In 2019, playwright Tina Satter used the FBI transcript of an interview with NSA translator and US Air Force veteran Reality Leigh Winner for her play Is This a Room. This has now been adapted for HBO’s new film Reality.
The film is a word for word acting out of Winner’s interrogation at her home from FBI agents Justin C Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and R Wallace Taylor (Marchánt Davis). Satter even deals with redactions from the transcript with a sudden vibration of the picture & Sweeney disappearing off screen for a split second before returning with the dialogue we are allowed to hear, it’s cleverly done.
One of the unique things about seeing this on-screen, as apposed to reading the transcript directly is being able to witness the body language of the actors and how that applies to the context of the words. Both the FBI agents and Reality are not saying what they mean, they’re skirting around what they really know and pushing each other subtly in the direction they want.
Particularly with the Agents, they push Reality to expose what they already know. You can tell they’re looking for non verbal cues as well as the truth from her. As we see Sweeney awkwardly shuffle around the room, her eyes subtly water on and off, even her face reddens with emotion.
It’s fascinating to watch, it’s essentially a film with three people talking all the way through, yet there is so much non-verbal acting going on and that is testament to the superb skills of the actors involved.
FBI agents accost Winner with a warrant to search her home and car for “the possible mishandling of classified information.” Which is a violation of the Espionage Act.
You feel a real sense of vulnerability from Winner as she is approached by an ever growing horde of large men & government vehicles. All of them ready with friendly smiles and reassurance that her co-operation is “completely voluntary.” Yet you feel her intimidation and a level of threat lingering in the air.
The initial interactions between the three are incredibly awkward as the conversation flows from procedural enquiries about weapons and perceived threats in the house to casual bumbling talk about pets. And still in these moments the film maintains a palm sweating tension. Winners body language screams ‘I’m going to jail.’
There’s also plenty of context adding material with the use of news clips, real photographs from her Instagram account and recorded phones calls.
It’s a great concept to take a transcript like this and apply it to the screen, but what really makes it come to life is the fantastic acting performances.