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During the press conference for Bridge of Spies during the New York Film Festival, the filmmaker relayed the tale of how Gregory Peck, renowned actor of films like Roman Holiday and To Kill A Mockingbird, tried to get this movie made.
I was meeting with the Donovan family — I was meeting with the two daughters and the son — this morning. And I found out something I never knew before. In 1965, Gregory Peck came after this story. Gregory Peck got Alec Guinness to agree to play Abel. Gregory Peck was gonna play Donovan. And they got a very good — they got Stirling Silliphant to try and write the script. And then MGM at the time sad, 'Nah, I don’t think we’re gonna tell this story.'
Alan Alda, who plays Thomas Waters in the film and was also present for the press conference, asked Steven Spielberg if he knew why MGM didn’t move forward with the project. The director replied,
It was 1965, and big things had happened. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been averted, like a year and a half before, and the tensions were too taut [between] the Soviets and the United States of America for MGM to get into the politics of this era.
Tom Hanks jokingly chimed in, "And Greg Peck’s previous movie was soft at the box office."
Bridge of Spies had its worldwide premiere at the NYFF and received a standing ovation. The film sees Donovan, an insurance lawyer, asked to perform a duty for his country by representing captured Soviet spy Abel in court. Despite outward aggression from the FBI, Donovan’s employer, and the American public, Donovan’s belief in the Constitution leads him to feel for his client and to keep defending him even after his conviction. However, the situation turns when the U.S. discovers one of their own spies has been captured by the Soviets, and the two powers attempt a trade.