Damian Lewis to play Rob Ford in new film, but casting choice for reporter raising eyebrows

Damian Lewis, the star of Billions and Homeland, is set to portray the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford in a film called Run This Town.

Reporter Robyn Doolittle expresses dismay about film 'rewriting' fact that female reporter broke key stories

Actor Damian Lewis, right, will play late Toronto mayor Rob Ford in a film called Run This Town. (CBC)

News that Damian Lewis, the star of Billions and Homeland, is set to portray the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford in a film called Run This Town, made headlines Tuesday, but that isn't the only casting choice raising eyebrows.

Robyn Doolittle, who now works at the Globe and Mail, was the female reporter behind many of the biggest headlines about the former mayor, from his substance abuse to the crack-cocaine scandal that made him notorious.

She is sounding off about the film because it has a male reporter chasing those stories. 

American Ben Platt, the Tony Award-winning star of Dear Evan Hansen, plays a bumbling newsroom intern who wants to break the story on the Ford crack-smoking scandal — but is several steps behind other reporters.

Doolittle who worked alongside investigative reporter Kevin Donovan at the Toronto Star on the Ford story and penned a bestseller about Ford called Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, took to Twitter Tuesday to express her dismay.

But the production company behind the film says while the movie is set against the backdrop of Ford's mayoral term, it isn't a biopic. 

Ford is actually a fairly minor character in the story of a young wannabe journalist and other millennials who struggle to make a living in a post-recession economy, writer-director Ricky Tollman says. The other characters in the film are fictitious, says the production company.

Tollman says he wanted to create "a sympathetic portrait" of Ford and his tumultuous time in office before he died in 2016.

The film, which is currently being shot in Toronto and has no release date, also features Canadian actors Nina Dobrev, Mena Massoud and Scott Speedman.

'This isn't the Rob Ford story,' director says

Tollman says he was taken aback by the initial response to the film based on a brief synopsis that describes it as the story of "a young journalist, desperate to prove himself, who catches wind of a scandal involving a flashy, unpredictable politician with no filter. Political aides attempt to keep their boss in check — and the story under wraps — in order to save their jobs."
Robyn Doolittle, a female reporter behind many of the biggest headlines about the former mayor, including his substance abuse and the crack-cocaine scandal that made him notorious, is sounding off about the film that has a male reporter chasing such stories. (Toronto Star via Getty Images)

He says while many assumed the film would focus on Ford and some of the real reporters who covered the controversial mayor, "this is an imagined story representing people that I know that have been trying to make their way in life in the footsteps of people who are much better at their jobs."

"[Platt's character] is a guy who is an intern at a newspaper, who is an assistant to reporters. He's working in the records and archives of the newspaper and trying to up his position there. It was a surprise to me [that] people took three words out of the description of the film and spun it into something that it's not, without having read the script," Tollman says.
Actor Ben Platt is playing the main character in a new movie about the Rob Ford crack-smoking scandal, shot in Toronto. (Charles Sykes/Invision/The Associated Press)

While he expects there may be other films about Ford in various stages of development, Tollman says he wasn't worried about competing with other scripts.

"This isn't the Rob Ford story," he says.

"And I didn't want to portray Rob in a way that people already imagined him or in ways he's already been portrayed in the media ... I think Rob isn't just a caricature, he's a person and he's a human, he had two children and a wife and a family, and he cared very deeply about the city he was the mayor of. And this was a guy with demons.   

"I wanted to show a side of him that people forget about."

No attempt to 'co-opt' Doolittle's story, says actor

Platt tweeted on Tuesday about the character he is playing — an "entitled, incapable entry-level reporter."

The explanation was in response to the tweet by Doolittle, who accused the filmmakers of "rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford."

"The film is a completely fictional drama," Platt's tweet reply to Doolittle reads. "There is no attempt to portray or co-opt your story/accomplishments."

With files from CBC News