Before there was Jayson Blair, there was Stephen Glass, the New Republic reporter whose star crashed after revelations that the kid had been pulling cover stories out of his bum. Billy Ray, a first-time director with a $6 million budget, told Hayden Christensen not to play Glass as a pure weasel. ''I don't think Stephen is a villain at all,'' says Ray. ''The movie's not a slash-and-burn. It's really more of a restrained look at a mess, and it attempts to explain what kind of atmosphere made this type of breach possible.''
Glass scammed a town full of editors, none more so than Michael Kelly (whose recent death in Iraq was a gut punch to the profession). “Kelly remained haunted by this experience until he died,” says Ray. Initially resentful of the film, Kelly eventually agreed to frank conversations with Hank Azaria, who plays the hoodwinked editor. “I asked him a lot of annoying, specific questions,” says Azaria. “‘What did you know when? How do you handle your employees if they seem to have screwed up?’”
“[Kelly] wanted nothing more than to derail this movie,” says Ray. “But his instincts as a journalist triumphed, and those instincts were to make sure that I told the story right.” Glass, on the other hand, balked at a consultant’s role, choosing instead to concentrate on his recently published novel, ''The Fabulist.'' Ray still can't bring himself to plunk down the $24. “I think I've read enough Stephen Glass fiction for a lifetime.”
The Killer Moment Glass (Christensen) gets nailed by his editor, who demands that the lying reporter drive him to the fabricated site of a fabricated story.