Susan Wagner Lacy ’70 brought talent and experience in documentary biographies to her most recent project – Spielberg for HBO. But even to agree to make a movie about one of the world’s best-known directors, she also had to summon her nerve.
“I tried really hard not to think about it,” she told The New York Times. “I would have been absolutely frozen.”
The Times featured Lacy as the director behind the film, which premiered on HBO in early October. The paper wrote of Lacy, “She’s owned the field of documentary biography for more than 30 years, beginning at PBS – where she created the series American Masters, winning 28 Emmy and 11 Peabody Awards.” Lacy moved to HBO in 2013 with a promise from Spielberg to cooperate with her on the project.
Spielberg sat with Lacy for 30 hours of interviews that resulted in the 2½-hour film. His parents and sisters participated, as did A-list Hollywood directors and actors including Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Liam Neeson, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Spielberg, who had seen the documentary, told the Times that he couldn’t have imagined putting his story in the hands of another filmmaker – until he met Lacy. “She engaged in a way that was so honest and insightful that it disarmed me and I discovered I could fall easily into any conversation with her, even about myself.”
Besides the Spielberg project, Lacy has completed a biography of Jane Fonda, and she’s working on one of Ralph Lauren.
A native of Baltimore, Lacy graduated from Mary Washington with a degree in American studies; she moved to Washington, D.C., and got a master’s degree in the same field from The George Washington University. Her next stop was New York, where she started in public broadcasting at WNET, developed American Masters, and later became executive director of the series.
But at publicly funded PBS she felt growing pressure to raise money for her films and to keep them short – just an hour. After 35 years, Lacy made a difficult choice. HBO came calling, the Times reported, with the promise that Lacy would no longer have to fundraise or shorten her films so drastically.