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LOS ANGELES – A documentary about the cycling comeback of Lance Armstrong had all the elements of a Hollywood ending, until it turned out he was a big fat liar.
Academy Award winner Alex Gibney started “The Armstrong Lie” several years ago with the intention of producing an inspirational documentary of a man who had triumphed over cancer, went on to win the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times, and was planning to return from his 2005 retirement at age 38 to race again in 2009.
According to producers Frank Marshall and Matt Tolmach, the deal was that Armstrong was to be an “open book” and give them “unfettered access” – and it wasn’t long before Gibney bought into the feel good direction of the movie and gave it the working title “The Road Back.”
"During the 2009 Tour de France I found myself on the legendary cycling peak, Mt. Ventoux, rooting for him. When he crossed the finish line with the lead riders and saved his spot on the podium, I knew I had a great ending for an upbeat film,” Gibney recalled. “And then everything changed."
It wasn't until after filming had wrapped that truth hit the fan and Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs on all of his Tour de France wins. Gibney’s project was temporarily suspended, but rather than abandoning it, Gibney went back to the drawing board and demanded answers from his star subject as he set out to re-cut his footage into a brand new film.
"But to me, for this new film, doping was not the most important thing. After all, doping was an essential part of the culture of professional cycling. It was the lie that interested me. Lance had doubled down on the lie,” Gibney said. “I had to wonder what I was going to do with all the footage from the feel-good movie. But Lance himself offered me a solution when he told Oprah (in January) that his lie would never have been exposed had he not come back.”
Gibney re-examined the footage and sat down for two in-depth interviews with Armstrong, one just a few hours after his Oprah tell-all, and the second in May.
“He apologized for lying to me and pledged to sit before my cameras,” Gibney said. “Perhaps that was his way of making things right, or just as likely, he still wanted to have some influence on his story.”
Armstrong tried to explain that while he didn’t live a lot of lies, he lived one big one.
“The only person that can actually start to let people understand what the true narrative is me," Armstrong said. "And you should know that better than anybody else to the get into the real nature and the real detail of the story... Because we haven't heard it yet, is the truth."
It wasn't until Armstrong was exposed that many of the interview subjects featured in the film agreed to speak on camera. Prior to that, we’re told many lived in fear of ramifications from the notoriously threatening Armstrong camp.
But it seems now that even Lance Armstrong has had enough of hearing his own lies. According to a rep for the disgraced American cyclist, Armstrong has not seen the soon-to-be released film, and has no intention of doing so.
"We were in contact with Lance until a couple of weeks ago when we offered for him to see the film," producer Frank Marshall added. "But he didn't want to."