Exclusive: David O. Russell will produce Diane Ladd's Martha Mitchell biopic Woman Inside, plot details revealed
UPDATE: Representatives for Laura Dern tell EW the actress is not attached to star in Woman Inside.
EARLIER: For over three decades, Oscar-nominated actress Diane Ladd has been haunted — in part, literally — by the story of Martha Mitchell, wife of attorney general John Mitchell who openly criticized the U.S. government amid the Watergate scandal before she died on May 31, 1976. Ladd claims a visit from Mitchell’s ghost on the same night of her death inspired a nearly 40-year quest to bring her story to the big screen, one she tells EW she’s finally ready to shoot in the year ahead. And she’s bringing a familiar face long for the journey, as Joy director David O. Russell will join the impressive roster of Hollywood talent already working on the long-gestating project.
“I learned so much about her and researched her, and I ended up writing a beautiful screenplay,” Ladd says of the film she plans to direct, titled Martha: Woman Inside, which will reunite the 82-year-old with several former collaborators. “Martin Scorsese is my executive producer and David O. Russell is one of my producers. We’re going to make her film finally in the next 12 months.”
Representatives for Russell confirmed the Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle helmer will work on the project, though Scorsese’s team did not respond to EW’s request for comment.
While she won’t reveal specifics about the story, Ladd confirms her script traces a vast stretch of Mitchell’s life before she became embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Mitchell was reportedly viewed by her husband as a hazard, fearing she’d leak information about the cover-up to the press. Thus, Mitchell was reportedly drugged and quarantined in a California villa after speaking to White House reporter Helen Thomas about the political scandal that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation from office in 1974.
According to Ladd, Thomas — who remained good friends with the actress until her death in 2013 — has a presence in Woman Inside as well.
“I’m going to promise you one of the greatest films, okay? I’m going to bank my 50 years in show business on that. I’ve won 57 international awards…and I’ll bank it all on this movie,” Ladd adds. “[Martha] was inside all of the shenanigans, she knew what was going on. She knew the truth and she cared about her country. The truth about Watergate has never quite been told, so it’s also the story of two women who changed the course of political history forever: Martha Mitchell and Helen Thomas. It’s one of the greatest love stories that’s ever been told.”
Ladd’s eyeing three actresses to play Mitchell at various ages of life, including her daughter, Laura Dern, and a “young star” whom she won’t name. (A representative for Dern did not respond to EW’s request for comment.) She also says a female producer is circling the project (she refuses to name her, but hints “she has a top-hit film out right now”), and a production schedule has been laid out. She’s looking to film in either Georgia or Louisiana.
Still, the road to Woman Inside‘s completion, Ladd notes, wasn’t traveled without its share of potholes.
“I actually had to put it aside. I had two deals previously; [One] at a TV studio where the president was fired, then I had a deal at a film studio where the president was fired,” she remembers, also recounting a deal with “one of the most famous directors in Hollywood” who “stole the idea” for one of her characters. She won’t name him, either.
“He wasted three years of my life. He kept screaming, ‘You’re going to sue me?’ And I told him I was not going to sue him; I would leave him to God and his picture would probably bomb. And indeed it did,” Ladd says. “I didn’t wish him bad but there is a thing called karma, you know. I’ve written it all in a book! I have a book, 365 pages, finished! And the title is Interrupted Destiny, because Martha Mitchell’s destiny was interrupted…and so was mine.
“She wanted me to help fulfill her destiny,” Ladd continues, referencing the night Mitchell’s ghost interrupted her performance during a Memorial Day 1976 presentation of Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater to tell her she wanted the Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore star to tell her story. “She wanted to be an actress, and I feel she floated over the stage while I was acting and said to her angels, ‘Give me that sucker right there to tell my story!'”