Director Tony Goldwyn sees a lot of himself in the real-life Betty Anne Waters, portrayed by actress Hilary Swank in his film Conviction. Waters spent 18 years proving her brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell) had been wrongfully imprisoned for murder.
“If you have faith in something and believe in it hard enough it will manifest itself,” Goldwyn told the Current, relating the sentiment to his own nine-year struggle to find funding for the film. “There is power in passion.”
During our interview, Goldwyn, who is also an actor (best known for getting a chest full of jagged glass in 1990’s Ghost), talked about sidestepping sappiness and explained why he decided to exclude a heartbreaking truth of the story.
Because Betty was so involved in the filmmaking process, did that put added pressure on you to do the story justice?
Yes, I felt a lot of emotional responsibility to Betty to get it done right and be truthful about it. I wasn’t going to shy away from the dark aspects of the story, and I was very honest with her about that. I didn’t want it to be a Pollyanna-version.
How much creative liberty did you take?
Well, I compressed time and I combined events. Any time I changed anything it was always in the spirit of the truth and to enhance what this movie is about. Betty would look at some of the scenes and say, “Well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but that’s exactly how it felt.”
In real life, Kenny dies six months after he is finally released from prison. Why did you decide to end the film with a strong sense of hope instead of including the tragic reality?
I tried really hard to put Kenny’s death in the film, but what I found was it made the movie about something else. Even in Kenny’s death, the love that he and Betty shared was not diminished. It was in the script for a number of years, but people kept saying they were so moved by the story, but then there is this left turn, and they couldn’t recover from it.
How did you avoid making this film overly sentimental?
The trick really is to keep balance and show both the darkness and the light of something. Over-sentimentality comes when you lean too hard on the emotional moments and gloss over things. I was always trying to find the contrast with this story. With Sam Rockwell’s character, we have to fall in love with him, but we also have to believe he’s a murderer. With that contrast we avoid that saccharine type of treatment this story could have easily had. •
Dr. Tony Goldwyn; writ. Pamela Gray; feat. Sam Rockwell, Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo