‘Reality’ Star Sydney Sweeney Hopes HBO Film Humanizes ‘Complex’ NSA Whistleblower Reality Winner
Sydney Sweeney debuted her new HBO Films drama “Reality” at an intimate premiere Monday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
“Usually whenever I’m scared or challenged by something, I know I should do it,” the Emmy nominee told Variety on the red carpet about tackling the role of controversial real-life American whistleblower Reality Winner.
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Winner was a former U.S. Air Force member who was working as a translator for an NSA contractor when she was convicted of leaking a confidential report on Russian election interference to the media. Winner was ultimately charged under the Espionage Act and served four years in federal prison. She remains under supervised release until 2024, while public opinion remains split on the actions that put her behind bars.
The “Euphoria” star defended Winner during the event. “I hope that people see Reality as a human being and that they stop letting articles and tabloids label people and put thoughts into their minds. Hopefully they see this humanized experience and get to come up with their own opinions,” Sweeney said.
The new movie is based on the true events that occurred in 2017, when the 25-year-old former intelligence specialist arrived home to find FBI agents waiting on her doorstep. In the film, her suspected role in the mishandling of classified information leads to a confrontation between the officers and the unsuspecting Winner, who appears more concerned with getting her grocery shopping bags out of her car trunk than the possibility of going to prison. The film’s dialogue is shaped directly from the recorded and unedited FBI audio file of their tense conversation.
“I was drawn by how complex she was,” the actor said about her attraction to the character. “There are so many contradicting layers of who she is, what it means to be a woman. And I feel that we were able to take a moment and truly humanize it, and not put any type of lens on it. It was just a real moment in time. It’s everything from the transcript. Nothing has changed. And I love that.”
Tina Satter, who conceived the material in her 2019 play “Is This a Room?” and then wrote the screenplay, noted on the red carpet that she instantly knew Sweeney was perfect for the role right as she auditioned.
“We had this great conversation before she came on board where she just already had this understanding of Reality that actually came from being a young woman herself,” the filmmaker said. “While they’re very different people, they are both very smart.”
The emotional docudrama also stars Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis as agents in charge of questioning the suspect to get a confession.
“I felt a huge responsibility not only for Reality’s story, but also my admiration for her following her convictions at a huge personal risk,” Hamilton said. “I’m a big supporter of any whistleblower who feels like they’re speaking up to fight the power.”
“Reality,” premiering on HBO May 29, is produced by Noah Stahl, Brad Becker-Parton, Riva Marker and Greg Nobile.
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