Saddam Hussein is alive and well and living in Sacramento. At least, that’s where you’ll find Jerry Haleva, 56, a contract lobbyist who has played Saddam in such films as The Big Lebowski, Hot Shots!, Hot Shots! Part Deux, Mafia!, and HBO’s Live From Baghdad. Here, Haleva reveals how he became one of Hollywood’s most prolific despot doppelgangers. — Brian M. Raftery
When did you realize you could pass for Saddam?
In 1989 I was working as a staff person for the California legislature and the L.A. Times had a picture of Saddam waving to his troops. [A coworker] distributed the picture to the floor of the Senate with the caption, ”Now we know what Haleva does on his weekends.” Being active in the Jewish community, I thought it was humorous that I might double as an Arab dictator.
When did you go pro?
In Hot Shots! my bit was to play Saddam catching a ball on the chaise lounge, and they promoted the hell out of that scene. More people have seen that promo than have seen either Hot Shots! movie.
Any apprehensions about playing one of America’s biggest enemies?
My loved ones were more concerned than I was. I would never want anybody to think that I have anything but disdain for him.
What if war happens — might it hurt your career?
As an actor, I’m hoping he goes into exile. As an American, I hope to do his epitaph.
Any instances of Saddam-style Hollywood hardballing?
Most recently I did HBO’s Live From Baghdad. It was budgeted at SAG minimum, so I said, ”I have a successful lobbying practice and my time away is more valuable than that and I can’t do that.” I gave [the producer] a figure and he had a heart attack on the other end of the phone. But they called back. When I told Michael Keaton the story, he said, ”Do you want to be my agent?”