Actor James Cromwell: This is the second coup, the destruction of American democracy.
I picked this up via Raw Story, it's a great interview - L.A.
"Put Cheney in jail. That would be more appropriate. I do believe that if that woman wins in Vermont, the attorney general, she will. Bugliosi's book is the blueprint for how. I believe that what happened on September 11th was a crime against the American people and should have been pursued by law enforcement in a rational way. Then we would have Osama bin Laden -- if in fact Osama bin Laden is responsible -- behind bars. It was used as an excuse for a coup -- the second in my lifetime, the first one being at the death of JFK. This is the second coup, the destruction of American democracy. We need the men who have perpetrated this coup behind bars where they belong, as a lesson to other despots, that they cannot behave this way!"
W: James Cromwell vs. George Bush Snr.
By Ryan Stewart
Suicide Girls Interviews
Oct 15, 2008
There's no misunderestimating James Cromwell. The 68 year-old actor, who came to prominence in the 90s with star turns in the popular Babe films and critically-acclaimed performances in L.A. Confidential and RKO 281, stands an incredible six foot seven inches tall and has a distinct, authoritative voice -- a combo that continues to make him one of the hardest-working character actors in the business.
A longtime left-wing political activist, Cromwell's sweet spot is putting his own spin on historically significant figures; his resume includes portrayals of Lyndon Johnson (in RFK), S&L crook Charles Keating (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Britain's controversial Prince Philip (The Queen), among others. This week, his latest historical character governs the big screen as he takes on the role of 41st president George Herbert Walker Bush in Oliver Stone's W., which chronicles the unlikely rise to power of his son George Walker Bush (played by Josh Brolin), who became president number 43.
The busy actor recently dialed up SuicideGirls during an airport run to discuss the ins and outs of the role and to give us his thoughts on the knife-edge our democracy currently exists on.
Ryan Stewart: I'd like to hear about your first meeting with Oliver Stone, to discuss this role. How did that go?
James Cromwell: Well, it was Josh's idea. He sort of turned his nose up at it, but Josh said, "No, have a meeting with him." So we met at a hotel -- Oliver was late -- and then he sat down and said to me, "You know, I offered this part to Warren Beatty and Harrison Ford, but it's probably better to have someone who is not as well known, blah, blah, blah." And I don't expect anything more, because I've auditioned for him before. Then Josh shows up -- and Josh is delightful -- and Oliver is delightful too. He said, "I understand your politics are a little to the left ..." I said, "A little does not describe it." And he said, "Well, how are you gonna feel about playing Bush?" And I said, "You know, I'll do my best." So, I think he liked that Josh and I hit it off -- Josh knew instantly that it was the right thing -- and they needed somebody of my age and somebody of my height. I bring something to it that I think they wanted in the picture. They knew, at least I hope, that I would try to make him as human as possible. He's a man who made humongous mistakes, the biggest of which was his son, and is now basically as powerless as the rest of us to change the course of the history his son has created for us.
RS: By the way, speaking of Josh, I noticed you didn't get mixed up in that big bar brawl he and the others were in.
JC: No, I missed a lot of the fights. I missed the fights and the jail! Actually, the jail one I'm sorry I missed.
RS: Let's talk about H.W.'s personality a bit. He's 83 years-old and goes skydiving -- what does that say?
JC: Well, it depends on how you feel about jumping out of airplanes. He had an experience as a very young man jumping out of an airplane -- unfortunately he didn't take his crew with him. He was shot down. Listen, he was there and I wasn't and what it takes to fly an airplane in combat... I have great respect for that and respect for him being able to do it. Jumping out of an airplane -- my son has done it, but I have not, I have no interest in doing it. No, I think the defining thing about him, at least for me -- and a great deal of the picture is about the relationship between father and son -- is the relationship between H.W. and his father, Prescott. Prescott was an alcoholic. He was a strict disciplinarian and used physical force. The family lied about his alcoholism, not only to the outside world, but to themselves. The mother always said, "Oh, your father is tired," but everyone knew he was drunk.
So I believe that Bush, from a very early age, pushed down emotions and had a rather ambivalent attitude toward the truth that one presents to the world -- not necessarily to family members, but to the world. When emotion comes up in him as it did in the Frost interview or in the Florida legislature, he has no mechanism to handle his feelings appropriately and he is convulsed. His face breaks, he can't talk -- his son had to step in in Florida. That is, I believe, why his voice is stuck where it is, which is what people parody. I tried not to. He is cut off at the neck from his feeling state, but he has feelings and I believe that in private he cares deeply about his family and his son. I don't think he was a particularly good father. He was a distant father. He was traveling most of the time. I think the loss of his daughter affected him greatly. I think he had very strong ambition, always, to make the next step upwards. I think that had a profound effect on his son, who is very much more like his mother, who raised him. His son basically dedicated his life to not appear or behave as weak-willed, as he perceived his father to be.
