×

PopPolitics: Why Trump Is Left Out of HBO’s ‘John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (Listen)

Plus: Joe Mantegna on Memorial Day concert; Mark Duplass on 'Like Brothers'; and a new Russian adoption doc.

WASHINGTON — The filmmakers behind the HBO documentary “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” interview family, friends, rivals and colleagues to capture the life of the Arizona senator, who is now battling brain cancer.

But the project, which debuts this weekend, does not include President Donald Trump. In hours of interviews, the filmmakers asked McCain about Trump, but chose not to dwell on the fissures between the two.

“It sucks the air out of the room and we wanted the attention to be on John,” Teddy Kunhardt, who made the film along with his brother George and father Peter, tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “When we walked around Arizona, he said something along the lines of ‘This is my last fight.’ We assumed he meant cancer. He said it is not about cancer. It is about bringing the Senate back to regular order, about working together in the Senate. And we didn’t want to cloud that message. We really wanted to help him push that message forward about getting back to work.”

Kunhardt adds, “[McCain] said, ‘Look, if he insulted me, I would respond and move on.’ It is very McCain-esque, to respond, put it in the back rearview mirror and move on. But again, it is not just Trump. It is the Senate not working together. It is the anger. It is the bitterness, the unwillingness to get things done the right way.”

Popular on Variety

One of the things that stands out about the project are the sheer number of McCain one-time rivals who are interviewed, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The Kunhardts said that they faced little trouble in landing such high-profile names, along with Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, Joseph Biden, Henry Kissinger and John Kerry. Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate in 2008, was not interviewed, a decision the filmmakers made because she “knew him for a short window of time, and we didn’t think she would shed the insight we were looking for,” Kunhardt says.

In the interview, Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime speechwriter and collaborator, talks about how different the senator’s experience was running for president in 2008 versus 2000. Although McCain successfully captured the Republican nomination in 2008, Salter said that before the race started the senator said, “I don’t think I can catch lightning in a bottle twice.”

“I think he probably had a better time, eight years before,” Salter says.

Listen below:

A Politics-Free Memorial Day Concert

Trump also will not be present for this year’s National Memorial Day Concert, set to air on PBS on Sunday night. The reason is simple, according to Joe Mantegna, co-host along with Gary Sinise. Organizers have purposely not invited the commander-in-chief to the event as a way of keeping it from being politicized.

Among those participating this year will be Colin Powell, Allison Janney, Graham Greene, John Corbett, Charles Esten, Brian Tee, Mary McCormack, Cynthia Erivo, Leona Lewis, Megan Hilty, Alfie Boe and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Mantegna also talks about some of the special presentations at the event, marking the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day.

Listen below:

‘Like Brothers’

Mark Duplass talks about the challenge of writing a memoir with his brother, Jay. The recently published “Like Brothers” is as much a practical guideway to trying to break in to the entertainment business as it is a candid and humorous account of how two siblings became collaborators. They also made some wise choices, like buying Netflix stock more than a decade ago.

Listen below:

‘To the Moon and Back’

Susan Morgan Cooper’s “To the Moon and Back,” opening this weekend, spotlights the plight of many parents and children who were caught in the middle when Russia banned adoption by U.S. as a response to sanctions imposed on the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Cooper created the movie well before it became a hot topic last summer — what Donald Trump Jr. originally said was the premise for the meeting with a group of Russians during the presidential campaign. That is part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Cooper’s project touches on geopolitics, but like Bryan Fogel’s Oscar-winning “Icarus,” the movie’s focus is on the human impact, including the tragic situation with adoptive parents who lost one of their children.

Cooper talks about making the movie along with one of the parents, Miles Harrison.

Listen below:

Medical Marijuana Movie

“The Life She Deserves: Medical Marijuana in the United States” will be screened at the Brookings Institution’s Falk Auditorium at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, at an event co-sponsored by Variety. I’ll be moderating a panel afterward with the filmmakers and advocates. More here.

PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET-11 a.m.-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand. 

 

More Politics

  • DNC

    Mike Bloomberg to Join Democratic Presidential Contenders at Wednesday's Debate

    Democratic presidential contender Mike Bloomberg will take the stage alongside his rivals at a primary debate for the first time on Wednesday night after a poll released today allowed him to qualify for the event. Bloomberg commanded 19% support in the poll conducted by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist, second only to Sen. Bernie Sanders [...]

  • Mike Bloomberg

    Mike Bloomberg's Odd Meme Blitz Spurs Instagram to Require Influencers to Disclose Paid Political Content

    A new paid meme campaign on Instagram by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who’s running a guerrilla bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has prompted Facebook to clarify that influencers on the platform must disclose such arrangements. This week, Bloomberg’s presidential campaign launched a broad campaign across at least 19 top Instagram accounts with a collective [...]

  • White House Communications Director Hope Hicks,

    Hope Hicks Leaves Fox to Return to White House

    Hope Hicks is leaving her post as Fox Corp. communications chief to return to the White House, a Fox spokesperson confirmed Thursday. She will serve as senior counselor to the president, while working with adviser Jared Kushner. Hicks was the former White House communications director, serving during the first year of the Trump administration. She [...]

  • Bernie Sanders on stage at the

    L.A. Musicians' Union Local Endorses Bernie Sanders

    Boldly declaring itself “the first musicians union in the country to take a position in the 2020 Democratic primary,” the 7,000-member American Federation of Musicians Local 47 announced Wednesday that it has has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, a little less than three weeks out from the California primary. In making the announcement, the union [...]

  • Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders. Democratic presidential

    Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire Primary

    Sen. Bernie Sanders will win the New Hampshire primary, according to projections from several news organizations, positioning him to claim frontrunner status for the Democratic nomination. With more than 90% of the ballots counted, Sanders held a 1.6-point lead over Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The two candidates topped the Democratic field for the second time in [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks

    Andrew Yang Drops Out of Democratic Presidential Race

    Andrew Yang announced Tuesday that he is dropping out of the Democratic presidential race, after a disappointing result in the New Hampshire primary. “Tonight is not the outcome we fought so hard to achieve,” Yang told supporters. “You know I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are [...]

  • Alyssa Milano Election Hacking

    Alyssa Milano Sounds Alarm About Election Hacking

    Alyssa Milano has become one of Hollywood’s leading activists in the Trump era, taking on issues like abortion, gun safety and sexual harassment. In 2020, she is turning her attention to a new fight: ballot security. Along with other entertainment industry figures, Milano is launching a campaign against electronic voting machines and electronic “ballot marking [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content