The political thriller Backstabbing for Beginners tells a true story about corruption in the United Nations and the idealistic junior diplomat who blew it wide open.

Based on the book Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy by Michael Soussan, the story centers on Michael (played by Theo James), who lands what he thinks is his dream job at the U.N. He begins working for the Oil-for-Food Programme, which was set up to supply the war-torn country with much need food, medicine and other supplies after the Gulf Wars.

What Michael quickly discovers, however, is that his predecessor was murdered and that the programme is steeped in corruption at the highest levels, including quite possibly his boss (Ben Kingsley), a man he grows to admire. Michael finds himself in a moral dilemma on whether to expose the backstabbing and risk not only shutting down an important program, which does help millions of Iraqis but also put lives, including his own, in danger in the process. Danish director Per Fly makes his US debut with the film and clearly has a grasp on the subject – and a passion.

ScreenPicks had a chance to speak with Theo James and Per Fly about their intriguing film, talking about the real-life whistleblower Michael Soussan, working with Ben Kingsley – and what young people should take away from it.

Q: What was it about the project – and its real-life center, Michael Soussan – that intrigued you?

Theo James: What was interesting to me and pivotal was the fact that you don’t really think about what happens to people who take these risks and whistleblow, who shine the light on deep corruption. You don’t really think about what happens to them later. [Soussan] has done well. I’m not saying he’s in trouble at all. It’s just something that has affected him for his entire life and will continue to affect him and will affect him for the rest of his life.

It’s not only a huge moral decision but also a huge life-changing event. There’s a sadness to that. The movie is a thriller, with an espionage element as you were talking about, but at the end of the day, it’s based on truth. Trying to understand how this made a young man feel and how it affected his life, was very pertinent to me. That was kind of my official way into it.

Per Fly: The truth has always been a topic I like, lies and truths. I find that to be the most dramatic, interesting topics of all. The thing about the book is it’s written from more of a comical perspective. Michael tends to talk about it as he has a picture of him being the clown that’s telling the truth. I knew that in my film I couldn’t use the humor. There’s a bit of humor in the film but not at all as much as in Michael’s book. So I found out also that he was the guy who used humor as a shield to the world. He was a great guy to meet and it was nice to have him so close during the whole process so I could grab the phone and ask also about political topics. Could be very complicated and sometimes I had to call him and asked, what about this and what about this and he could tell me the political aspect of it.

Q: Is Michael idealistic like you portray him?

James: Sort of. He’s very erudite and smart about corruption and how to view it and how to shine a light on it, and how global everything is. The revolt tends to be a revolt against corruption in some form or another, from the French Revolution to the Arab Spring, it’s all a fight against corruption. So, corruption’s a theme and a seam that runs through society. [Michael] is really clear about that.

Interestingly enough, we were doing press today, and someone asked if he would you have done the same thing if you’d had to do it all over again. And he said, yes, he would have done the same thing, but probably not at his age now. Because when you’re 44, you have kids and you have a mortgage, and you have a lot more to risk. A lot of the research shows that whistleblowers tend to be young idealists between 25 and 35. Because, I guess, the hooks of life get into people and that’s why corruption gets quite quickly seeded into business practices because people get more worried or concerned about doing it, which is totally natural.

Q: How political are you, Theo? Do you follow the world climate?

James: I would say, I’m fairly tuned in, yes. I always have been. This is why a story like this was interesting because not only is it an interesting story and again a story that I didn’t know much about. You were saying your husband knew about it, but it’s not like it was big. It’s not like the Heathrow scandal. It’s not like Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, who kind of came and went and died. But it was a huge, huge, huge scandal.

What I found also interesting about it in terms of becoming greater, the greater political message or at least the political history is Oil-for-Food was the program used post-second invasion by junior Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq, to kind of rebuild the country. That was the idea. In a way, the whole Oil-for-Food program coupled with the first Gulf War and then obviously Blair and Bush and some of the other allies going into Iraq, that was the architect of the problems that we’re having now in the Middle East. ISIS filled the vacuum of a completely broken, structurally broken city, I’m sorry, country. It’s so relevant. I didn’t even realize how relevant it’s been since I started doing the research.

Q: Did you find the research a tad overwhelming?

James: Definitely. Overwhelming and then sad in the sense that collective memory is so short. This was 2003. It’s not really that long ago. It’s been 15 years, and it’s almost forgotten and some of the same mistakes are being made, not in the UN, but in terms of the way the Middle East is handled and so forth. It’s a lot to take, but also I feel like it’s very pertinent to the culture we’re living in right now. Especially in the climate here in America and the concept of truth and then real or fake news, and the institution of the presidency and everything. In Europe, we have the battle of Russia. Russia versus the U.S. Russia killing spies in the U.K. and corruption in the U.K. on the financial market… I digress.

Q: Can you just talk a little bit about working with Ben Kingsley?

James: He’s a really thoughtful guy. House of Sand and Fog is a good example of the kind of power Ben has, and also the ability to show a certain instability which is riveting and scary at the same time. The surprise, I guess, was that he had that of course, and he’s able to show that. But he also has a warmth and a twinkle in his eye and a kind of a fatherly camaraderie, which was enjoyable.

Fly: He’s definitely amazing. In Sexy Beast he’s quite frightening, so I found out the first day we shot that I was scared of him and that is a stupid thing to be because he’s the nicest person. But because in Sexy Beast he’s quite scary. He knows a lot about what he can do and what he cannot do and he’s very strict in his way of going through that. He’s a true professional. But on the second day he came over to me and gave me a hug because I felt that he could see that I was a bit scared and he gave me a hug. The Sexy Beast gave me a hug. I needed that so much and that was such a nice thing of him to do.

Q: I just loved how his character used the word “fuck” all the time. I thought there was some sort of comedic aspects to this person.

Fly: Absolutely, he’s so charming when he does that. He really is a father. He really wants this guy to learn the things that he knows, like a surrogate son. He wants to be good for Michael, he has a heart for Michael.

Q: What do you hope people will walk away with after seeing the movie?

Fly: I wanted to show to people, young people that are going into this system is that don’t expect it to be black and white, it’s much more complicated. Why are there not more people whistle-blowing when they see something that is illegal? It’s because it’s not in our nature to whistle blow. Young people come in and they want to do as the leaders say of course. So it’s hard to, it’s definitely a film about the grey area. We are all someplace in the grey area, the question is when it becomes too much? The good thing about the history of it all is that everybody agreed in the end. This became too much. We went way over the line.

We have a lot of things that can tell us a story about how the mechanism to go over the line because the crooks have very rational reasons for doing what they do. Not telling the truth is maybe the most and the best rational way of thinking. Pasha [Ben Kingsley’s character] has a lot of good arguments but still when you go into this and you start the corruption, it’s never going to end. You create a money machine, a greed machine in which everybody is a blip in the system and nobody wants to be the one that says stop. I really, really like when Pasha says to Michael at the beginning of the film, “Truth is not a matter of fact, the truth is a product of consensus.” That’s so interesting because that’s so wrong and at the same time it’s so right. And it’s so frightening.

It’s really, really important that young people don’t expect this area of life with truths and falseness to be not complicated because it is complicated. And I wanted to show the machine behind it, the rationale behind this money machine.

Backstabbing for Beginners opens in limited theaters Friday and On Demand on DirecTV.