Robert Bilott may not be a household name, but his work is more important than most people can truly comprehend. His story, and the story of the DuPont chemical company's insidious dealings, is chronicled in the new film, Dark Waters. DuPont, like so many other big companies, put the profit motive above all else, including human lives. Over the course of decades, Robert Bilott fought to hold DuPont accountable for their crimes.
Dark Waters stars Mark Ruffalo as Bilott, a man who could have looked the other way and enjoyed a comparably low-pressure career as a corporate defense lawyer. However, when he saw what was happening around him, he chose to do the right thing and fight for the underdogs who couldn't defend themselves from DuPont's corporate might.
While promoting Dark Waters, Mark Ruffalo and his real-life counterpart, Robert Bilott, sat down with Screen Rant to discuss their work on the film. Ruffalo discusses how lucky he was to have Bilott as a resource while developing his character, while Bilott talks about his ongoing fight to expose the truth of how DuPont spent so many years knowingly hurting people with toxic chemicals.
Dark Waters is in theaters now. Robert Bilott's book, Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer's Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont, is available now at bookstores everywhere.
So, I guess, the first thing I've gotta ask is, did you ever, at any point, think you'd be portrayed on screen by a star?
Robert Bilott: Absolutely not, no. Absolutely not.
That's not why you do it.
Robert Bilott: No.
I guess the really simple obvious question is, why do you do it?
Robert Bilott: Well... In this particular case, what we were dealing with was public health, a threat. People were getting sick. It seemed, at least to me when I started looking at the information, looking at the documents, that this was pretty obvious, what was going on, and if other people could see what we were seeing, they would agree: this is obvious and it needs to stop. Just the idea that if we kept taking it one more step, keep pushing it a little further, that this would eventually stop, and people would eventually take action to protect the rest of us. It became clear that, you know, we would have to do it ourselves.
There's something about villains in movies. There's a rule that they never see themselves as villains. I mean, the obvious example here would be the hashtag, #ThanosDidNothingWrong.
Mark Ruffalo: Yes.
But when you put so much money into that equation, you see characters like Victor Garber's character in this movie, who go, "Yes, we're hurting people; yes all these people are dying; yes, we are ruining an entire ecosystem... But we are also getting rich." You talk about pushing one more step. How many steps do you have to take before you overcome that obstacle, that hill, that mountain, of violent, horrible capitalism?
Robert Bilott: I think, at least in my mind, you have to keep pushing the information and the facts out, and let other people see what's going on, to the point where you can't hide that, where you can't cover it up anymore, and you can't keep saying, "There's no evidence that this is causing anybody harm," when everybody else can see the same evidence and know that's not true. For me, if I could just get more information out to more people, hopefully it will stop. There's got to be a point in time where the reality comes home and people realize, here are the facts, and this is either not true or it is true. You've got the facts, you can make your own decision now.
When you're playing this amazing role, you've got an incredible primary source right here. How often did you lean on Bob as a resource?
Mark Ruffalo: A lot! Even before we started shooting. We went to Parkersburg together. We had meals together. We went to see his family. We went to see his car collection. (Laughs) I spent as much time as I could with him. And then, while we were shooting, really having him come to set as much as was possible for him. And having him nearby, just to be able to be as honest as possible with the portrayal of him.
Was there ever a time where you're watching this movie... It shows the sacrifices you made, of not seeing your family at times, or not giving them the attention you felt they deserved, because you were fighting this righteous, good fight. When you were seeing that portrayed on film, did you ever get uncomfortable with that, of, "Oh my gosh, maybe I wish I had done things differently?"
Robert Bilott: You know, I think it was... I like the fact my sons and my wife were all there watching it. My kids were growing up during this period of time, and they were little when a lot of this started. My oldest, who is now 21, was just born when this case started. And the others were born as the case was progressing. So it really, I think, was good, for them to sit and watch and see, "This is what dad's been doing all these years." I think it was a great experience for everybody, overall.
- Dark Waters (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019