Josh Brolin to play embattled president
The director has begun quietly shopping a script by his “Wall Street” co-writer Stanley Weiser.
Pic will be produced by Moritz Borman, who teamed with Stone on “World Trade Center” and “Alexander,” and Jon Kilik, a producer of “Alexander” as well as “Pinkville,” the pre-strike project about the Army’s investigation of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that Stone expected to direct until United Artists pulled the plug late last year.
Borman said Weiser’s script was completed before the WGA strike and was ready to shoot and that many of Stone’s “Pinkville” crew jumped right into “Bush.” If financing materializes quickly enough, the film could start production by April and could be in theaters for the election or the inauguration.
One need only Google the words “Stone” and “Bush” to find plenty of the director’s critical comments about the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. Despite that, the director said he’s not looking to make an anti-Bush polemic. His goal is to use seminal events in Bush’s life to explain how he came to power, using a structure comparable to “The Queen.”
“It’s a behind-the-scenes approach, similar to ‘Nixon,’ to give a sense of what it’s like to be in his skin,” Stone told Daily Variety. “But if ‘Nixon’ was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece, and not as dark in tone. People have turned my political ideas into a cliche, but that is superficial. I’m a dramatist who is interested in people, and I have empathy for Bush as a human being, much the same as I did for Castro, Nixon, Jim Morrison, Jim Garrison and Alexander the Great.”
Stone declined to give his personal opinion of the president.
“I can’t give you that, because the filmmaker has to hide in the work,” Stone said. “Here, I’m the referee, and I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It’s like Frank Capra territory on one hand, but I’ll also cover the demons in his private life, his bouts with his dad and his conversion to Christianity, which explains a lot of where he is coming from. It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, preemptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors.”
Stone said his NYU classmate Weiser did a lot of research as they worked for more than a year on the project before setting the script aside when Stone committed to “Pinkville.” While UA partners Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise said they pulled the plug on that movie because of the WGA strike, Stone seemed to support widespread speculation that the strike was an excuse to kill another war-themed movie that UA was wary of making after its first release, “Lions for Lambs,” flopped.
“On ‘Pinkville,’ I had a great script and one of the best casts on any of my films, with 40 young actors and Bruce Willis,” Stone said. “It’s a shame they lost faith in the film, and that they unemployed 500 people right before Christmas. We were three weeks from shooting.”
Stone hopes to get his script back so he can revive “Pinkville” down the line.
Stone, Weiser and Borman had kept the “Bush” script under tight wraps, developing it under “POTUS” (President of the United States) and “Misunderestimated.” Now they’re aiming for a quick ramp-up to production, though both Stone and Borman believe the project will remain viable even after the presidential election.
“We’ve just gone out with it, and April is just around the corner,” Borman said. “If we can get it done as an independent or with a studio, we can do it quickly, but nobody really knows what is happening with the SAG situation. We’ve found locations in Louisiana, but we will have to build sets, especially the White House. We could do it later, because it’s not a film that has to be timed with the election; it’s a character study of a man.”
Stone looked carefully at actors before setting his sights on Brolin, whose career has drawn recent traction from memorable roles in “No Country for Old Men” and “American Gangster.” Brolin just began work on the Gus Van Sant-directed “Milk,” playing Dan White, the San Francisco pol who gunned down Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. While Brolin won’t make a formal deal until financing is sealed, he can be ready for an April start.
“Josh is actually better looking than Bush but has the same drive and charisma that Americans identify with Bush, who has some of that old-time movie-star swagger,” Stone said.