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Ben Foster on Playing Lance Armstrong in The Program: 'He's a Rare Breed'

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When actor Ben Foster agreed to play Lance Armstrong in the new film The Program, he did so knowing only the most headline-worthy details about the controversial cyclist.

“I know that he survived cancer. I know that he won a lot of Tour de Frances and that he was considered to be a doper,” Foster said in an interview with The Wrap. “So I came in very clean to his story – and the sport of cycling.”

The film, which premiered Monday at the Toronto International Film Festival, posed Foster the unique challenge of playing a well-known figure whose public persona has undergone many changes over the years. Foster, 34, explained that he saw Armstrong’s arc as an opportunity.

“He’s a rare breed. And I don’t think [his story is] that simple, and that’s what’s exciting about this film,” he said.

Watch the Trailer for The Program


Foster said the film contrasts Armstrong’s eventual downfall in the public eye against the pervasive use of performance-enhancing drugs in the professional cycling community as well as the work that Armstrong did raising money for those fighting cancer through the Livestrong Foundation.

“When you see this empire start growing, growing, growing, growing – half a billion dollars raised, and lives saved – in a culture of dope, when you have to go down eighteen riders to find a clean rider, his story becomes very gray,” Foster said.

“Ultimately, it’s about empathy for the characters you play, and at the time we started shooting, there wasn’t a lot of empathy for lance in the media or in the cycling community for that matter. So I think I was in a unique position to come in, knowing very little about him and saying ‘Well, how did you get there?’ ”

The film also stars Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace and Chris O’Dowd. In a previous interview, Foster said he took steroids during the filming in order to fully understand his character.

“These are very serious chemicals and they affect your body in real ways,” Foster said. “For my own investigation it was important for me privately to understand it. And they work.”

For full coverage of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival – including the hottest premieres, the biggest stars and the buzziest films – check out people.com/tiff, instyle.com and ew.com