- Golden Globe Awards
David Strathairn on “Good Night, and Good Luck”, 2005 – Out of the Archives
David Strathairn recently acted with Frances McDormand in Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (2020), in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley (2021) with Bradley Cooper and Toni Collette and now with Daisy Edgar-Jones in director Olivia Newman’s Where the Crawdads Sing (2022).
Strathairn earned the first of his two Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Edward R. Morrow, the courageous TV journalist who denounced Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade against communists in the 1950s in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). When he spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 2005, the actor stressed the responsibilities of the fourth estate.
To research the role, Strathairn studied several biographies of Edward R. Morrow and watched the special A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy, that aired on March 9, 1954 on the weekly CBS TV program See It Now: “It’s a daunting task to represent somebody as legendary, who remains a standard bearer and a legacy, and it’s a great responsibility when you’re trying to represent anyone who is as prominent in the public mind. So I immersed myself as much as I could in the biographies, Edward R. Murrow: An American Original by Joseph Persico (1990), Murrow: His Life and Times by A.M. Sperber (1999), To Strike at a King: The Turning Point in the McCarthy Witch-Hunt by Michael Ranville (1996). In most of the writings, they talk about two things, that Murrow was respected, that his professionalism and his standards were impeccable. Then at the Museum of Radio and Broadcast there’s footage of the actual scenes from the See It Now and Person to Person broadcasts that are used in the film. So I watched and listened.”
Murrow offered McCarthy the chance to respond to the accusations on his CBS News program on April 6, 1954, and Strathairn praised him for doing that: “I concur with Murrow, although the film doesn’t necessarily say exactly what his politics are, on the standards that he espouses, that we all have a right to face our accuser. Also, that we should not try to protect or institute freedom abroad while we are denying it at home, that we shouldn’t confuse dissent with disloyalty. I agree with all of the things that are spoken about in the film, and that we absolutely need to be reminded of, every generation needs to be reminded.”
Born in 1949, Strathairn was a child on December 2, 1954, when Dwight Eisenhower praised the Senate censure committee for condemning McCarthy for conduct contrary to senatorial traditions, but he remembers that event: “I was five or six years old when this was happening, and obviously at that age I had no sense of what was going on. I do remember seeing President Eisenhower on the television and there was something important about it, because of the energy that was going through my parents and my parents’ friends. But I came to learn about the event later in life, in high school, then in university. And now I know so much more by researching this particular project.”
The actor always understood the importance of journalism, and making the film gave him new insight: “The film hasn’t changed my view of the journalists themselves. I think there are always going to be journalists out there trying to do what Edward R. Murrow did. In using this film as a departure point for making an observation about media today, I have become aware of the pressures that have been created from inside the infrastructure of media and from the outside. This film offers a glimpse into the infancy of a business, of an industry, the news, and we see where it has come now. They say that the press is the fourth estate, and a great democracy cannot exist without the fourth estate. And this film shows that, it reminds us of that, it challenges all of us to at least try to forward the standards that Murrow is lauded for.”
David Strathairn praised director George Clooney for recreating in a movie studio the look of a 1950s newsroom and helping the actors get into character: “His preparation with the material historically was amazing. There was an atmosphere provided by him pulling together a team of artists that was very specific to what we needed to understand, what it was like to be in a television news studio. His understanding and his sense of that, an innate experience that he had had when he was growing up, provided that for us. It was great, because we could walk in and there would be the studio, and everything around us, from the big old microphones to the newspapers that were copies of the New York Times from 1950, corresponding to each script day. So he provided a world for us to immerse ourselves in.”
The actor went on about the directorial qualities of Clooney, an actor himself: “He is a very good, very generous director, very certain; he gave the actors a lot of room to move and a lot of support. And he was a lot of fun. He gave me and all the actors, a certainty that what we were providing was exactly what was needed or what was required. It’s a great thing to be so trusted and supported. If he disagreed with something or if we weren’t exactly doing what he had envisioned, we didn’t know that. He never undermined the impulse and the energy of the actors. And that is a safety net, a wonderful thing for an actor. I could go on and on about how much delight there was and a sense of inclusion of everyone involved in the room, which made all of us feel like we were in the moment and working towards a common goal. It’s not often that you have that sense of community in a project, and all of this is a testament to his leadership.”
Strathairn explained the significance of the movie title. ‘Good night and good luck’ being the phrase used by Murrow to end his radio broadcasts from London during World War II: “He got that phrase from the streets of London during the Blitz, when he would be walking around, going into the bomb shelters, and all the English people would be ‘going to ground’ as they say. That was an expression they would say to each other, ‘Good night and good luck.’ And when I found out about that, I thought, ‘They were being bombed, and this expression cuts both ways. It’s good luck to the person they’re talking to, but it’s almost an invocation for themselves.’ It was a sign of hope, and I don’t think it was conscious.”