RS: So the cowboy routine is mostly a response to his perception of his father?
JC: It's partially a response to his father, it's partially a response to the humiliation the first time he ran for congress and was out-Texan'd by the candidate he was up against, who called him a Northern carpetbagger and a Connecticut rich boy. He said to the guy, "Listen, I've lived all my life in Texas!" and he had. He had a strong affinity, a childhood affinity, to that cowboy macho image. So it was very easy for him to take that on. I think it contributes to his inability to articulate certain ideas, because it is an application. It is not necessarily his nature. The privileged frat-boy making it on the reputation and patronage of his father is more accurate. That's not to say he isn't smart, because he is -- he's a smart man. He is smart and he is diligent and he is, unfortunately, a true believer.
RS: Did you and Josh make any efforts to meet your Bush counterparts?
JC: No. I think Josh, given his nature, the two of them would have probably gotten along. I won't say that I wouldn't have gotten along with the elder Bush, but I don't believe that at this time the Bush family would have been at all interested in having a picture done on the events leading up the Iraq war, with the context being the dysfunction between father and son.
Would the Royal Family have been interested in The Queen, even if they knew that was how it would turn out? The script they would have gotten would have been very dissimilar to what we finally wound up doing, because dramas have a way of creating their own form. It ended up becoming very sympathetic to the Queen. Even with that final script, though, I think the Royal Family would have said, "We don't need films made about us. We're doing just fine, thank you." That's their prerogative.
I happen to have met Philip before and I'm fond of him and I appreciate what he does -- I can't say that I'm fond of Bush, but I certainly wouldn't have wanted to give him the opportunity of doing to me what a number of Senators and congressmen have done. You ask them about something like the October Surprise and you get the party line. Unless you're incredibly grounded in the information that you're bringing to the conversation, you're gonna get steamrolled. To me, what happens in the film is a relationship between a father and a son. I had a father. I have sons. I understand that dynamic and I've tried to recreate it as accurately as possible given the relationship that we know.
RS: Do you think H.W. resents being a relatively minor figure in political history? Does that loom large in the father-son dynamic?
JC: I think it's a crushing thing for the father, who felt that he did the best he could to pass the dynasty on -- the dynasty involving both families, the Bush family and the Walker family. In Kitty Kelley's book and in another book called The Bush Dynasty, [they cover] the amount of work that was put into this. They always thought that Jeb would be the one, the more rational one to bear the mantle. What W. has done, I think, in the elder's mind, is destroy that legacy. I think H.W. Bush did what he could for the dynasty and is sorely disappointed that his son has destroyed it. I think one of the reasons he's doing what he's doing with Clinton -- and Clinton is doing it for similar reasons -- is to keep a lighter and more benevolent side of the Bush legacy before the American public. I'm sure there are altruistic reasons too, I musn't be too hard on the guy.
RS: He never struck me as a figure who aroused much ire in liberals, or anyone for that matter.
JC: Well, if you read the Kitty Kelley book, if you know anything about Iran Contra, if you know about the October Surprise, if you know about any of the activities of the CIA under his tutelage, if you know what he did and did not do as ambassador to China, if you know about his support of Reagan's wars and the policies, his economics or the lack thereof...I think there's plenty.
That said, he was smart enough to understand that pursuing Saddam Hussein would be the last thing you would want to do. Of course, their goal was a little different then; it was basically to assuage the Saudis who felt threatened by Saddam. I believe that Saddam did ask permission to go into Kuwait, I believe it was granted through the ambassador. I believe they then changed their minds. I'm pretty appalled that there are pictures of Saddam and Rumsfeld, when Rumsfeld sent him all the necessary equipment to produce the gas that he then used on his own people. We provided that. There was a very quick turnabout, but their idea was not to destabilize the Middle East. That is the Cheney policy. It's not the Bush Doctrine, it's the Cheney Policy and I believe they've done magnificently -- it just so happens that the cost of it was bringing down the United States.
RS: You've been politically active for quite a long time -- does the moment we're at right now parallel anything you've seen in the past?
