BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – When Alex Gibney set out to make a movie about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s 2009 Tour de France comeback, the documentarian admits he bought into the hype: The man who’d cheated death was coming back to reign supreme – and clean.
“All of us fans wanted to believe,” said Gibney, who directed this summer’s well-received documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” “You want to root for people. That is what sports are all about.”
In fact, it was such a positive project, Armstrong himself was a financial participant.
Then in 2011, things changed. The “feel-good movie,” as Gibney called the original version, was nearly finished when Armstrong’s ex-teammates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, began going public about Armstrong’s doping.
That same year, Armstrong faced a U.S. government investigation into doping allegations. Then in 2012, a federal Anti-Doping Agency report alleged Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service-sponsored team used performance-enhancing drugs.
It had become all too clear – Gibney needed to change the fabric of his film. What had been titled “The Road Back” became “The Armstrong Lie,” which opens Friday.
“It was a lie that was hiding in plain sight,” said Gibney. “But you don’t want to doubt.”
Suspicions about Armstrong’s drug use actually began to surface in 2005, after former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in a lawsuit about a drug confession they heard Armstrong make while hospitalized in 1996 during his bout with cancer. (Armstrong later did his best to ostracize Frankie Andreu from the cycling world.)
Sitting with Oprah Winfrey in January of this year, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times, titles that have since been revoked. Gibney was there as the interview was shot and insisted that Armstrong come clean in front of his camera, too.