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Interview with Ivy Meeropol of "BULLY.
COWARD. VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN" on
This was an interesting interview because of all of the
history involved with this film and with Ivy, who's not only the
director/producer of the film, but she has a personal connection to it, being
the granddaughter of The Rosenbergs. She was very nice in our interview
and very easy to chat with. Before the interview, I wasn't sure if I had enough
questions, but I could easily have asked 5 more questions if I'd had time.
of the interview. Below is the transcript.
Hi, Suzanne. This is Ivy.
Suzanne: Hi, Ivy. How are you?
Okay. How are you?
Suzanne: Pretty good. Pretty good.
Hanging in there?
Suzanne: Yeah, yeah. So, are you in the East Coast?
Yes, I am.
Suzanne: New York?
I live in the Hudson Valley in New York, yeah.
Suzanne: Oh, that's nice.
Suzanne: I was just talking to a lady earlier today who was in New Jersey.
And are you calling from California?
Suzanne: No. I'm actually in Arkansas.
Suzanne: I'm from California, originally, but I moved around a bit for my husband's job,
but I can do my job anywhere.
Well, that's nice.
Suzanne: Yeah. It's convenient.
Comes in handy right now, too.
Suzanne: Yes, definitely. And living in a small town in the middle of nowhere has helped
because we don't have a lot of cases of the virus here and things. We're still
careful, but you never know what's going to happen.
Suzanne: Are things okay where you are?
Yeah. I live in a pretty small town too.
Suzanne: Oh, good.
Yeah. So we're doing okay here.
Suzanne: That's good. That's good. So I watched your documentary. I started it yesterday.
I watched the rest of it today. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you. Thank you.
Suzanne: I think everybody should enjoy it that watches it. I have to say I don't watch a
lot of documentaries. I tend to like fiction more, but I've seen quite a few.
PBS sends me a lot of DVDs to review and that kind of thing, but no, I did enjoy
it. So why did you decide that this is the right time for this documentary?
Well, we've been working on it for two years, so what precipitated embarking on
it was definitely the election of Donald Trump. I knew Roy Cohn was, I knew
something about... His connection to Trump... certainly not what we discovered in
making the film, but I knew enough that I felt like he was someone people needed
to help understand how we got where we are now. And I was upset, to be very
honest. I was upset and angry after Trump was elected and this became my way of
channeling that, putting it into my work.
Suzanne: And I believe the press release says something about archived information that
Oh, yeah. Well, so then the other part was, once I decided, "Okay, I want to
pursue this," and I began researching and trying to find people who knew Cohn
and also archival materials; make a film about someone who died so long ago, and
there's only so much archival. That's what you really are desperate for is that
rare archival. I mean, anything, footage, photos, audio, whatever it is. And so
what happened, I started asking around in Provincetown because I've lived on and
off in that area also, and I know it very well, been going there since I was a
And I knew that Cohn had been going to Provincetown as a summer visitor for
years. And it was where he could go and be his true self just hanging out as a
gay man. And so I was really interested in that. So I started right away asking
around if anybody had known him. And that that led me to Peter Manso who also
lives out there and is a well-known figure in Provincetown, and turned out that
he had done this big interview with Cohn in the early '80s, and that he had
saved the tapes from those interviews.
That was the greatest gift, and that's what set me off. I said, "Okay, now if I
can make a deal with Peter Manso that I get exclusive access to these rare
materials, then I have something between my family's story and this material." I
felt confident going to HBO at that point, who I had a great relationship with,
and ask them if they wanted to make this film with me. That's really how we got
off the ground.
Suzanne: Did HBO fund it, or, how did that work?
Yes. It's an HBO production. Very fortunate. I know it's really hard to... Often
when you're making documentaries, you're doing it piecemeal, having a little bit
of a budget here and there, and then hoping to raise more along the way. But
HBO, I think, was motivated as we were, to move as quickly as we could because as
you said, that it's timely.
Suzanne: Yeah. And you're the little blonde girl at the beginning, right?
Yeah, I am.
Suzanne: That's cute.
Suzanne: It's funny because when I set the interview, I just said, "Oh, yeah, I'll
interview anyone involved with it." And then they set up the timer,
and I'm like, "Oh, by the way, who am I interviewing?" And then they told me
your name, and it didn't mean anything. And then as I watched the film, and then
I looked it up and I said, "Oh, that's who she is?" Like, "Oh, okay. That's cool."
Suzanne: I've interviewed a lot of so-called famous people, but you're the first
historical-adjacent person I've interviewed, I guess. Historically adjacent. I
don't know. I can't think of another term for that.