JC: Well, for those people who went through 1931, it would be incredibly reminiscent. I don't know of that, but I think this is unprecedented in its condemnation of...I don't know what to call it...it's not capitalism. When you say 'capitalism' to Americans they think 'My god, that's small businesses, that's working folk!' and I don't mean that at all. I mean that large, predatory, multinational capitalism and the markets it supposedly regulates -- or doesn't -- is now defunct.
A new system will have to be developed. Will we have the will? Has this ever happened? On the radio they were talking about Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War; the dilemma for Lincoln was profound, so much so that it made the topic of slavery secondary in his mind to maintaining the union. The union was at stake. I believe the survival of this country is definitely at stake, and not only with the economic crisis.
The pursuit of American empire -- the plan laid out by Cheney for American bases from the Tigris to the Euphrates because we basically have no friends and in order to maintain our supremacy we need to control the energy resources in that area of the world -- is a collision course with the rest of the world, which we'll ultimately lose. It'll either destroy us or the entire planet. It also takes away from the multitude of issues also involving the survivability of the planet, which we should be facing with every resource at our command. How do we shift this lifestyle of consuming the world's resources and spitting them out into the atmosphere as pollutants? We're watching the biosphere die in front of us.
RS: So maybe not the best time for the media to be focusing on things like the Weather Underground, in your opinion?
JC: Of course it's not the time. Listen, I understand they're gonna run that out. If you wanna talk about things I condemned the elder Bush for, that campaign against Dukakis and the use of Willie Horton and the tank ad are two prime examples of Atwater-Rove manipulation of media that we are now experiencing again. I understand that McCain's ads are now 100 percent negative, but that's only a minor thing that involves one candidate. The fact that Obama can stand up there and answer questions that have been screened in a debate forum controlled by both parties and under a contract that they will not release to the press, and that they will not include Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader...the issues have nothing to do with goddamn terrorists –– they have to do with the terrorists who run our country. They are not allowed to ask or answer those questions appropriately in this forum. That is the crisis of this country. Not only do we know that the last two elections were basically stolen, we're watching them being stolen again right from under our noses! No one says fuck all about it!
RS: I don't know, there's a pretty healthy alternative media in this country for those who want it.
JC: I totally agree. Bless our hearts, that is quite true, but when I say that no one says fuck all about it, the mainstream media that reaches the majority of the people.... as almost anybody who tends to agree with us says, they're asleep, they're shopping, they're numb, they're distracted, they're lazy, they're stupid, they're unwilling, they're uninformed. Those people don't know what we know. Those people don't hear the truth. Only those people are gonna make a difference. We have to move them to action!
RS: Does the presumptive Obama victory in a few weeks give you any hope?
JC: I have hope. The conditions are so bad from this administration that, much like the country that Roosevelt inherited, I hope that Obama is a big enough man to respond to the needs of ordinary American people, and that ordinary Americans learn that it is not our leaders who lead us. All substantive change in this country has come from the people, not the leaders. The leaders don't lead -- they follow.
Now, the question is will we abdicate the way we've abdicated for the last eight years and probably the last forty years? Will we abdicate to the money forces, the Wall Street forces, the multinationals and the military-industrial complex? Or will we finally say, "This is it!? This is our country. We are taking it back. We believe in habeas corpus. We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to maintain these rights, governments are instituted among men, who derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. That when these powers threaten these rights it is the duty and it is the obligation of the people to throw off this government."
I believe that. That's what this country is founded on and that is what we have to rediscover. Barack Obama? As the Black Panthers used to say, you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. He has the choice. If he wants to be part of the solution, he has to listen to more rational voices. He has to listen to more progressive voices. He has to listen to his heart. He has to listen to his wife. He has to listen to his children and all of our children and do the right thing. That's the key, he has to do the right thing.
RS: If you met Dick Cheney, would you shake his hand?
JC: No. I would not, but he wouldn't shake mine either, so it would be a stand-off.
RS: You just want to put him behind you, then?
JC: Put Cheney in jail. That would be more appropriate. I do believe that if that woman wins in Vermont, the attorney general, she will. Bugliosi's book is the blueprint for how. I believe that what happened on September 11th was a crime against the American people and should have been pursued by law enforcement in a rational way. Then we would have Osama bin Laden -- if in fact Osama bin Laden is responsible -- behind bars. It was used as an excuse for a coup -- the second in my lifetime, the first one being at the death of JFK. This is the second coup, the destruction of American democracy. We need the men who have perpetrated this coup behind bars where they belong, as a lesson to other despots, that they cannot behave this way!