Marina Zenovich was aware of what the public might think about hearing Lance Armstrong rehash his polarizing story in the latest documentary about the disgraced cyclist.
Armstrong conned his way to the top, so what was to stop him from doing the same in an attempt to rehab his image eight years after he was finally taken down?
It is why Zenovich, at the beginning of Sunday’s first episode of ESPN’s newest 30 for 30, “Lance,” included two journalists voicing their skepticism about Armstrong not trying to shape the narrative of the documentary.
“We wanted the audience to know that we knew what they were thinking, because Lance is a very divisive figure, and a lot of people are [ticked] off that he lied for so long and bullied people and what have you,” Zenovich, the director of the two-part film, told The Post in a phone interview this past week.
The result? Zenovich is leaving that up to the viewers, with the documentary’s first episode set to debut Sunday at 9 p.m.
No topics were off-limits during Zenovich’s eight interviews with Armstrong, which began in March 2018 and concluded in August 2019. The 48-year-old Armstrong insisted he was offering “my truth,” even as Zenovich at times had to push him not to deflect or change the subject when asked certain questions. It made for a better and more honest documentary, even if it wasn’t completely satisfying to its protagonist.
“I think he liked parts of it but didn’t like other parts, which is to be expected,” Zenovich said.
Trying to get the truth out of Armstrong came after his years of lying set him up for what he said he needed: “a f–king nuclear meltdown,” when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged him with using and trafficking performance-enhancing drugs as part of a major doping scandal. It stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles and forever tarnished his legacy.
Throughout the documentary, Armstrong insists he would not change a thing and remained defiant on certain topics — for example, that he did not use his foundation, Livestrong, as a shield from the idea that he could be cheating, though he admits he did use cancer as a shield and wonders if his doping led to his testicular cancer.
Though Armstrong says he has moved on, he clearly still holds a few grudges — like one against Floyd Landis, his former teammate-turned whistleblower.
“Hey, it could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis,” Armstrong says in the second episode. “Waking up a piece of s–t every day.”
It was Landis who filed the whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong, which Armstrong ultimately settled with the government for $5 million instead of the $100 million it was seeking in damages. It was just before he settled, when a trial appeared likely, that ESPN began filming.
Two years later, after a series of interviews that may have been cathartic for Armstrong, the world will get to judge whether he has truly changed his ways.
“On the last day [of interviews], he’s like, ‘You think I don’t like this, but I really do. I like our sessions,’ ” said Zenovich, who learned Armstrong gave better interviews immediately after working out. “It was really like I was some sort of therapist.”
There have been numerous films and books on Armstrong throughout his crash and burn, but “Lance” has given his journey some time to breath before diving back into it.
“I totally feel he needed [his nuclear meltdown] and thinks that his life is better as a result,” Zenovich said. “I think he realized in the self-reflection that he did through therapy, by himself, with his family, with his kids, I don’t think he could have kept going like that.
“I think he’s come out the other side going, ‘I’m alive. I’m here.’ ”