Well, it's interesting you say that because people do... being part of a
family, well known, like those big historical figures, there are people who do
feel like when they meet me or my cousins or my brother, there's four of us who
are the grandchildren. People of a certain age, especially feel very excited to
be touching history or close to history.
Suzanne: Right. I'm only a little bit older than you. So you grow up hearing about what
happened, and of course, older people than us, they remember what happened, but
it's like, part of history. It's not history for you if it affected your life and
your father's life and your uncles, but it's just... It's weird, I guess. So
when I told a friend of mine who I was interviewing, she's like, "Wow! That's
really interesting." She doesn't care about when I interviewed other people.
Well, that's a good example of why it helps to have this connection to get
people interested because I think sometimes when you just... There's a
straightforward biography treatment of someone, it may not be as engaging. Not
always, but I think sometimes having this kind of personal look into a story can
attract more of an audience.
Suzanne: Right. That definitely makes the documentary, gives it an added layer of
interest. So it took you two years to make?
Sorry, say again.
Suzanne: So it took you two years to make?
About that, Yeah.
Suzanne: What was the most challenging or difficult thing about making it?
Well, it's hard to say. There were a couple of things. One was get getting
access to... I mean, I wanted to only interview people who knew him, I should
say, other than Tony Kushner and Nathan Lane who obviously serve a different
So that was challenging because just to find those people, if they're willing to
talk to you and many who are not many of his closest; the people who were still
alive are closest to him but not talk to me, but we managed and we... I am so
grateful, we have an incredible cast of subjects who really can speak to how Roy
was in real life. It's not like people talking... It's not like the talking heads talking about his role or his influence, it's people who could
really tell us great stories about him.
But I will say, probably aside from that, the biggest job was the edit. It was
just such a challenge to figure out how to weave my family's story with Cohn's
when my family story really was just the beginning of his career. And that's
where we intersect. Except that when it became clear that Roy also spent part of
his career trailing my father and my uncle [who] as young adults began to try to clear
their parents' name, there was another intersection where Cohn intersected with
So once we could build it around that, it started to make more sense, but I
didn't want it to be "Heir to an Execution" part two. That was my first film. And
I dealt with my family story there. So I think that was a big challenge for me
to overcome like, "Okay, what is our role here?" And how to use it well, but
also tell so much more of what is it like that I wanted to address.
Suzanne: So you would say you were involved with editing the film as well as the people
who are listed as the editors?
Well, I'm director and producer, but... No, I had wonderful editors to work
with, but I work very closely with them.
Suzanne: That's how I always figured with movies. The director has a lot of interaction
with the actual editors.
Yeah. I think people are different, but I think in documentaries, especially
directors for the most part, have to be very involved with that in the edit
Suzanne: Sure. So were there a lot of things that... I imagine you had a lot more footage
than what you actually put in there.
Suzanne: Were there any things that you didn't put in that you wished had made the cut or
that you thought maybe you weren't sure about?
Oh, there's so much. Making a documentary is... that's part of the torture in
the edit room, is that you have to kill your darlings. There's so much great
material that we couldn't use. There's different stories that some of the
characters told that I couldn't get into. I had a whole storyline that we were
following -- that we ended up cutting out -- in Provincetown, about how Cohn and Peter
Manso and Norman Mailer; the famous American author, that they all owned
property together in Provincetown, and now we touch on it in the film. But we
had shot a whole bunch of material that I interviewed Norman Mailer son, who's
a wonderful guy about his memories of Cohn being there, and why he had his father
and Cohn had this connection.
That's just one example of many where we had to make those decisions that when
things feel a little tangential, we had to lose it because we didn't want it to
be a relationship of too-long of a film. That would lose people's interest.
Part of the craft of making a film like this is making those hard choices, so
that what you do have in there works well together.
Suzanne: Yeah, I remember you mentioned Norman Mailer briefly. And then when I was
rereading the press release, he was mentioned in there and I thought, "Oh,
right. Yeah, they didn't say too much about him."
Yeah, we ended up not... It's interesting because Mailer is a perfect example of
someone who's a liberal intellectual, who's the friend to Cohn and that's always
been-- people kind of wonder like, "How could that be?" So it seems like an
interesting connection to explore, but we just couldn't do it.
Suzanne: I guess, the thing is, sometimes you have friends of all different types that
aren't necessarily people that have the same beliefs, even if your job is one
that seems to be very political or legal.
Suzanne: I know plenty of people that if... They would not make good presidents, for
instance, and I don't think I would vote for them, but I would still be friends
Yeah. And Cohn was masterful at forming all alliances with
so many different people. I think that--
Myranda: So sorry. I just want to let you know we have a couple of minutes left for this
one, so one more question.
Suzanne: All right. So I was going to ask, what's next for you? Do you plan to make more
documentaries? Do you have anything in mind?
