PAWN SACRIFICE INTERVIEW – With GAIL KATZ (Producer) & Grandmaster Maxim Diugy
The new film based on the Real-life story of American chess champion Bobby Fischer and his legendary match-up against Russian Boris Spassky ~ PAWN SACRIFICE hits theaters this Friday 9/18.
Producer Gail Katz and Grandmaster Maxim Diugy were in St. Louis last week promoting the film, and I and my fellow Movie Critics around St. Louis had the opportunity to chat with them about the making of this film…
“In 1972, Bobby Fischer faced the Soviet Union in the greatest chess match ever played. On the board he fought the Cold War. In his mind he fought his madness.”
A Significant part of this film, and part of Bobby Fischer’s story, is of his anti-Semitism, and his conspiracy theories. Luckily you didn’t avoid showing this in the film…so how did you decide to keep this part of his life in the film for everyone to see?
GAIL – This movie was about something that I lived thru and I knew that I wanted to make it for many years now. When I started this movie in 2004, Bobby was leaving for Japan, and he was still sharing his anti-Semitism and distorted theories with the world. There was concern about doing a movie about him, and how do you convey this. Our feeling was this is a story about a remarkable human being. He certainly has certain mental problems and issues and we needed to convey this part of his story as accurately as possible.
I consulted with several psychiatrists and experts on what he might have had, in terms of his mental illness, as far as to make sure that it progressed in as clear a way as we could have made it. It is definitely something we had to address. Its just very much a part of him, As much as his early part of him is about the rise of seeing his genius~ and his taking over of the chess world~ He was Jewish, his mother was Jewish, and we wanted to convey the realism of his remarkable life, and all that that involved, but to truly understand Bobby, and what he was about, we had to include this part of his life in the film.
MAXIM ~ I actually think that his anti-Semitism was directed towards the conspiracy theory rather than anything else. There was a time in his life when he stayed for a full year with a Jewish family, the Poulter sister’s, in Budapest, and when I asked them about how they were dealing with this fact, Susan, the older sister, said that “they didn’t bring it up.” When he left their home after a year, I asked why he left…and she said, “Well, we brought it up…”
GAIL ~ He was the best kind of anti-Semitic, the kind that says, “Some of my best friends are Jewish….” I also think that a lot of this is also tied up with his mother. It’s hinted at only in the movie. And again I don’t know…as far as I know he never saw a Psychiatrist, or that he was ever officially diagnosed. So, we had to go with the research that we had…
SPEAKING OF HIS CONSPIRACY THEORIES ~ FISCHER SAYS IN THE FILM THAT THE RUSSIANS WERE CHEATING…he even rights a famous article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ARTICLE ABOUT IT IN 1972, is this true, or is it ALL IN HIS HEAD?
MAXIM ~ Of course there is truth to that, because in any competition, if you have a situation where you don’t know, but its possible they are colluding, then you are at a disadvantage by definition, even if you don’t know if they are. If there are 6 Russians and only one American Playing, if they keep winning, you wonder if they are winning, or are they cheating.
GAIL ~ They were able to do that because it was a round-robin format. And then they changed the rules after ~ because of his article and his campaign to change it. He succeeded in getting it changed to a pyramid format, so that that couldn’t happen again.
MAXIM ~ Fischer was the first chess professional. Chess players are extremely indebted to him, because he created professional chess. Before him there was no professional chess. He not only created it, he demanded it, and he changed rules. People are still using his rules. He was always thinking about the game… so he is a very interesting character…
DID YOU EVER GET TO MEET BOBBY FISCHER?
MAXIM ~ I had the opportunity twice to meet him – once when I was fighting for the world championship, and I qualified to play for the U.S., a mutual friend of ours told him, and he stepped forward to help us prepare. But, I made the mistake of telling him that I have a budget, because he wanted like $5,000 dollars, and then I disclosed that it was from the American Chess Foundation to prepare us…But, he came back and said “what?? It’s run by Jews!!” SO he sad NO.”
