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‘Paterno’ Director Says Biopic Will Be 'Journalistic'

by on March 12, 2018 8:32 PM

With less than a month until the premiere of HBO’s “Paterno” biopic, Sports Illustrated sat down with director Barry Levinson to talk about Paterno, the JerrySandusky scandal, and portraying such a sensitive story.

Levinson explained the film takes place with Joe Paterno in an MRI machine going through a series of flashbacks from the two weeks after the Sandusky scandal broke. He said the team worked with HBO and lawyers on "double-checking the dates and getting some factual information straight."

 “…I think we’re being very journalistic: This is the information that in fact exists,” Levinson told SI. “We’re not making up these stories. This is what exists.”

SI writer Jack Dickey said during the interview, “A lot of the movie has to do with how Paterno’s family reacts to the scandal, and how harshly his children come to judge him after Paterno’s past inaction is revealed.”

The official trailer for the production even includes a voiceover of one of Paterno’s sons asking, “Dad, did you know about Jerry?” and another clip of Sue Paterno saying, “I’m saying you couldn’t have known, otherwise you wouldn’t have let [the kids] go in the pool [with Sandusky]. Right?”

“I remember them at the time, though, serving as his strong defenders,” SI then said. “How did you settle on that portrayal?”

Levinson said this is because the movie deals with the shock of it all and the immediate reactions, not the long-term investigation or even the remaining length of Paterno’s life. The film is partly based on Joe Posnanski’s 2012 biography Paterno, which Posnanski was actively working on when the scandal came to light.

On Twitter, Paterno's son Scott wrote that any suggestion he or his siblings judged their father "harshly" is slander.



As seen in the trailer, the movie also includes the mob of students that gathered outside the Paterno home and the ensuing riots downtown following the coach’s firing.

“He was there forever; he was like the father to those students. Without them having all the information, they do this thing to protect the father,”Levinson said of the scene. “It’s obviously a misjudgment, but we do react emotionally before we react in a more thoughtful manner.”

SI says the movie paints a portrait that Paterno didn’t do more because he was preoccupied, but Levinson maintains it’s all more complicated than that. “I don’t know that we’re ever going to get the real answer to it.” But the “why” is “what makes it interesting.”

Levinson also said he assumes there will be backlash from Paterno loyalists, “because there are some that don’t want to hear anything.”

“Paterno” airs at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 7 on HBO.

Elissa Hill is an associate editor for Onward State.
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