Yeah. I definitely want to keep making documentaries, but what I'm been focused
on right now is trying to do a scripted series based on this documentary. I
would love to... I just feel like... As we're talking about, I have so many
stories and anecdotes, and I just see it. I can just see it as a very powerful
scripted series, and the same thing as "The Loudest Voice in the Room," which was a
Showtime series about Roger Ailes; just a limited, historically, accurate
treatment of Cohn's life. I've actually been starting to write the pilot myself,
Suzanne: That's fascinating, yeah.
Yeah. That's what I'm focused on right now. Not sure what documentary I will
embark on next, but I do love the medium. So we'll be doing another.
Suzanne: It's funny because you were just saying that about all the material you had. I
thought you probably have enough that you could make a whole series about it. So
that's a good idea.
Yeah. I just think it'd be an incredible role for an actor. And there's so many
parts of American history that... If you look at American history during the
period of Cohn's life, he touches on so many major moments and intersects with
so many different moments. So I think that it'll be really great.
Suzanne: And a lot of famous people that he interacts with too. So that--
That's right. That's right.
Suzanne: Well, I appreciate your taking the call.
Oh, sure. Thank you for the interview.
Suzanne: Yeah. And I'm telling everybody about it already, so I'll keep on doing that.
Oh, good. I appreciate that.
Suzanne: All right, well thank you.
All right. Take care.
Suzanne: You too. Bye.
Reviews of the film:
New York Times
COWARD. VICTIM. THE
STORY OF ROY COHN, An Intimate Look At An
Infamous Figure, Debuts June 19, Exclusively
VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN,
debuting FRIDAY, JUNE 19
(8:00-9:45 p.m. ET/PT),
takes an unflinching look at the
life and death of infamous attorney
Roy Cohn, who first gained
prominence by prosecuting Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg in what came to be
known as the “atomic spies” case.
The documentary draws on extensive,
newly unearthed archival material to
present the most revealing
examination of Roy Cohn to date.
Director Ivy Meeropol (“Indian
Point,” HBO’s “Heir to an
Execution”) brings a unique
perspective as the granddaughter of
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; having
spent much of her life feeling both
repelled and fascinated by the man
who prosecuted her grandparents,
obtained their convictions in
federal court and then insisted on
will also be available to stream on
HBO GO, HBO NOW, and on HBO via HBO
Max and other partners’ platforms.
VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN had
its World Premiere at the 2019 New
York Film Festival. The film’s HBO
debut on June 19 marks the 67th
Anniversary of the execution of
Meeropol’s grandparents, the
profile chronicles Cohn’s life from
the late 1950s as chief counsel to
Senator Joseph McCarthy, when he
first began wielding political
power, through the 1980s, when he
became a darling of the Reagan White
House, a rabid anti-homosexuality
activist and political mentor to
Donald J. Trump before meeting his
death from AIDS in 1986.
Featuring a trove of fascinating,
unearthed archive material as well
as recently discovered audiotapes of
candid discussions between Cohn and
journalist Peter Manso, recorded at
the height of Cohn’s career as a
power broker in the rough and tumble
world of New York City’s business
and politics, this vivid portrait
focuses on family, friends,
colleagues, employees and lovers, as
well as those targeted by Cohn – all
of whom were profoundly affected by
crossing paths with him. The film
follows key periods of Cohn’s life,
including his time in Provincetown,
MA, where he was considerably more
open about his sexuality than in
other settings, and where he shared
a house with Manso and novelist,
documentary includes numerous
interviews, including John Waters,
Cindy Adams, Alan Dershowitz, Nathan
Lane and Tony Kushner, whose 2018
Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning
revival of “Angels in America”
featured Lane as Cohn. Lane offers
insight into how devastatingly
dangerous the actual Roy Cohn was
and how he wielded power through
invective and innuendo.
Cohn made his name prosecuting and
pushing for the execution of my
grandparents Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg,” says Meeropol. “Many
years later he became Donald Trump’s
lawyer, mentor and close friend. If
there was ever a time to reflect on
how we got here it is now. I am so
grateful for the opportunity to
share the film with HBO audiences.”
VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN is a
Motto Pictures and Red 50 Production
for HBO Documentary Films; directed
by Ivy Meeropol; producers, Julie
Goldman, Christopher Clements, Ivy
Meeropol, Carolyn Hepburn; associate
producer, Juan Daniel Torres;
co-producers, Marissa Ericson, Peter
Manso; consulting producer, Frank
Rich; director of photography,
Daniel B. Gold; editors, Anne
Alvergue and Adam Kurnitz; music by
Nathan Halpern, Chris Ruggiero. For
HBO: executive producers, Nancy
Abraham and Lisa Heller.
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