In 1991, I was President of the US Chess Federation, and the same friend came forward and said that he is wanting to play a young, up and coming player, and I asked what does he need…a computer and data base games. He returned the next year to play Boris Spas sky.
Spassky is still around…. Once Spas sky visited Fischer’s grave with me, and he said that he wants to be buried next to him…
GAIL ~ Wow, I didn’t know that!!!
WHY DO SO MANY CHESS PLAYERS COME FROM RUSSIA?
MAXIM ~ It was financed, because it was a way considered a way to prove that communism is a good ideology, because we are smarter, because we know chess. But now, we see to players from all over the world. No domineering culture from Russia now. England, China, Norway and here in the states are still powers too…
GAIL ~ Sometimes it does take those great personalities and winning, and you have great players and teachers coming through…
MAXIM ~ Fischer was an individual that made chess to be played differently…
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED PLAYING CHESS??
I started playing when I was 6, and in fact I learned chess when I was 7 in Russian Estonia…and people would comment “This is our new Bobby Fischer…not Boris Spas sky…being Bobby was something to aspire too….
WHY WERE YOU DRAWN TO PLAYING CHESS?
MAXIM ~ My grandparents played it; I learned it and I just loved it.
HOW INVOLVED WERE YOU IN THE CASTING PROCESS OF CHOOSING TOBY MAGUIRE?
GAIL ~ I went to Toby back in 2004. I had made a list of actors that it could be, that’s what Producers do, and obviously Toby was on that list. I can’t remember everyone on that list over 10 years ago. But, I do remember that Toby was almost the same age that Bobby was at the time he made his rise to fame…then we pitched the story to Sony Pictures and they bought it. It’s been a 9-year process to make this movie happen.
For Boris Spassky – Liev Schreiber was always my first choice.
And, even though stature wise, Toby wasn’t as tall as Bobby, he did have the same long fingers, and this played well for filming him playing chess. Then Ed Swick came aboard and so on. It was a normal casting process.
HOW DO YOU MAKE THIS FILM ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW CHESS?
GAIL ~ It’s really not a movie about CHESS. It’s a movie about a human being that has amazing brilliance, but amazing odds against him mentally. And its really about his journey and his struggle ~ it’s a cold war thriller ~ that happens to be set in the world of chess.
WHERE WAS THIS FILM SHOT?
GAIL ~ Most of the film was shot in Montreal, except for a day and a half in Iceland and two days in LA on Santa Monica Beach. Richard Beribey was with us as the Chess advisor for the entire film. He was there to set up the board for every move and every shot. He could answer every question that we had – from soup to nuts he was with us, so we could make it as accurate as possible.
WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT CHESS BEING CINEMATIC? Or did you leave that in the hands of the Director?
Not at all, I’ve seen movies that are cinematic about a guy blinking an eyelash.. We had a brilliant cinematographer, and Ed Zwick is a director that makes movies bigger than you can imagine. We were only constrained by our budget.
HOW DID THIS FILM IMPRESS YOU MAXIM?
MAXIM ~ It is very true to life. In my chess career, my first coach was Bobby Fisher’s coach. I knew that there was this heartfelt love for Bobby. Our coach revered him, and I could see this at only 12 years old. This is totally conveyed in this film.
WAS IT FICTIONALIZED AT ALL?
GAIL ~ Well, your not in the rooms to hear every conversation. But the big things that happened, like x-raying the chairs, all of those things were true. We tried to make it as accurate as possible. I mean we were making a movie, not a documentary…so there are times when you have to take some license, like combining scenes or characters…very little. At the beginning of the movie it says that this is based on a TRUE STORY, and there are lawyers and insurance companies that vet that, and allow you to say that, if it isn’t, you have to say IT’s INSPIRED BY EVENTS… so this was based on a true story, basically I wanted it to say ALL OF THIS SHIT REALLY HAPPENED!!!!