Oct 2, 2020
Dream-casting the inevitable President Trump movie
Let’s face it, we all know this is going to happen.
No matter how hard the liberals that dominate the American cultural landscape may despise him and everything he stands for, Donald Trump wouldn’t exist without Hollywood. Our ongoing Movies that Predicted Trump article series shows how various works of pop culture warned us against various conditions that lead to the rise of people like Trump, but they also remind us that Trump himself is inseparable from pop culture. The opulent wealth, the casual sexism, the showmanship, the tough-talking braggadocio… it’s all a pure Hollywood product, as sold and illustrated by countless heroes and villains of everything from action movies to sitcoms. Hollywood made Trump, and in return Trump provides them with an endless supply of jokes, sketches, and protest videos to mock and denounce him. It’s inevitable that a movie should be the next step, especially given the recent boom in films based on recent history-shaping events. So before that movie gets made in, oh, four years tops, I decided to give Hollywood a little help by imagining what a fictionalization of President Trump’s rise to power should look like, who should make it, and who should star in it.
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Ideally, the plot should avoid the usual biopic trappings of going through a checklist of the protagonist’s greatest hits and stay behind the scenes. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, journalists, pundits, and most Republican competitors should be kept off-screen as much as possible, only appearing in the form of stock footage and news clips in the background to be commented on by Team Trump. The campaign’s big moments (the official announcement of his candidacy, victory at the Republican primaries, the Access Hollywood tape, the DNC leaks, Election Night) provide good narrative turning points, but shouldn’t be the main focus of the story. Instead of having the cast perform a twp-hour compression of the endless spectacle that was that wretched election, a good film about the Trump campaign should combine verified first-hand accounts with speculative fiction to highlight how he and his advisers managed to upset long-established political norms by zeroing in on the country’s economic hardships, profound societal changes, and long-gestating feelings of discontent, fear, and cultural disenfranchisement among rural white working-class voters and conservatives.
Of course, the role of Internet trolls, memes, and rumors should also be addressed, but remain just one element of a bigger whole (frankly, that part of the campaign deserves a movie of its own); it’s best for the filmmakers to think of them as Citizen Kane-style power grab/intimidation tactics updated to the 21st century. Similarly, the role played by Russian propagandists and foreign government influences on some members of Trump’s entourage should be handled carefully. While the presence of sinister, heavily-accented Russians talking to campaign staff members in darkened rooms would add a sexy thriller element to the proceedings, it’s probably best to keep this stuff mostly off-screen and ambiguous so as not to detract too much from the essence of the subject.
This is a tricky one.
Just over ten years ago, the go-to guy for searing exposés of the American political machine and complex portrayals of controversial political figures was Oliver Stone. Unfortunately, his last truly exceptional movie was the three-hour-plus Nixon biopic he released in 1995. His output since has ranged from mediocre (W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) to just plain awful (Alexander, World Trade Center, Savages), so while a Trump movie might be a way for him to bounce back, he’s lost too much of his mojo for such a prospect to be anything but a titanic risk.
So who would be a safer bet? In Spotlight, Thomas McCarthy did a good job of piecing together individual perspectives to fully expose a nationwide scandal that involved millions of witting and unwitting participants, which would make him a good fit for another story about rifts in our social connective tissue as seen from a perspective of power. However, his style lacks the incisiveness that a subject as perversely sensational as Donald J. Trump calls for, making the ideal candidate…
More than just a master of grimy thrills, David Fincher is one of the most trenchant observers of American culture currently working in Hollywood. Apart from perhaps Martin Scorsese or Michael Haneke, there’s simply no other living filmmaker who can plunge into the murkiest depths of civilization with as much vividness or intelligence as he does. Whether he’s making the best crime thrillers in the business with Gone Girl and Zodiac, or directly addressing societal trends in The Social Network and Fight Club, his films are all linked to some degree by an intense expression of male insecurities and a stone-hearted exploration of their contribution to the ugly side of American society. If that doesn’t make him a great fit for a Donald Trump movie, I don’t know what does.
The supporting cast:
Paul Ryan, played by: Alan Tudyk
Since the movie would focus on Trump and his campaign team, Paul Ryan’s appearance would be more of an extended cameo than a supporting role, serving as a liaison of sorts between the Trump campaign and establishment Republicans. Alan Tudyk may not look a whole lot like Ryan, but he’s a giftedly versatile actor who usually excels at making small-but-crucial roles leave a lasting impression on the audience.
