It was a tough blow for Roach, who had been reveling in his seemingly unstoppable trajectory. “I had been on a track where if you make films that succeed, then you get to make more films,” he says. “I thought, Well, why don’t I get to make this one? It was humbling, and it made me re-examine everything.”
During his accidental downtime he came across Strong’s Recount script, which had been building buzz and nabbed top honors on last year’s Black List, an annual poll for which film insiders pick their favorite new scripts. Unfortunately, by the time Roach expressed interest, HBO was already planning to make the movie with Sydney Pollack at the helm. But weeks before production was set to start, Pollack pulled out for health reasons, and Roach was asked to take over.
HBO Films president Colin Callender says Roach was indeed a perfect fit because the film is “very serious, but filled with events that are more absurd than any dramatist could invent.” He adds: “It was a risk, but I didn’t have a single reservation after my first meeting with Jay. He is lacking in any of the excesses that tend to accompany Hollywood directors. He’s very down-to-earth and has a real everyman feel in how he looks at his characters.”
After Recount, Roach will continue working on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno (Roach was also a producer on Borat); after that, he’s hoping to do a remake with Baron Cohen of the 1998 French film Le dîner de cons, about friends who compete to bring the dumbest guests they can find to dinner. (Roach and Baron Cohen have been calling it Dinner With Schmucks, but Roach says the Motion Picture Association of America might force them to change the title. “The Yiddish word [schmuck] is something related to penis,” he says by way of explanation.) Another project high on his agenda is a second political tale: the story of Mark Felt, the Watergate source known as Deep Throat.
Roach also hopes to one day convince Fox to revisit Used Guys, the subject of which really struck a chord with him. “I’ve always felt women should run the world,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind they would do a better job. Men suck at it. I want to make that be a sticky meme. That’s my secret plan: to change the world through broad comedy.”