Editors note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will factor in this year’s movie awards races.
Writer-director James Gray went back to the personal for Armageddon Time, the autobiographical story that pulls from Gray’s own upbringing in a multi-generational Jewish-American family in the Flushing, Queens neighborhood of New York City.
The Focus Features film confronts issues of race and class against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s impending election as president in 1980. It had its world premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival and hit theaters in late October.
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Succession star and Emmy winner Jeremy Strong (a fellow New Yorker) stars in Armageddon Time as Irving Graff, essentially Gray’s real-life father. The plot centers on the Graffs taking their son Paul (Banks Repeta) from public school to a private one supported by Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father (played by John Diehl). Also starring in the ensemble are Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.
One aspect of the script was Paul’s relationship with his childhood friend Johnny, portrayed in the movie by Jaylin Webb. Gray revealed to Deadline that the real Johnny was killed during a drug deal in the mid-1980s, about six years after the events of the movie.
The film is a warts-and-all depiction of the times (the opening words in the script are “EXT. The Clouds”), and so close to real life that Gray even shot scenes just feet away from his real childhood home.
Gray, who previously directed Ad Astra and The Lost City of Z, said honesty is critical in the act of creating art.
“To me, the process that any creative person has to go through of any meaning is not to promote an idea that is rosy or pleasant or a lie, but rather to promote something that is as honest as possible because that’s where honest dialogue and debate can begin,” he said. “I can’t have a discussion with you if I say, ‘I’m a terrific guy and my life was terrific and nothing bad ever happened to me.’ OK, if that’s true, what the hell are we talking about, right? Everything’s good.”
Armageddon Time marks the latest in a string of New York-set movies for the Gray, following Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers and The Immigrant.
Read his Armageddon Time script below.
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