HOLLYWOOD'S NEW DEALS
THE BUCK STARTS HERE AS HOLLYWOOD CUTS TO THE CHIEFS-PRESIDENTS, THAT IS, AND MOVIES BASED ON THEIR LIVES AND TIMES.
Maybe it’s a veiled attempt to unseat Boys Town as Newt Gingrich’s favorite movie. Or a simple result of seeing as many Republican presidential hopefuls as Snow White had dwarfs. Whatever the reason, Hollywood is suddenly churning out Commander-in-Chief movies as if they were Franklin Mint collector plates. Among the stars jumping on the presidential bandwagon: * Nick Nolte portrays a pre-presidential Thomas Jefferson as an amorous ambassador to France in the Disney-produced Merchant Ivory movie Jefferson in Paris, out this April. * Stepping into a role developed for Robert Redford, Michael Douglas stars as a widowed President having a fling in Rob Reiner’s The American President, being produced by Castle Rock. * After dropping out of American President, Redford quickly picked up the historical biopic George Washington, developed by Oliver Stone. ”It’s about how a country was formed and a hero was made,” explains Wildwood Enterprises president Rachel Pfeffer. ”It has no white wig, no cherry tree, and no wooden teeth.” * Beating out the likes of Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, and John Lithgow, Anthony Hopkins takes on Richard Nixon in Nixon, a Watergate-era story directed by Stone and scheduled to begin shooting in May. * Robin Williams has been linked to Warner Bros.’ My Fellow Americans, the Jim Abrahams presidential buddy com- edy about two mutually loathing ex-free world leaders. ”It’s what happens when you’re the most important person in the world,” says producer Craig Zadan, ”and the next day you’re not.” * Straight from his stints as a Vietnam War hero in Forrest Gump and a grounded astronaut in the soon-to-be-released Apollo 13, all-American Gary Sinise will give ’em hell as Harry Truman in an HBO flick based on David McCullough’s best-selling Truman. ”Harry,” says Sinise, ”is someone who looks a lot better in retrospect.” Alas, lest we tell a lie, Hollywood’s always had a fascination with things presidential, from Henry Fonda’s 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln to James Whitmore’s Oscar-nominated portrayal in 1974’s Give ’em Hell, Harry! The difference is how irreverent these new films will be. ”It’s amazing how solemn and seriously Presidents used to be taken-even in the Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove era,” says film historian David Thomson. ”With 1993’s Dave, we’ve sort of degraded the office. It’s become a legitimate part of entertainment.” * Not that Hollywood isn’t also out to cure what ails us. ”We’re in convictionless, rudderless times, in an era in which men of size seem to be sorely missing,” observes Dave writer Gary Ross. ”If you can tell an appropriate story that taps into people’s concerns about politicians, there’s an audience for it.” Producer Fred Zollo, who is developing Robert Caro’s lauded bio of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Means of Ascent, sees it as an attempt to buck a more deplorable trend. ”These are not movies you can cast Jim Carrey in, okay? They’re smart and smarter,” says Zollo. So, is there a downside to all this bunting? Yes. Historical movies can cost more than a Michael Huffington Senate campaign. Both Nixon and George Washington prom- ise to be expensive forays into presidencies past. For now, though, patriotic Hollywood executives are pointing to JFK and Dave as the points of light-each made more than $60 million at the box office-while looking for ways to keep costs from skyrocketing. For instance, an Oval Office set used by Castle Rock for American President was rented out to the Nixon production for a seven-figure sum. That’s the sort of bipartisan support even Washington could learn to love.