Interview with Ivy Meeropol of "BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN" on HBO- Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Ivy Meeropol

Interview with Ivy Meeropol of "BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN" on HBO 6/16/20

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.

Here's the audio of the interview. Below is the transcript.

Suzanne: Hello.

Ivy: Hi, Suzanne. This is Ivy.

Suzanne: Hi, Ivy. How are you?

Ivy: Okay. How are you?

Suzanne: Pretty good. Pretty good.

Ivy: Hanging in there?

Suzanne: Yeah, yeah. So, are you in the East Coast?

Ivy: Yes, I am.

Suzanne: New York?

Ivy: I live in the Hudson Valley in New York, yeah.

Suzanne: Oh, that's nice.

Ivy: Yes.

Suzanne: I was just talking to a lady earlier today who was in New Jersey.

Ivy: And are you calling from California?

Suzanne: No. I'm actually in Arkansas.

Ivy: Oh, wow!

Suzanne: I'm from California, originally, but I moved around a bit for my husband's job, but I can do my job anywhere.

Ivy: Well, that's nice.

Suzanne: Yeah. It's convenient.

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: I know.

Suzanne: Are things okay where you are?

Ivy: Yeah. I live in a pretty small town too.

Suzanne: Oh, good.

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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?

Ivy: 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 was uncovered.

Ivy: 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 kid.

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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?

Ivy: 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?

Ivy: Yeah, I am.

Suzanne: That's cute.

Ivy: That's me.

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.

Ivy: 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. [Laughs]

Ivy: 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?

Ivy: Sorry, say again.

Suzanne: So it took you two years to make?

Ivy: About that, Yeah.

Suzanne: What was the most challenging or difficult thing about making it?

Ivy: 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 purpose.

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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 my family.

Ivy: 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?

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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 room.

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.

Ivy: Oh, yes.

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?

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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."

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

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 with them.

Ivy: 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: Okay.

Myranda: Thanks.

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?

Ivy: 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, just to...

Suzanne: That's fascinating, yeah.

Ivy: 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.

Ivy: 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--

Ivy: That's right. That's right.

Suzanne: Well, I appreciate your taking the call.

Ivy: Oh, sure. Thank you for the interview.

Suzanne: Yeah. And I'm telling everybody about it already, so I'll keep on doing that.

Ivy: Oh, good. I appreciate that.

Suzanne: All right, well thank you.

Ivy: All right. Take care.

Suzanne: You too. Bye.

Ivy: Bye.

Transcribed by

Reviews of the film:

New York Times


Detroit News


BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN, An Intimate Look At An Infamous Figure, Debuts June 19, Exclusively On HBO

poster for the film
BULLY. COWARD. 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 their executions.
This film will also be available to stream on HBO GO, HBO NOW, and on HBO via HBO Max and other partners’ platforms.
BULLY. COWARD. 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 Rosenbergs.
This riveting 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, Norman Mailer.
The 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.
“Roy 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.”
BULLY. COWARD. 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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