also directed 'The Grifters' and the brilliant lost classic 'The Hit.' Maybe now available as a region 2 DVD if you're lucky.

Looking forward to The Program. Do watch David Walsh delivering last year's Hugh Cudlipp lecture on Youtube if you have the time. It's a fascinating presentation of his relationship with Armstrong, the Sunday Times, and the problems any journalist faces in investigating doping in sport. A must see for all the professional armchair sports journalists on this website...  4

My favourite Armstrong story is that pr***k Alistair Campbell's comment in the days when he was trying to suck up to the rider. 'He's either for real or the biggest cheat in the world. I like to think I'm a pretty good judge of character..' Disproves the old saying - 'It takes one to know one.'  29

vonhelmet replied to WolfieSmith | 8 years ago
MercuryOne wrote:

I do wish articles would stop describing Stephen Frears as the director of films like 'The Queen' and 'High Fidelity'. This is the genius who also directed 'The Grifters' and the brilliant lost classic 'The Hit.' Maybe now available as a region 2 DVD if you're lucky.

The Queen and High Fidelity are the films he's known for... The two you've mentioned are far less well known. You can't say "Stephen Frears, director of The Grifters and the lost classic The Hit, which you may be able to find on region 2 DVD if you're lucky" and expect many people to have any sort of frame of reference.

It's for the same reason that Lance Armstrong is referred to by reference to the fact that he was stripped of 7 TdF wins, rather than 2 wins at the Profronde van Stiphout.

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