The Son Also Rises

Oliver Stone on W. and the president who would be John Wayne.

Another key scene is Bush's conversion to evangelical Christianity. Some directors would have seen that as prime material for satire, à la Bill Maher's Religulous, but you play it more or less completely straight.

You have to take it prima facie, because it was the deciding event in his life. So, you respect your character. I'm not doing any kind of a hatchet job. I truly want to understand George Bush. I tried to walk in his path. Evangelicalism is a very powerful force. I talked to four ministers who are big shots in the South, and they're almost like salesmen in the way that they tell you that you can be touched by God at any moment — one moment is all you need. There's this power of the touch, and it's in the name of Jesus. Jesus is the key figure when you break from yourself. You're no longer George Bush; you're the broken one, you have no ego. The irony of Bush is that he became evangelical but maintained this enormous ego. It's clear from his presidency that when he walked into a room he was the decider; he took up the biggest space. Everyone says that about his life, going back to his cheerleading days. He was a bully; you had to make space for him. That said, there is a bit of a wink in the evangelical scene, because the minister is played by Stacy Keach, and Stacy is a bit of a scoundrel — he has that glint in his eye, that Burt Lancaster quality. And a lot of evangelicals — not all — have had shaky pasts.

Have you given any thought to how this film may or may not operate as a political instrument?

I hope we get noticed in the ongoing blender of events. I think people have a tendency to say, "He's gone," and that's not so. This man has changed the world and impacted us forever. He's changed your generation. The next 20 years, you're going to be paying for this thing. Iraq is not going away. It's not simple to get out of this. We're not going back to 2000. And he's a young man: Even when he loses power in January, he's going to be around on the right. Any time there's an us-versus-them situation, I can see him as a voice for using force. He's going to be a tough opponent.

In the scene where George is meeting Laura for the first time at this backyard barbecue, as this mutual friend is walking George across the lawn to introduce him to Laura, you cut to this close-up of the woman's high-heeled shoe stepping on a corncob in the grass. That struck me as an iconographic Oliver Stone moment.

People mention that scene — it's so bizarre. I really cracked down on myself, because I got so noticed [in my other movies] for stuff like that. Frankly, I tried not to put myself in this movie, because Bush is a sensitive issue for many Americans, and I don't want to insult or hurt Bush. My mom, who's a Republican, said, "Don't demean him." I did cut the corncob thing. I said, "Let's get rid of this. It's a nice touch, but I don't want to have people noticing this." And all four of my editors lobbied for me to put it back. The other day, a young critic said, "What is that about? Is that about ethanol?" To me, it seems a sign of excess. People grow up on excess in Texas.

Well, people are always stuffing their faces in this movie.

You've been there. You know what that's about. They're big. They talk big. They eat big.

I guess what I'm saying is that the movie strikes me as being more than just a portrait of Bush. It feels like a panorama of America at this moment in time.

It's a mindset. A lot of people voted for this man because they like him. Like with John Wayne — you hate his politics, but you like his screen performances. There's something about the American character that loves the pioneer spirit of can-do-ism and not backing down. Chris Matthews said, "Americans like presidents like Bush. He's not like one of those narrow-shouldered British prime ministers."

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