The real Walter Robinson said of Michael Keaton, "It is like watching yourself in a mirror, yet having no control of the mirror image."
During an interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air", director Tom McCarthy said that they built a large set to depict many of the Boston Globe offices, where parts of the story take place. When the reporters depicted in the movie first visited the set, they gravitated to "their" desks, and many of them started to arrange the items on those desks the way they had been at the time.
When Michael Keaton accepted the role, he had tracked the real Walter Robinson before meeting him, and found out he actually lived near Robinson's house. He had also gotten hold of video and audio of Robinson. When Keaton first met him, he did an impression of him that was so impressive, that Robinson was scared, and said to him, "How did you know everything about me? We just met."
In the baseball game scene, the real Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Walter Robinson can be seen in the background.
During every break, Mark Ruffalo asked the real Michael Rezendes to say his lines for him.
As of the film's release, Michael Rezendes was the only journalist involved in the investigation still working on the Spotlight team.
The one thing Michael Keaton was afraid of when he accepted the role was the Boston accent. After watching video footage of the real Walter Robinson, he was surprised that Robinson only has a slight Boston accent.
All of the journalists use blue pens, their bosses use black pens, and the editor uses a red pen.
The real Walter Robinson said, "My persona has been hijacked. If Michael Keaton robbed a bank, the police would quickly have me in handcuffs."
The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2013 Blacklist, a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year.
The credits and title cards are set in Miller, the typeface the Boston Globe uses for most headlines and body copy.
A victim asks a reporter, "Have you read Jason Berry's book?" Berry is a reporter who began covering sex abuse cover-ups in Louisiana Catholic churches for the National Catholic Reporter and the Times of Acadiana. By the time the Boston Globe broke the story of the abuse scandal in Boston, the NCR had been reporting on abuse within the church for 17 years (while other, much bigger news outlets had refused to look at it).
The Boston Globe was very helpful with the set, and approved the costume design, production design, actors, actresses, and script.
The real Michael Rezendes said, "Watching Mark Ruffalo re-enact five months of my life was like looking into a fun house mirror."
When the real Walter Robinson visited the set, he was very impressed after seeing Michael Keaton sitting at an exact copy of his desk, a two-fingered typist, just like him, his lips pursed, peering through reading glasses at a 2001 Globe computer screen.
According to Mark Ruffalo, most of the actual Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the scandal were Roman Catholics.
Mark Ruffalo asked the real Michael Rezendes, "Can I listen to you yell at someone?"
The real Walter Robinson said, "To watch Michael Keaton become me on film, makes me want to apologize to many people I have interviewed."
A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses, similar to the report by the Spotlight team The Boston Globe published in 2002. Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist, surveyed Catholic priests in his country in 1991, and found that 45% had been sexually active. Over all these studies, 53% of sexually active priests surveyed were having sex with adult women, 21% with adult men, 14% with minor boys, and 12% with minor girls. These statistics caused a monumental debate in which no one challenged the reality of his numbers. Pepe Rodriguez concluded that 95% of practicing priests masturbate, 7% are sexually involved with minors, 26% have "attachments to minors," 60% have heterosexual relations, and 20% have homosexual relations and on average across the globe. Only 50% of Catholic clergy are legitimately "celibate".
This movie won the first-ever Veritas Award for the best film based on, or inspired by, real events and people. The honor, awarded by members of the Los Angeles Press Club, is presented based on a film's fidelity to its subject matter and artistic excellence. Bridge of Spies (2015) was voted runner-up (February 2016).
In real life, Patrick McSorely, who relates the details of his sexual abuse to Mike Rezendes, later went on to work with his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, to testify against Cardinal Law and the church. He also helped support other victims, including several of his childhood friends. As depicted in the film, McSorely turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. He died of a drug overdose in 2004, at the age of 29.
A framed photo of Walter Robinson's real-life daughter, Jessica, taken in 2000, is beside Michael Keaton's desk in the film. Beside that is a framed photo of Keaton with his arm around Elena Wohl, who plays his wife, Barbara.
Director Tom McCarthy cited multiple films as influence on this project: Frost/Nixon (2008), Broadcast News (1987), Network (1976), All the President's Men (1976), The Killing Fields (1984), The Insider (1999), Citizen Kane (1941), Ace in the Hole (1951), JFK (1991), The Verdict (1982), and Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005), in which McCarthy had a small role.
