Casting the White House

My bad habit of reading entertainment blogs when I should be working has finally got the better of me. A post on the Guardian’s film blog about Oliver Stone’s forthcoming biopic of George W. Bush, which will star Josh Brolin as the prez, has now taken up residence in my brain and will not leave.

My first thought: dear God, what are we in for? Stone’s sledgehammer-subtle approach to film-making turns everyone into either a hero or a villain. And somehow I don’t think Dubya will come out as the latter. Stone

says his biopic will be “a fair, true portrait of the man” and will “contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors”.

This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. If you’ve read anything about Bush’s early life, or his current administration, the only way to do it is complete gonzo black comedy. Go for the sickest laughs possible, because what other running joke has a body count in the hundreds of thousands? Stone doesn’t do laughs. All his films are excessively noble and po-faced, with the highest regard held for the office of the President. (See JFK, his paean to the titular president.) If I was doing it, it’d be different. For starters, it would have a tiny budget because I’m not Oliver Stone.

And so to the question from the original blog post that’s been occupying my thoughts — how to cast the Bush administration? Here are my ideas for the senior players in a story so bizarre it had to be true.

George W. BushJohn C. Reilly. Sure, Will Ferrell may bring the goofy expressions, but Reilly has both the goofiness and the narrow-eyed, grown-up frat boy malevolence that  pops to the surface when Dubya is (very) occasionally challenged on something. Chris Cooper also did a very good impression in John Sayles’ Silver City, but he may well come up further down the list.

Dick Cheney – Jon Voigt. Or any other old-ish actor with a line in creepy authority figures. To be honest, Cheney has a kind of sinister non-presence, which could best be replicated with an unknown actor. Whoever plays him though will have to master the growled delivery of “Go fuck yourself” to get the true character across.

Donald Rumsfeld – Chris Cooper or John Doman. Cooper’s experience at playing sinister, violent right-wingers will be obvious to anyone who’s seen American Beauty. Nevertheless, Doman (who plays ruthless senior cop Rawls in The Wire) is a pretty good prospect. Don’t tell me you don’t want to hear Rumsfeld referring to “this beshitted department” or calling a subordinate “a gaping asshole”.

Condoleeza Rice – Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Unfortunately, there’s not as great a range of black female actors as there are old white male actors to choose from, but the top-tier Hollywood set, the Halle Berrys and Thandie Newtons, don’t display the kind of toughness that Rice exudes. My choice would be for the British Jean-Baptiste, most famous for her performance in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, but doing an American accent in police drama Without A Trace.

Paul Wolfowitz – Steve Buscemi. Picture him sucking on that comb. See it? Suddenly don’t want to eat for a while? No, me neither.

Colin Powell – While Denzel Washington has been stacking up a series of stellar performances, there’s every chance he could act everyone else off the screen, which was in fact the opposite of what Powell did. Forced to go to the U.N. and drum up support for a war he didn’t believe in using fake evidence, he seemed diffident, defeated, compromised – the kind of role Don Cheadle would do great things with.

Tony Blair – Michael Sheen has become the go-to Blair impersonator following stunning turns in The Deal and The Queen. But that only makes him the predictable choice, prompting me to go left-field. David Tennant can do bug-eyed staring, weak, insincere grins, gulping faux-emotional delivery – in short he’s all of Blair’s tics and hang-ups. Add in puppy-dog admiration for Dubya and you’re there. And in the event of a British government spin-off, David Morrissey can reprise his role in The Deal as Gordon Brown. Then, the stage is set for Tennant and Morrissey to sing together in a retread of so-insane-it-was-brilliant musical drama Blackpool.

Any role you can suggest? Saddam Hussein played by the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Alberto Gonzales by that guy from Memento? And the all-important consideration – the violence is all there, but how are we going to get some sex into this thing?


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