David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck

For years, David Strathairn’s held a curiously split place in American film. For devoted indie-film fans, he’s a must-see actor whose name in the credits alone is enough reason to seek out a movie, with great performances like Blue Car, 8 Men Out and Limbo on his resume; to more mainstream audiences, he’s been a subtle, tricky scene-stealer in Hollywood films like L.A. Confidential, Sneakers and  A League of Their Own. With the release of George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, starring Strathairn as ‘50s newsman Edward R. Murrow and earning him his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama), there’s the question of if Strathairn’s attained a whole new level of mainstream fame … or if the mainstream’s finally caught up with him.  Relaxed and affable, Strathairn was able to join us in his native San Francisco to talk about moviemaking, working with director George Clooney and how the experience of making Good Night, and Good Luck served as a crash course in the history of ‘50s America … and the realities of the here-and-now.

When you realized you’d be playing Edward R. Murrow -- a newsman who left behind so much recorded material and archived broadcasts – did you simply dive into the material, or did you approach it more tentatively?

I dove in … but then I was very tentative in my reading through it, because I wasn't sure how much would be apropos to the script – or, to put it another way, George (Clooney, director and co-writer) said it's not a biopic. So that helped with my tentativeness, because we weren't concerned with him as a young man, or what he thought about when he was at home, or what he liked to eat or his relationship with his son and his wife.  So then I could sort of funnel my focus into a particular moment; I went directly to the kinescopes and the archival footage of the broadcasts, the “See It Now” broadcasts and the “Person to Person” broadcasts and … his 1958 speech to the Radio and Television News Directors of America, so I could concentrate on that.  Once I realized where I was headed, I started paddling like crazy.