BEVERLY HILLS, California — If you mind your manners, you're supposed to never discuss politics or religion in mixed company. Common sense will tell you that it's a bad idea to slam the presidential administration currently in power, especially in front of several million people.
The brave cast of "W.," however, insists that playing by such rules is no way to make a movie.
"Not many? Not one!" star Josh Brolin said when reminded that not many political films have the guts to turn a critical eye on a president who's still in office. "Ultimately, it made it more attractive, because it hadn't been done."
"It's urgent. It may be too late," director Oliver Stone said of his motivation in making sure that his biopic of the 43rd president hit theaters before George W. Bush leaves office. "I would like to know why we elected him, who he is and what happened to the country. It's going on as we speak. He's not being re-elected — he's leaving office in January — but his policies are going to be around for ages. ... Don't kid yourself with McCain or Obama — it's not going to change that quickly."
While the film is remarkably even-handed in its portrayal of born-again Bush (Brolin), first lady Laura (Elizabeth Banks), dad George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and others, it's hard to not depict your main character as an idiot when he's delivering lines like: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... you can't get fooled again."
"[Actor] Richard Jenkins told me you don't have to like the character you're playing, and I agree," Brolin said of his political differences with Bush. "But in studying him, and getting past my cosmetic view of how I perceived him, it was nice to be able to study up on his life and rehumanize him in my mind. I don't know if it has to do with me liking him more or less. It has to do with remembering that he's a human like the rest of us."
The most fascinating aspect of "W.," then, might just be the manner in which these famous actors choose to make humans out of their just-as-well-known political characters. Some don't even attempt to mimic mannerisms (Cromwell), while others (Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice) go so far that they seem like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Scott Glenn portrays Donald Rumsfeld as a near-senile, tragic character. Banks' Laura Bush is a loving, refreshingly normal woman.
"I had the Bush drawl [when we first began shooting], but I don't think Oliver ever liked it," Cromwell explained. "I had a voice, and it would have been horrible. It was a big mistake."
"I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that some people went more for the idiosyncrasies than others," Brolin said. "When you do a movie like this, and you're playing somebody who's current, you have to make the decision yourself. ... The orchestra was put together very well, with the subtleties of some and the exaggerations of others. We were worried during the shooting: Does this person work with this? Does Thandie work with Bush? Are they too much? Are they not enough?"
"I don't want to engage in malice. The movie was not done that way," Stone explained of his efforts to keep the portrayals respectful and the facts as real as possible in order to accurately depict one of the most controversial men in American history. "It was done with a fair, true portrait. The Bush haters, the Bush lovers — they're on the fringes for this movie."
Unfortunately, Stone realizes all too well that another person on the viewing fringe is George W. Bush himself. Our current president has made a habit of avoiding magazines, books and movies that are critical of him, and will probably never see "W."
"Maybe in 20 years — who knows?" Stone said of when Bush might check the film out. "The man could change. He could end up working for peace all over the world and going out to build houses [with] Habitat for Humanity.
"He might end up becoming another person," Stone grinned. "But I doubt it."
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