“I’ve worked with so many of these guys,” Kari Skogland, who directed the first two episodes of Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, tells Refinery29. Skogland, whose career in Hollywood spans 25 years, has definitely directed an episode of TV you’ve watched, whether you’ve binged through Handmaid’s Tale, The Borgias, The Americans or Power.
“You know, the sort of man in power who is abusing that influence over and over people who are not able to speak up. I felt so close to being able to tell this story because I knew the character very intimately,” Skogland continues. Ailes is unique in his outsized impact on American media and political history — but in one respect, he’s very much an archetype. We’ve met those guys before.
At first, The Loudest Voice, premiering June 30, seems like two shows: One about Ailes’ tremendously influential public life, and the other about his private life, where he regularly degraded his women colleagues and subordinates. Perched at the top of Fox News, Ailes was untouchable — until, that is, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Naomi Watts in The Loudest Voice) filed a lawsuit against him in July 2016, claiming she was fired for not sleeping with him. Following her allegations (and many other women’s), Ailes was ousted from position at Fox soon after, and died at age 77 the following year.
The Loudest Voice unrolls Ailes’ professional career in a linear, straightforward fashion. For those who have already read The Loudest Voice, Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 biography upon which the show is based, this portion of the show probably isn’t breaking news.
“A number of critics said, ‘We know all this. There’s nothing new in advancing it.’ But absolutely there’s something new in this. We are seeing the nuance of a dialogue that we have not seen before,” Skogland said.
It’s the show’s other thread — Ailes’ lascivious behavior with women — that elevates The Loudest Voice from mere Wikipedia recitation, and what makes it an essential addition to #MeToo-era pop culture. The Loudest Voice filters Ailes’ story through the lens of a woman who’s been on the receiving end of similar interactions, and it shows.
“I think it was intimate to me as a filmmaker in ways that a man simply couldn't have the personal experience to bring to the table,” Skogland says.
Stylistically, Ailes’ scenes with women play out differently than the tense boardroom interactions or power plays in the career section. They’re off-kilter, slowed down. Eerie music plays in the background. Skogland films Ailes’ workplace behavior as if it were a horror movie.
Take the first time former Fox booker Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis), who later told journalist Gabriel Sherman that she suffered two decades of “psychological torture” at the hands of Ailes, appears onscreen in the premiere. Ailes is trying to sweet talk Luhn into coming aboard at Fox. He’s saying that he respects her “star power” — but what he’s doing with his body is conveying an entirely different message. The camera moves over her legs, her face, mimicking Ailes’ carnal gaze.
“Who is going to be the voice in here that told them to make sure the female story was front and center? Because that’s actually what the story was."
In the blue light of the bar, Luhn is so triggered by Ailes’ presence that she nearly disassociates. Briefly, the show switches to Luhn’s perspective. She recalls her last encounter with Ailes in a hotel hallway. Ailes approaches Luhn from behind and clasps her pearl necklace. It’s a subtle nod to the complexity of their relationship — what Luhn gets out of saying yes to sexual favors, what saying yes takes away from her. Throughout The Loudest Voice, scenes with Luhn are edited in a similarly jarring way, as though her mind is increasingly frayed.
The pilot also has a take on the casting couch, a fixture of #MeToo-era stories. A young woman (Hayley Griffith), never seen again, boards the elevator to Ailes’ office. His loyal secretary, Judy (Aleksa Palladino), also in the elevator, knows what’s going to happen to her. She doesn’t say a word. Ailes has the young woman spin slowly for him. He touches her face, her lips.
Like the scenes with Luhn, the camera’s movements over Chloe’s face and body. The camera is an empathetic force, allowing us to feel how Chloe must feel in that moment – lonely, demeaned, yet somehow not surprised. The camera smashes any sense of objectivity.
“You know where his eyes were going, where her eyes were going. I wanted to feel like we were experiencing the moment with her so it wasn't about the words,” Skogland says. “The emotional heartbeat of a scene of a young, impressionable girl wanting very much to impress this man, wanting a job, and him wanting and knowing he can abuse that power because he can simply overwhelm her.”
The scene ends abruptly after Ailes asks the young woman about her relationship with her father – we’re left to imagine what happens next. As the show goes on, Ailes’ harassment becomes more prominent in each episode, until it eventually becomes the story.
The Loudest Voice was created by two men, Tom McCarthy and Alex Metcalf. Skogland’s involvement — and the perspective gleaned from a lifetime of moving through the world as a woman — is what makes the show’s switch-up from the portrait of a media mogul to a portrait of a predator possible.
“Who is going to be the voice in here that told them to make sure the female story was front and center? Because that’s actually what the story was,” Skogland says.
Skogland worked especially closely with Crowe to get the effect of those scenes right. “Russell was extremely available to me. We had lots of discussions about what [harassment] looks like and who that man was, because I had experienced it from a firsthand level on a regular basis — and not always sexualized. Abuse comes in many forms,” Skogland says.
Ailes knew there would be stories told about him posthumously. The first words Ailes utters in The Loudest Voice are, “I know what people are going to say about me.” What he probably couldn’t predict is that it would be a woman holding the camera and calling the shots. And frankly? It wouldn’t make sense any other way.
“I can't even imagine this story not being told by a woman,” she continues. Because in the story of Roger Ailes, women became the loudest voice.