Yesterday, I lunched with Last King of Scotland Director Kevin McDonald on the set of his new film, State of Play.
McDonald told me that on Saturday he and Russell Crowe and some others were racing a car in a scene around the Library of Congress. They made it twice around without incident, but McDonald want a third go at it with a huge camera truck and all. One of the producers sitting with us rolled his eyes back at the words “a third time” telegraphing that going for it just one more time a dozen times over is a McDonald trait. The Capitol Police came out and nearly arrested Crowe and McDonald allegedly as “terrorist threats” — but “nearly” and “did” are different things.
I was there on the set along with a group of other distinguished journalists — including Bob Woodward, Margaret Carlson, Bob Schiefer, John Palmer, EJ Dionne, and Katty Kay. They wanted a blogger/journalist/wonk in the mix, and yours truly said sure. Our task was to make a large group of pretend journalists look more real when Robin Wright Penn makes a statement to the press following disclosure that her Congressman husband (Ben Affleck) may have been having an affair with a now deceased personal assistant.
Affleck was standing behind Robin Wright Penn as she delivered her tearful, poignant comments to the press that “we” should all leave them alone and focus on matters of state that “matter.”
It was really cool — and I learned a lot. First of all, Barack Obama should spend a day with Kevin McDonald who seems to defy gravity given the hundreds of wheels and operations and people who surrounded him on the set that day. He had it all going, but seemed to convey no stress at all about the tension and complexity of making the film shot work. Making movies and running a country, or campaign, are completely different of course — but my sense is that Barack Obama would benefit from being seen as able to run a complex enterprise that had to produce results (I know. . .his campaign. . .but beyond that).
Bob Woodward told me two things of interest. First, he said that the University of Texas which has his Watergate archives does not have everything. There are still other living sources that have not yet been disclosed and some “other big surprises” in the Watergate tale beyond Deep Throat’s identity. Second, he told me that he doesn’t take “senior citizen” discounts at the movies or elsewhere.
Margaret Carlson told me that Eric Schmidt — Google’s CEO and the new Chairman of the Board of the New America Foundation where I work — was “delightfully wonky” at the Gridiron dinner this week and sat at her table. (Our good friend Tom Toles of the Washington Post was one of the inductees this year. Congrats Tom!). Schmidt seems to be doing the rounds though as Bob Woodward told me had Schmidt over to his home for dinner recently. I wonder if Eric is planning to lateral over from his Google spot to become a political pundit.
We were exceptionally well treated by the producers and directors of State of Play and got to have some real discussion with Robin Penn Wright and Ben Affleck.
Affleck, no surprise, loves politics. He was thoughtful, modest, curious — and wants to know a lot about Washington and the political scene. He said DC reminded him of Hollywood — sort of a one industry power town in both places. Affleck told us that during his research about being a Congressman, he wanted to meet one and went over to the Capitol. Pretty soon, the whole Democratic leadership had assembled to meet him. I suggested that they were checking him out as a (future) candidate as much as he was kicking their tires.
Affleck is an Obama guy — though he said he did campaign for Hillary Clinton in her Senate race.
Affleck asked us what the “state of play” between Obama and Clinton was — and without putting words in any of the mouths of some of DC’s top pundits — the group split between the likelihood of an Obama or Clinton victory. A number thought that Obama would eventually win, but it would take some time. The others said that the Clintons would prevail. One person cynically said that “the Clintons would steal it from him.” Another said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time and the next month would be brutal for him.
In any case, it was a fun day — Hollywood meets DC’s political scene. I was wedged between two of the “speakers” in the film, one of whom is Russell Crowe’s “dialect coach” — Judith Dickerson.
Russell Crowe is playing a ruffled, frustrated journalist originally from Pittsburgh — and has to sound like it.
Margaret Carlson then chimed in to Judith Dickerson that before the Pennsylvania primary, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama needed her services.
— Steve Clemons