Deborah Lipstadt on truth, Trump, and Holocaust deniers
Historian and Brandeis grad Deborah Lipstadt is the subject of the new movie “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, and Timothy Spall. It’s based on Lipstadt’s book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” the true story of the trial involving Holocaust denier David Irving. In 1996, Irving filed suit in Britain against Lipstadt’s publishing company, Penguin Books, for a claim Lipstadt made in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust,” that Irving was “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” The court ruled in Lipstadt’s favor. She spoke to us about truth, Trump, and hearing Weisz do her Queens accent.
Q. What was it like to sit in the audience and watch your life onscreen?
A. It was very strange. It wasn’t so much that [Rachel Weisz] was playing me, but that she was playing me in things that happened to me. So that made it an out-of-body experience. She picked up on my speech patterns more so than I even hear it. At Toronto, at the premiere, she came out before the movie to speak to the audience with the director [Mick Jackson] and cast and then I was brought out as well. Someone wrote afterward in a Facebook post or blog post, “Deborah Lipstadt sounds just like Rachel Weisz,” I said, “I think you got it backward.”
Q. How faithful was the film to the real events?
A. Everything that was said relating to the court case came straight out of the transcripts. Someone had said to me, “Oh I wish there was a moment where you stood up and gave a big speech,” and I said, “It wasn’t going to be in there because it didn’t happen.” What I hope people recognize is this commitment to getting it right, as a historian who was drawn into a totally foreign venue — the courtroom — and now has once again been drawn into this foreign venue of film. In both [situations], I’m entrusting my story to the lawyers and to the filmmakers and they both got it right.
Q. The trial took place 16 years ago. Do you think any aspects are applicable to the political landscape and the election today?
A. I think it goes way beyond just Trump. I think one of the messages of the film is that there’s a difference between facts, opinions, and lies. When I say to you, “The Earth is flat,” I’ll say, “That’s my opinion,” you’ll say “That’s crazy, that’s a lie.” You know that’s not true. And even if you say a lie with great conviction, it’s a lie. Certain things we can debate, but certain things happened and certain things are facts.
“Denial” opens in Boston on Oct. 7.