With ‘Beirut,’ Brad Anderson once again shows his versatility

Director Brad Anderson (center) with stars Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm on the set of “Beirut.”
Bleecker Street
Director Brad Anderson (center) with stars Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm on the set of “Beirut.”

After coming up in the late ’90s through Boston’s then-nascent indie film scene, director Brad Anderson broke out in a big way with Sundance-minted romantic comedies “Next Stop Wonderland” and “Happy Accidents,” released in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

But what cemented the Bowdoin grad’s long-term success working outside the Hollywood system may have been what came next: psychological thrillers “Session 9” (2001) and “The Machinist” (2004), a different one-two punch that proved the Connecticut-bred director, 54, could bring something special to near-diametrically opposed genres.

Anderson’s latest, ’80s-set espionage thriller “Beirut” (in theaters now), finds him shifting to yet another narrative sandbox, dusting off a 26-year-old script by “Bourne” trilogy scribe Tony Gilroy about a US diplomat (Jon Hamm) who returns to the war torn city he fled years earlier to handle a high-stakes hostage negotiation.


Ahead of the film’s release, the director spoke by phone about “Beirut,” independent filmmaking, and his ongoing love affair with Boston.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Q. You were living in Boston when your career took off. Tell me about that.

A. I’d moved there after film school [in London] and gotten into the indie film scene that was beginning to develop around that time. I did a couple movies there and, in ’98, I did “Next Stop Wonderland,” which is set in and which we shot in Boston. It got picked up by Miramax, and I got some connections through that, so I moved up to New York after but came back a few years later to do “Session 9,” which we shot up in Danvers by the old mental hospital. In terms of my career, it began in earnest when I was living in Boston. I started doing my own films, working initially as an editor and editing assistant — briefly — at WGBH, as an editor on other people’s movies, trying to get some experience under my belt, but eventually just doing my own short films, doing them my way.

Q. That’s historically been important to you, doing it your way. Do you feel like you’ve maintained that independent streak?

A. I’ve never lost that, in a certain way. I’ve never been in the studio world; TV is as close as I get to the more corporate approach to making entertainment. I do lots of TV pilots when I’m not doing movies, but the films I’ve done, including “Beirut,” are all independent films, as much as they were back then.


Q. What drew you to “Beirut?”

A. I’m drawn to a story partly based on the fact that it’s something I might not be as familiar with. I also read Tony’s script and loved the world it depicted, the sense of atmosphere it created. It reminded me of Peter Weir’s “The Year of Living Dangerously” a little bit, with that same dark, exotic, never-seen world, where these beautiful people are navigating all these pitfalls.

Q. You were recently in Boston shooting NBC pilot “Suspicion.” What about the city keeps you coming back?

A. I had a blast shooting that pilot. It would be great to see more production up there, and I don’t know why there isn’t. It’s such a great city, visually. You can’t get that kind of look in Canada that you can get in Boston: the old-brick historical buildings, the winding streets, the old but funky neighborhoods like Southie and Somerville. You can’t get that elsewhere. It’s a very unique place in that way.

Interview was edited and condensed. Isaac Feldberg can be reached at