Anne Hathaway's political education
The mash up between Hollywood and politics has long intrigued director Barry Levinson, a broadcast journalism student back in his college days. Though he’s directed marquee actors in films from Rain Man to Wag the Dog, for his new documentary, he decided to observe them working way outside their comfort zone, without benefit of a script. For Poliwood, airing Nov. 2 on Showtime, he followed Anne Hathaway, Susan Sarandon and other politically-active members of the Creative Coalition as they navigated the 2008 political conventions — sometimes with cringe-inducing discomfort.
What was interesting to you about following these actors and writers in particular?
I have to hand it to any actor who goes out there. It’s very hard — you are always in this situation where you’re going to be criticized and at the same time there will be those who are excited to see you. I was fascinated at the level of criticism for those celebrities who have some genuine interest in the political process. You try to navigate through this media circus and hopefully don’t end up the clown.
Who do you think benefits more from the relationship — the politician or the celebrity?
Well, there is literally no upside for any actor, writer, director. You’re not going to get any more movies made because you happen to be public.
What struck you about watching these celebrities function out of their comfort zone?
We tried to show that in the example of Anne Hathaway, who’s a young actress now gaining a high profile. And suddenly she’s beginning to wonder, ‘How do I handle this? What do I do when I make a comment and that becomes a lead story?’ Suddenly you’re out there being asked questions. And you don’t want to be the expert — you’re trying to make sense of it, but if you comment on it, it sounds like you think you’re the expert.
You certainly seem to be disheartened by the way TV blurs the lines between truth, reality and mythology. Don’t you think celebrities contribute to that blurring?
I think they get caught in it. A very small percentage of actors are politically active and the few of those who do get caught up in the maelstrom of it all. Where is it best to be? You don’t want to be a negative, but some people just have a genuine interest in politics without necessarily wanting to be a spokesperson. Some just wanted to experience it and go there as a tourist.
Are there any particular celebrities you think could transition to elected office? George Clooney?
He probably could if he desired. That would be one. I hear Ben Affleck sometimes thinks about that. I don’t know him but I’ve seen him on television and he seems bright and informed.
You say in the film that because of television, storytelling has become the story. The issues aren’t the story. So you’re saying that the images are the story?
Yes, images are the story. And if you can’t have an image, you can’t have a story. That’s the terrible aspect. If you talk about infrastructure, nobody cares. But when the bridge falls down, then we watch it 50 times and it’s shown with music. Catastrophe!
What are you doing next?
I just finished an HBO movie with Al Pacino about Dr. Kevorkian. Pacino is extraordinary.
That should generate a lot of discussion.
That’s why I was intrigued. That whole issue of euthanasia is something we’re going to be debating for a long time.
Poliwood airs Nov. 2 on Showtime