The Good Shepherd: CIA Secrets or Hollywood Sizzle?
The Godfather & the CIA
"After Forrest Gump, I was getting all sorts of ideas thrown at me," Roth said. "People were asking: 'What do you want to do?' I'd always had this idea of doing a Godfather-type movie about a family only set inside the CIA."
Roth spoke with Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola, and they discussed adapting Norman Mailer's fictional book about the CIA, Harlot's Ghost, but decided against it. Instead, Roth wrote an original script and during his research, he became interested in Angleton. Roth soon began picturing him as his Michael Corleone character. "I get nervous when I mention the Godfather because critics immediately begin comparing The Good Shepherd to it and it has to live up to those same standards or you're in trouble," Roth said. "But I am referring to the Godfather in the sense of this being a family story of focusing on one individual and telling a larger story through his eyes and experiences. The character arch between Edward Wilson and Michael Corleone has certain similarities. You start with a somewhat innocent guy who is as smart or smarter than anyone else involved with him and then you see him progress until he is better than anyone else at what he does and you then see what getting there has done to his personality."
Although Roth drew heavily on Angleton's life for his portrait of Edward Wilson, he quickly pointed out that The Good Shepherd was not meant to be a biography. Several characters and scenes were invented to add drama. However, Roth said that when he invented a scene, he tried to base it on a historical fact "something the CIA has done in the past."
"The way I do research is different from a biographer," Roth explained. "I think along thematic lines and then I write toward that and shape my characters to fit those themes. Angleton was clearly a huge influence but I didn't feel bound just by Angleton's story."
Let's breakdown the movie's most important scenes to separate Angleton's life from Roth's fiction. (Spoiler warning: if you have not seen the movie and want to be surprised by it, stop reading now.)