During an interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air", Tom McCarthy said many of the actors and actresses reached out to meet the reporters depicted in the movie, shortly after agreeing to make the movie, and that many of the reporters spent a considerable amount of time on-set during filming.
Investigative reporter Ben Bradlee Jr. is the son of Benjamin C. Bradlee, Sr. As executive editor of The Washington Post, the elder Bradlee oversaw the paper's investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Jimmy LeBlanc, who plays Patrick McSorley, was himself an actual survivor of the clerical abuse scandal, so when director Tom McCarthy first brought him in for rehearsals with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, he was concerned that 'revisiting' Jimmy's abusive past might be too emotionally traumatic for him. However, as McCarthy later accompanied Jimmy out after the session, he asked him if he was freaked out by his first 'acting' experience with the other actors. "Of course I'm freaked out," Jimmy said, "that was the Hulk and Batman and that guy from the devils wear prada."
Joe Crowley died in April 2017 from chronic respiratory and heart ailments. He was 58. Upon his death, Sacha Pfeiffer wrote a tribute to Crowley for the Boston Globe titled, "It was an honor to know you, Joe Crowley." Pfeiffer said that she and Crowley had stayed in touch over the years since they first met in 2001. She also said Crowley and Michael Cyril Creighton, who played him, became friends after filming, and kept in touch afterward. Pfeiffer said Crowley's nickname for Creighton was "JC2".
Liev Schreiber also plays the title character in Ray Donovan (2013), a character from Boston. Donovan and his brother were molested by a priest, and he was a member of S.N.A.P. (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).
Michael Keaton spent several days with the real Walter Robinson to learn how to emulate him properly.
In 2016, the film was shown at the National Center for Victims of Crime, a.k.a. National Training Institute Conference, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a training source. Attendees included victim advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, lawyers, and social workers, who work with victims, and arrest and prosecute pedophiles. Eric Mac Leish, Phil Saviano, Joe Crowley, and Sacha Pfeiffer spoke to the 850 conference attendees about their stories, the pedophile priests, and the national problem of child molestation.
It struck some viewers as anachronistic that in this movie, very soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, some characters were already referring to them as "9/11". However, the term "9/11" was used almost immediately after the attacks. For example, on September 13, 2001, the New York Times announced The New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund, a special campaign to raise money for the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Michael Keaton said about playing Walter Robinson, "He's very powerful, and very direct, but until he reaches that point, he's a really pretty easy-going guy, but very cagey about how he gets information. Not in a bad way, in a really cool way, like a bird dog. So I kind of had mannerisms I observed."
When the new editor of the Boston Globe, Martin Baron (who is Jewish), has a personal meeting with Cardinal Bernard Law at his residence, the Cardinal hands Baron a package. When Baron goes back to his car and opens the package, it is a large copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Law requested such a Catechism at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1985, to deal with the changes wrought by Vatican II. It was completed in 1992, and it was the first universal catechism issued by the Church in over 400 years. In a February 2016 Washington Post article (titled "I'm in 'Spotlight', But It's Not Really About Me. It's About the Power of Journalism"), Marty Baron says that the copy of the Catechism used in the film is the very same one that he was really given by Cardinal Law at the end of their first meeting.
Tom McCarthy cited The Verdict (1982), and Sidney Lumet's style of direction in that film, as influences on this project.
Margot Robbie turned down the role of Sacha Pfeiffer due to exhaustion. Amy Adams and Michelle Williams were both considered for the role.
Michael Keaton watched Jason Robards Jr.'s performance in All the President's Men (1976) to take some inspiration.
Michael Keaton said about Walter Robinson's accent, and his character in the movie, "I was told by Tom McCarthy and the other guys, he told them that's one reason he just doesn't really have one. But he will fall into one when he's around people from his neighborhood or other neighborhoods. But then his r's get hard and he does 'ing' and sometimes he doesn't do 'ing.' So when I saw that I thought, 'Oh, shoot, now how do I determine when he's speaking with a Boston accent and when he's not?' So little things like that were hard. But basically, what you want to do is be true to the guy, and I don't mean protect him. I just mean be who they are, you know? Not try to make them nicer than they are or anything. You know what I mean?"
When Mark Ruffalo met the real Michael Rezendes for the first time at his house, he was carrying a notebook and an iPhone to record Rezendes' voice, in order to get his most accurate speech patterns.
Matt Damon was considered for the role of Michael Rezendes, which ultimately went to Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for this film, while Damon starred in The Martian (2015), and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor the same year.
