Oliver Stone (centre) says there’s a difference between his roles as a political person and as an artist.
W. directed by Oliver Stone, written by Stanley Weiser, with Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks and James Cromwell. A Mongrel release. 127 minutes. Opens Friday (October 17). For venues and times, see Movies.
Laugh if you want, but Oliver Stone takes George W. Bush really seriously, and not only because Dubya is the subject of his latest film.
He thinks George W. changed America forever. He says so when I ask what's going to happen in the U.S. come November 4, Election Day.
"Whether it's Obama or McCain, they're gonna be in the shadow of the man I made this movie about," he says, surprisingly soft-spoken given the bombast of his films, on the phone from New York City.
"This guy changed the world. He had an impact beyond anything you or I ever dreamed of. And they'll be remembering him beyond 2040. He pushed America over the edge. I think it's over for America. Whether it's because of the war or the economy, we'll never go back."
Stone is, however, fully prepared for the heat he'll take for being too kind to the man who presided over the war in Iraq and the collapse of America's economic infrastructure. The guy in W. is pressured by Dad and pushed by a mother tougher than both of them; he's a true Christian believer who should be admired for giving up drinking.
"As a dramatist, you have to try to understand people," Stone explains. "He has a mother and father. From Kitty Kelley's book, we know about George Sr.'s private feelings."
Stone is referring to the immense disappointment George Sr. felt about his no-good, can't-keep-a-job alcoholic son before W.'s Christian conversion.
Stone is definitely not afraid of Freud (his Alexander was deep into the hero's mum), and he presses the psychoanalytic button in W., too.
"There is something about him that wants to be stronger than Dad. Every son wants to chew on the bones of his parents. Perhaps I'm too Freudian, but I think those relationships have resonance in our lives."
Rambling and revelling in discursive comments, Stone goes on to insist on the difference between his own role as political person and artist.
"I have political opinions. I state them as Oliver Stone, private citizen, because I don't believe celebrities should shut up. I believe we have a right to speak up. I work like everybody else, after all.
"But as a dramatist, I surprise people. I was supposed to do a hatchet job on Nixon and I didn't do that (in his 1995 biopic Nixon). I didn't like Nixon. He extended the war in Vietnam for four years and he lied. He was a horrible person.
"And so is Bush. But my job is to walk in his shoes. True, the intellectual content of his presidency was provided by Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld. We know about Cheney and the plans that were drawn up back in the 90s. After 9/11, Bush was easily manoeuvrable.
"But the emotional content comes out in his relationship with his father."
Stone lucked out by getting Josh Brolin to play W.
"He's 40 years old, a good time to play this role in that he's able to get the older and the younger man. He, too, had a famous father and had a lack of success up to a certain age. He's a theatre actor, which means he likes to discover character. He definitely has the makings of a major actor."
And an actor with chops is what's required to elicit sympathy for this character - a man with a large ego, no interest in ideas or books and a simultaneous need for his daddy's approval and a sense of absolute entitlement.
"Yeah," I say to Stone and, referring to a major moment in which Bush rejects Cheney's "It's for the oil" defence of the Iraq war, I add, "he's not even a capitalist."
"Ironic," says Stone, in reference to the recent Wall Street bailout, "he's the world's greatest socialist now."
How Stone sees Bush
How Stone sees Bush Sr.
Stone's defence of the movie's middle road