Stephen Frears has revealed that he first intended to make a film about Tyler Hamilton before finally turning his attention to Lance Armstrong. The Program, a film directed by Frears, and that follows Armstrong's rise and fall from grace, was released in the United Kingdom this week. A release date for the USA has not yet been announced but a premiere is scheduled at the Austin Film Festival on November 5.
At the film's UK preview in London on Wednesday, Frears confirmed that he had originally looked at making a film based around Hamilton’s biography, [co-written with Dan Coyle] The Secret Race. The talks between Hamilton and Frears broke down after just one phone call and Frears eventually went onto make a film from David Walsh's Armstrong book – Seven Deadly Sins.
"I'm always slightly embarrassed to say this in front of David but I read a review of Tyler Hamilton's book and it sounded fantastic and it was a really interesting story," Frears told Cyclingnews after The Program's premiere.
"Then Tyler Hamilton wouldn't sell it to us. Then my friends who know about cycling said I should read David Walsh's book, which had a story.
"Tyler's book was very good and we tried to buy it and he said no. There was a phone call and after the call he said it didn't go very well, but from my end it went it was fine."
Frears' film stars Ben Foster as Armstrong, with Chris O'Dowd playing Walsh and Dustin Hoffman cast in the role of Bob Hamman of the SCA insurance company who refused to pay a Tour de France bonus to Armstrong and empowered the investigation into his doping. Former cyclist David Millar was brought on board as a consultant and helped to bring realism to the race scenes. However, for Frears the film isn't about cycling, as such, and he tried to bring embodiment to the laws that were broken.
"I always felt it was a crime story. Because I don't know anything about cycling, I can't pretend, but I see the Tour as a very romantic idea. However what always seemed to me, and it became more interesting, was how this man [Armstrong] constructed this extraordinary lie. It's a very good story. He was like a movie star. He was clearly a good rider, and he had the brazen confidence and good looks, all of those things."
One area that Frears leaves out of the film was the relationships Armstrong had with Greg LeMond. The two fell out after LeMond questioned Armstrong's relationship with the now banned doctor Michele Ferrari. Legal action ensued and Lemond has been vocal about Armstrong's treatment of him in the past. Frears added that he regretted not including the LeMond angle in his film.
"You need to do an episode on how he treated Greg Lemond. It's only in retrospect that I wished I'd included that. I wish we'd dealt with that story too, it was so horrible."
One area Frears is certain over is the independency of his work. When asked if he talked with Armstrong during the film making process, he was resolute.
"I wanted to make a film and he likes to have control. It was important to make this film without his control. Unless something very sinister went on he had no control. Why would I want to meet him, he's a liar."