One theatrical trailer featured Lawless and Sydney Wayser's cover of the 1986 XTC song "Dear God". The song was somewhat controversial on its first release, because of what some listeners heard as criticisms of religion and the church, as well as its conflicted point-of-view about the existence of God.
Michael Keaton had considered taking a break after the grueling production of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014). He was so impressed with the script for this film that he decided to sign on.
Tom McCarthy cast Jamey Sheridan due to his performance in Syriana (2005), where Sheridan played McCarthy's boss.
A study published by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in February 2004 found that 68% of priests accused of sexual abuse were ordained between 1950 and 1979. Priests ordained before 1950 accounted for 21.3% of allegations, and priests ordained after 1979 accounted for 10.7% of allegations.
Second consecutive film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture featuring Michael Keaton, after Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
At The Oscars (2016), Spotlight was up for six awards and won two. It won the first Oscar presented that night, for Best Original Screenplay. Then, after losing in the next four categories it was nominated in (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Film Editing and Best Director), it won the final Oscar of the evening for Best Picture.
At the end of the scene where Sacha Pfeiffer talks with Phil Saviano in a neighborhood restaurant, a television mounted on the wall briefly shows a Penn State football game. In 2011, Penn State had a child abuse scandal involving former Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky.
The first time Michael Keaton met with Walter Robinson, just after Labor Day in the bar at the Greenwich Hotel in New York City, they shook hands and Keaton furrowed his brow and said, "You know, you really do not have that much of a Boston accent."
In the scene where Walter meets Baron for the first time in the restaurant, Baron is reading the Dan Shaughnessy book "The Curse of the Bambino". Liev Schreiber, who plays Baron, narrated the HBO documentary Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino (2004).
Stanley Tucci's character ,Mitchell Garabedian, appears in 7 scenes; and claims to be "very busy" or "I don't have time" 5 times.
When Sacha Pfeiffer interviews Joe Crowley in the coffee shop, he mentions "Father Shanley". Doubt (2008), the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's play, centers around sexual abuse allegations against a priest.
The film is described as in the vein of the classic journalism film All the President's Men (1976).
The first independent film produced by Open Road Films to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
This is the second movie Michael Keaton has done about the newspaper industry, after The Paper (1994).
In Prisoners (2013), Len Cariou played a sex-offending priest who also covered up another man's crimes.
There is one scene at Walter Robinson's office where Robinson's fly is down when he steps out of his office to talk to his Spotlight staff.
Mark Ruffalo was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Rachel McAdams was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for this film.
Mark Ruffalo became the second actor to be nominated for an Oscar for playing a Portuguese character (Michael Rezendes). The first actor to do so was Spencer Tracy, who played "Manuel" in Captains Courageous (1937), and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
The film won only one Oscar in addition to Best Picture. The last film to win only one was The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and it has happened a total of six times.
John Slattery and Billy Crudup appeared in Sleepers (1996), another film about sexual abuse of young men.
Many cast members have been involved in comic book films. Michael Keaton played Batman in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Mark Ruffalo played Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Liev Schreiber played Sabertooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), John Slattery played Howard Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Billy Crudup played Dr. Jonathan Osterman in Watchmen (2009), Stanley Tucci played Frank Nitti in Road to Perdition (2002), and Dr. Abraham Erskine in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Rachel McAdams appeared in Doctor Strange (2016). Michael Keaton played The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
Rachel McAdams was the only Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee that year who was from a Best Picture nominated film.
Richard Jenkins, the voice of the ex-priest Sipe, also played an ex-priest turned gym manager in the Coen Brothers' film Burn After Reading (2008).
In State of Play (2009), Rachel McAdams played a reporter who helped uncover a conspiracy.
Tom McCarthy played a journalist for The Baltimore Sun in season five of The Wire (2002). Pablo Schreiber appeared in an earlier season. Pablo Schreiber is the brother of Liev Schreiber, who plays Martin Baron, the Editor of the Boston Globe, in this film.
This is the second movie directed by Tom McCarthy featuring John Slattery. The first was The Station Agent (2003).
Paul Guilfoyle played Captain Jim Brass in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000). Jamey Sheridan played Captain James Deakins in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001).
The only film that year to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress Oscars.
Stanley Tucci previously appeared in Road to Perdition (2002). In that film, the main character, played by Tom Hanks, tells his son to stay away from Catholic priests. However, this is not because of pedophilia, but because the priests are in the employ of Al Capone, who has a hit contract out on Hanks' character.