As a child, Graham Moore was a slight techie, and as a teen, Moore heard camp fire stories about Alan Turing. Intrigued by this camp fire legend, Moore was inspired to write a screenplay about Turing. The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. We sat down with Moore to talk about he brought the story of this mathematical genius to the big screen and how he feels about all the buzz the film is receiving.
Awards Daily: What a day it’s been. Congratulations on the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes.
Graham Moore: Yes! We are all thrilled.
AD: I just read somewhere that you went to Space Camp.
GM: (Laughs) I think everyone wants to be an astronaut or scientist in some way. I went with a good friend at the time. It was a great time, I went to a different space or science camp every Summer when I was a kid. My parents tried to get me to go to Sports, but that didn’t happen.
AD: How did you come across the story of Alan Turing?
GM: I had known about it since I was a teenager. When I was a kid going to space and computer programming camp, I was a socially uncomfortable, computer weirdo. As a kid, Turing was this patron saint, a camp-fire legend. He was a secret legend scientist, he invented the computer and was gay, but no one knew. He broke codes in World War II, and had all these stories that no one really knew. As I got older, I didn’t become a computer programmer, I became a writer, and it amazed me that no one had done a narrative or film. There had been the wonderful play by Hugh Whitmore, and a few great books, but it seemed a story so classically rich for film. His is a legacy is so deserving of one. Alan Turing had been so maligned at the end of his life and after his life. He deserved to have a film, putting him back in the center of our understanding in the history of computers and the history of World War II.
AD: It’s almost an educational film in that sense.
GM: That’s such a compliment. That people who hadn’t heard the name Alan Turing can be exposed to it and his accomplishments. I think he should be as well-known as Darwin and Einstein. His accomplishments are just on that level. A lot of scientists are great, but I think because of the appalling treatment by the British Government at the end of his life and by the secrets he had kept during the war, his name wasn’t well-known.
What makes the story so amazing and incredible is the tragic irony is while he was on trial for being the crime of being a “gay man,” he never once raised his hand and never said, “I’m a War Hero.” He remained faithful to the British Government even though they weren’t faithful to him. He kept their secret, and that’s the tragic irony, and it was moving to me. It made me feel like he deserved a film and his legacy.
AD: How did you know that final scene was how you wanted to end the film?
GM: I must have done at least 30 drafts of that, it was one of the hardest scenes to write. We were constantly tweaking it. One of the greatest things of the process was we had a few weeks of rehearsal before shooting. There was nothing like getting in a room with the actors and spending all day working through the same scene to find it. We were fortunate to have actors like Keira (Knightly) and Benedict (Cumberbatch) who had done so much of their own homework about how they spoke. We worked through the scene together, and we found this version where we knew we wanted to end with that monologue. She does this page long monologue to him about his legacy and importance. It felt like things we wish we could have said to him. I don’t know if Turing heard any of that in his life, but I only wish he could have. The goal of the film was to preserve his legacy and that monologue felt like it was eulogizing him.
AD: Have any of his family seen the film?
GM: We had a private screening in London where we had 26 of his surviving family members attend and it was so wonderful to hear the outpouring afterwards. One of his nieces who was 18 when he passed away, came up to me and said, it felt like seeing her uncle alive again. Having the support of the Turing family is the greatest compliment we could have received.
AD: How did Benedict get attached to the film and come on board? Wasn’t Leonardo Di Caprio interested?
GM: He wasn’t attached, and one of the people who called and loved the script, and was a supporter. From the moment Morten came on, the first thing he said was, “It has to be Benedict.” We called Benedict and he had read the script before. It was at Warner Bros, but we got it independently and finance it independently, we were able to then make it freely.
One of the lovely things about this whole process was my dorky obsession with Alan Turing has spread. Once you hear Alan’s story, it’s so innately compelling that it needs to be told, and if you can’t tell stories like this on film, then what’s the point. That’s one of the things that this medium is wonderful for. Everyone who heard the story wanted to jump on. Keira said yes right away, so did Benedict.
AD: Charles Dance was a great addition to the cast.
GM: He’s great to write for. I remember being on set and he would ask me a question, and it felt like I was being kept for detention. I was always like, “Oh my God! What if he asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, am I going to get into trouble?”
Then I remembered he’s just asking me a question because he cares about my opinion. I’d be like, “Charles Dance is asking me a question, that’s pretty cool.”
AD: You cover a great deal in the movie, how did you decide what to put into the film?
GM: That was one of the challenges of a film like this, you have two hours to get a story of a man’s, all too brief 41 years of life. So, early on I had decided I wanted to focus on three main periods in his life. His teenage years when he first fell in love with Christopher, and when he first started to learn about Cryptography. As a gay man his love had to be expressed in code, and it’s important for him and such a powerful concept. I wanted to focus on that. I wanted to focus on the 1940’s and his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park and then the 1950’s with his arrest and persecution at the hands of the British government.
The first thing I decided was I didn’t want to create a standard linear biopic. I felt the story deserved something more trickier.
I wanted to present his life and cut them up, and present them non-chronologically. Alan Turing is obsessed with puzzles and code. What if the whole movie is a puzzle. What if we take these three periods, cut them up and present them out of order so the time periods can ask questions. The audience is trying to solve the puzzle of Alan Turing in the film, in the same way that he’s trying to solve a puzzle, and put them in the mindset. It’s hard to pitch to producers by them way.
AD: Did you deliberately choose not to show his homosexual side?
GM: The film is about love, not sex. Christopher was the great love of his life. I think he never really fell in love again after Christopher. He wrote letters to Christopher’s family for the rest of his life, about Christopher in his diary. That was something he never got over. We wanted to show that love and how that love inspired his pioneering work in mathematics, computing and philosophy. He had no lovers in Bletchley Park, he described it as a sexual letter. For him to get caught having sex with another man during that time period, he would have been thrown in jail, so he had to be repressed about it. He had to repress his sexuality during the war and keeping secrets.
AD: Devil In the White City is your next project with Leonardo Di Caprio. How’s that going?
GM: Leo is attached to play. I’m very excited about it because I grew up in Chicago and it’s lots of fun.
AD: How do you feel about the awards buzz?
GM: It’s pretty crazy. It’s so wonderful to watch other people get caught on to my obsession with Alan Turing. We got the words, Alan Turning in an issue of Vogue and that’s amazing. That feels like a tremendous accomplishment. The awards stuff is great, but it’s about Alan Turing and whatever can be done to preserve his legacy helps.
The Imitation Game is in cinemas now.