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What Michael Keaton And Amy Ryan Took From Their Real-Life Worth Counterparts

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the historic and horrific events of 9/11, the annual reflection on that fateful day is going to feel a bit sharper this year. Though we’ve seen those events examined multiple times through both fictional and non-fictional accounts, a new angle has been presented in director Sara Colangelo’s Netflix original film Worth. It’s an approach that saw stars Michael Keaton and Amy Ryan both taking some unique references from their real-life counterparts, Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros.

I had the chance to speak to both Michael Keaton and Amy Ryan during the press days for Worth, which depicts the formation and execution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund; a measure that, on paper, was supposed to save the United States economy by curtailing lawsuits in the aftermath of that devastating terrorist attack. But as seen in Sara Colangelo’s film, based on a script by writer Max Borenstein, Worth tells the very human story about the figures that had to navigate a complex maze of grief and justice.

Playing the role of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who volunteered to act as special master, formulating the strategy and calculations behind the fund, Michael Keaton approached Worth in the same way he would any other historical biopic. As he told me during our conversation, Mr. Keaton is a firm believer that when it comes to representing an actual figure in history, questions are the best way to start finding the right way to play them. This was a tactic that was aided greatly by the fact that Mr. Feinberg was available for such research, as explained below:

When you play a real person, the basic approach is you just have to sit down and start asking questions. Or with someone who’s no longer with us, like [The Founder’s] Ray Kroc, he’s passed away. So you start to read about him or ask people, talk to people who knew him possibly. But when someone exists, there’s no way around just sitting down with them, and starting to pump them for information for questions. That’s the only way. And then your interpretation of them, without doing an impression of them. What are they like, where are they from? How are they thinking?

Due to the unique subject matter that Worth tackles, getting to know people like Ken Feinberg is only part of the job. Further discussing the components that went into embodying the role properly, Michael Keaton recounted the very pieces of this narrative that make it so different from his past historical dramas, in particular The Founder. Through the angle of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, there were some added textures that Keaton needed to take on in order to do the story justice:

And this one’s really dense, because you’ve got to learn about numbers, literally, and how things worked. How the whole process worked, which is not something I do every day; or never do. He was great, Ken is so good at giving you whatever it is you need to know. [He’s] open, and clear, and articulate about it. There’s no other way to do it. I had the luxury of people like Robbie Robertson in Spotlight and Ken Feinberg in Worth.

As much as Michael Keaton benefitted from meeting Ken Feinberg, fellow actor Amy Ryan found herself preparing for Worth through a very hands-on approach as well. Speaking with Camille Biros, one of the attorneys who acted as Feinberg’s right hand during this tumultuous time, Ryan found herself gaining a different, but still vital skill in her portrayal of Ms. Biros. More specifically, she gained a better understanding of the emotional toll through her own series of questions:

I was able to meet with Camille and ask her how she got through her days doing this. Especially sitting with, as this face to face, absorbing grief, rage, anger [from] a bunch of confused people. ‘Why did this happen? How did this happen?’ They really saw and heard it all. How do you maintain your professional self in that? How are you not a puddle on the floor with them? So we spoke a lot about that.

No stranger to films of intense grief thanks to roles in films like Gone Baby Gone, Amy Ryan found her composure when filming the testimonial scenes that make up the emotional wreckage on display in Worth. Some of the most intense cases presented in the film range from undocumented immigrants worried they’ll be deported by making a claim, to a heartbreaking story involving a same-sex partnership in a time when legal protections weren’t anywhere near what they are now. Reading the script, and knowing Camille Biros as she did after their meeting, Ryan had a better understanding of her role in Worth. She also couldn’t help but realize how far things had come, and how far they still had to go, in these past 20 years.

Amy Ryan listens patiently with Michael Keaton in the background in Worth.

Perhaps the greatest asset in both Michael Keaton and Amy Ryan’s preparation for Worth was the fact that their respective real-life counterparts were so open with them. With a keen interest in representing their story correctly, and in a fashion that isn’t over sensationalized, Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros' assistance was immensely helpful in cementing the reality of this quietly affecting drama. As Ms. Ryan recounted about her meetings with both Feinberg and Biros, great attention was paid to that concept on both ends of the camera:

When you meet them, they’re wonderful. Ken is the showman, he’s got great stories, and he knows how to wrap an audience around his finger. Camille is the quiet bedrock, and she’s the one who really, I don’t want to say doing all the work, but she kind of the brains behind it. Like, ‘Here’s how we’re going to lay this out.’ [Ken] has so much admiration for her, and is very protective of making sure that part of Camille is represented in the film.

Two decades on, 9/11 is still an event that finds itself inspiring cathartic works like Worth. Though thanks to the untapped angle of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and the preparation of Michael Keaton and Amy Ryan, this specific film will focus on humanity in the aftermath rather than the event itself. You can currently see the film in limited theatrical release, with its debut on Netflix slated for September 3. If you want to see what other films will be coming online throughout the rest of the year, check out the 2021 Netflix release schedule. And if you’re ready to get back to the movies, the 2021 release schedule for theatrical debuts is also available for your planning needs.

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.