Donald Trump Jr., played by: Patrick Wilson
I know the two men look nothing alike, but Patrick Wilson has always been good at putting his ordinary guy-next-door looks to chameleonic use. Plus, for the son of one of the most physically distinct men on the planet, Don Jr. has a surprisingly nondescript face, so most people won’t notice the difference anyway.
Eric Trump, played by: Jake Busey
Do I need to add anything here?
Roger Stone, played by: Jeffrey DeMunn
Ah, Roger Stone. A character so outlandish, shady, and terrifyingly influential, you’d swear he came straight out of a satirical conspiracy thriller. No matter where you stand politically, it’s hard not to feel some kind of bemused astonishment that a guy like this exists at all, let alone carries so much weight on the political scene. So who better to do justice to this magnificently bonkers clown prince of conspiracy than veteran character actor Jeffrey DeMunn? Not only does he bear a passing resemblance to Stone (a difficult feat in and of itself), his association with Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptations would lend his character an aura of strangeness that would fit perfectly with what his position and character signify for many in politics.
Jared Kushner, played by: Paul Dano
Granted, he’s more round-faced and slightly built than the First Son-in-Law, but Dano’s ability to simultaneously evoke youthful ambition and naïveté would make his Jared Kushner interesting to watch, especially given his political ambiguities and the conflict they cause with the rest of Team Trump.
Ivanka Trump, played by: Abbie Cornish
Getting Ivanka Trump right is surprisingly tricky, as we need an actress who radiates confident power all while expressing a traditional kind of femininity that’s neither submissive nor assertive to the point of making conservative men feel threatened. Abbie Cornish could use those traits to play her as a modern political princess, emphasizing her intelligence and savvy as much as her elegance and decorum.
Kellyanne Conway, played by: Leslie Mann
She’ll probably need a lot of makeup, but vocal similarities aside, I think Mann would really nail Conway’s passive-aggressive “poisoned honey” demeanor.
Stephen K. Bannon, played by: Mark Hamill
In a slightly less cruel world, the obvious choice for Trump’s eminence grise would be the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unfortunately, that will never be possible. Fortunately, we do have Mark Hamill, who not only shares some facial traits with Bannon, but also appears to be on the path to a live-action career renaissance thanks to the Star Wars sequels. A role like Bannon’s could very well earn him an Oscar nomination.
Mike Pence, played by: Steve Carrell
Surely I’m not the only one who thought of this. Just picture Carrell’s performance in Foxcatcher, tone down the “I’m-so-creepy-please-be-scared” mannerisms, take away the fake nose, bleach his hair white, and voilà: Vice-President Pence.
Melania Trump, played by: Olga Kurylenko
This is actually the person I’d be most interested in getting to know beyond the image of the demure faithful wife she projects. Olga Kurylenko is best-known for her action movie roles, but she also showed solid dramatic chops in Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. She’s tough, sensitive, smart, and a polyglot to boot, making her easily the best choice to play our current First Lady.
Casting the role of Donald Trump in a serious, dramatic film is a risky endeavor. Politics aside, the main obstacle resides in the fact that his persona is so unashamedly over-the-top that it makes caricature seem virtually impossible to avoid. To really capture him on film, you need an actor who can move past the antics and dispense with any need to look and sound as much like the President as possible. You need an actor who can be both imposing and understated, and won’t let his ego get in the way of delivering a nuanced portrait. You need…
He’s a titan of modern cinema, as adroit in leading roles as he is in supporting ones, and an invaluable screen presence who makes every film he appears in just a little bit better. More importantly, he’s an exceptionally attentive actor who knows exactly when to dominate and when to sit back and listen—a trait that’s almost the exact opposite of Trump, and one that a serious acting performance of him must contain, lest it simply reproduce its subject without any additional insight into him.
So there you have it: my pitch for a film about Donald Trump’s rise to power that will inevitably sweep the Oscars in four years’ time. Just remember, you read it here first! And if this juicy biopic somehow fails to materialize… well, we’ll always have more Movies that Predicted Trump to mull over.