‘Icarus’ Director on Doping and “Following the Story”

Bryan Fogel also reveals the moment he realized his subject matter was bigger than he anticipated.

Director Bryan Fogel, 45, set out with the intention of using himself as a guinea pig while investigating illegal doping in sports, but as he was making his documentary Icarus, he built a relationship with Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian doctor who ended up blowing the whistle on his country’s extensive state-sanctioned doping program (the results of which were recently seen when Russia was banned from the Winter Olympics).

When did you realize the story had become bigger than your own?

That was a slow process. I met [Rodchenkov] in February 2014, and he came under investigation after the ARD documentary [The Doping Secret: How Russia Makes Its Winners, broadcast in Germany] in December 2014, the Skype call seen in the film. That was when I was beginning to dope. When he and the lab were under investigation, I was working behind the scenes and interviewing the different people investigating him. Nobody knew that I knew Grigory. Nor did they know that I was doping or working with Grigory. I didn’t know where the story was going. It certainly wasn’t until he arrived in Los Angeles in mid-November 2015 and we spent the next seven months together that I began to understand the true extent of what he had been involved in — and also realize that the film that I thought I was making was not going to be the film that I would ultimately make.

What is your relationship now?

I’m simply following the story. I do not have access to him. I know that he’s in good health.

What was the process in choosing Icarus for your title?

I chose Icarus before I ever picked up the camera. The idea for the film came to me in mid-2013 in the fallout of [Lance] Armstrong’s confession. I came upon Icarus because it was the story of every athlete that had been caught for doping in sport. You can fly and you can have wings, but just don’t keep pushing the boundaries. If you do, you’re going to get too close to the sun. Your wings are going to burn or melt, and you’re going to plummet to the earth.

How did you come up with the references to 1984 in the film?

Even before he escapes from Russia, Grigory constantly quotes Orwell. He brought a copy of 1984 in his backpack. One of my editors said to give 1984 a read. I do and go, “This is Grigory. This is the film’s narrative device, and Grigory’s journey is Winston Smith’s journey.” Here we are in 2018, and Orwell and his prophecies are as clear and present today as they were when he wrote 1984, and perhaps even more so.

Are you considering a sequel?

While the story continues to unfold, I don’t have access to Grigory. So, this is not something that I’m looking to do.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.