During the production of the romantic comedy ‚ÄúDave,‚ÄĚ which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Monday, director Ivan Reitman would frequently drop by the editing room to see what editor Sheldon Kahn had assembled.
Reitman had watched about two-thirds of the movie when he realized one scene didn‚Äôt work ‚ÄĒ when Dave (Kevin Kline), a good-natured employment agency owner hired to impersonate the officious President Bill Mitchell after the POTUS suffered a stroke, and the no-nonsense First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) return to the White House after sneaking out.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt buy that Sigourney and Dave bonded when they went back into the White House,‚ÄĚ Reitman said. ‚ÄúIt was just that they snuck out and they talked a bit and then they snuck back. It didn‚Äôt feel that they had earned each other‚Äôs trust. It was just a movie movement instead of an earned movie moment.‚ÄĚ
So they turned it into one of the most charming and funny movie moments in the classic. The film was doing some location shooting in Washington, D.C., when Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross started discussing the two characters being stopped by traffic cops. ‚ÄúThey look like the real things and they are the real things.‚ÄĚ But the two tell the cops they are impersonators and break out into ‚ÄúTomorrow‚ÄĚ from the musical ‚ÄúAnnie.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe just sort of squeezed in an extra day of shooting there,‚ÄĚ noted Reitman. ‚ÄúI remember standing ‚ÄĒ it was around 5 p.m. in the evening. It was getting dark and we were getting ready to shoot the scene and we thought, ‚ÄėTomorrow‚Äô would be a perfect song to sing. It‚Äôs the kind of thing that so-called presidential impersonators could do.‚ÄĚ
But they didn‚Äôt have the rights to the song. Ray Stark, who produced the 1982 film version, owned the rights. ‚ÄúSo somehow I got Ray Stark on the telephone. I knew him. I said we‚Äôre not making fun of the song. I explained to him in three seconds what the scene was. He said, ‚ÄėOkay, but you‚Äôre going to owe me, kid.‚Äô It was his favorite line.‚ÄĚ
After the film was released, Kline recalled being a passenger in a car with someone who was speeding when two police cars were on the median. Of course, they were pulled over.
The cop recognized him as the star of ‚ÄúDave‚ÄĚ and asked him, ‚Äú‚ÄėWhy did you tell the cop who stopped you [you were impersonators]? Why didn‚Äôt you say who you were?‚Äô He said, ‚ÄėWell, I quite agree with you. It makes no sense, but it‚Äôs much more fun to have Sigourney sing ‚ÄėTomorrow.‚Äô‚Äô Anyway, my friend did not get a ticket!‚ÄĚ
Even a quarter of a century after its release, Kline is constantly being stopped on the street by people who tell him how much they love the film. ‚ÄúSome people just call me Dave,‚ÄĚ he quipped.
He recalled walking down the Fifth Avenue during George W. Bush‚Äôs presidency when the POTUS was visiting. ‚ÄúThere was a police escort,‚ÄĚ Kline said. ‚ÄúI was just looking, and someone said, ‚ÄėI wish it was you. Why didn‚Äôt you run?‚Äô‚Äô
Former President Barack Obama once told Kline ‚Äú‚ÄėI love ‚ÄėDave.‚Äô I love watching it when I‚Äôm depressed because you make it look so fun, you make it so easy.‚Äô I think if our current president saw the movie, he‚Äôd be rooting for [President Mitchell].‚ÄĚ
Though the basic plot of a lookalike taking over for someone official isn‚Äôt anything new ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs appeared in everything from ‚ÄúPrisoner of Zenda‚ÄĚ to Paul Mazursky‚Äôs 1998‚Äôs ‚ÄúMoon Over Parador‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Ross found ‚ÄúDave‚ÄĚ difficult to write. In fact, Ross, who earned an Oscar nomination for ‚ÄúDave,‚ÄĚ had to ditch his first draft for the film and start over from scratch.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a deceptively hard movie,‚ÄĚ he said in an e-mail interview. ‚ÄúMainly because the premise is so preposterous. Everyone knows the language of politics and the optics of politics ‚ÄĒ they see it every day in the media. So, it‚Äôs very hard to make a fairy tale real when its set against contemporary politics.‚ÄĚ
That‚Äôs one reason there were several cameos in the film ‚ÄĒ including the late Tip O‚ÄôNeill and Paul Simon ‚ÄĒ and journalists John McLaughlin and Chris Matthews of ‚ÄúHardball‚ÄĚ were important for the film to succeed.
Reitman, he noted, ‚Äúdeputized me to go to Washington and round up as many [cameos] as I could. So Warner Bros. printed me some business cards with their log on it and I hit the White House Correspondents‚Äô dinner trying to round up cameos. The cameos provided ‚Äėverisimilitude,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Ross said. ‚ÄúBut I also had backed off the political point of view I had in the first draft. I tried to make it too neutral politically. When I committed to Dave‚Äôs character owning an employment agency and trying to help people get jobs, the script got much easier to write.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDave,‚ÄĚ said Ross, is both a comedy and a political film. ‚ÄúThat said, I think it examines the tensions between innocence and corruption, but I suppose that‚Äôs present in a lot of my films.‚ÄĚ
If Dave is the epitome of goodness and innocence, Frank Langella‚Äôs Iago-esque White House chief of staff Bob Alexander is the embodiment of everything evil and corrupt in government. Though Kevin Dunn‚Äôs communications director Alan Reed may not be in the same league as Alexander, he still is in cahoots with the chief of staff.
‚ÄúI can‚Äôt say enough about how well Frank Langella played that part,‚ÄĚ said Matthews, who is a friend of Ross‚Äô. ‚ÄúThe way he came in organized and set up his press conference. The way he threw his notebook, his binder on the lectern. Complete confidence. This is his world. He owns his world. Totally at ease in his surroundings and a command of them and used to calling the shots, even with a president around.‚ÄĚ
Matthews believes there is a lot of the late Barbara Bush in Weaver‚Äôs Ellen Mitchell. ‚ÄúWell, look at her, she‚Äôs a very confident woman. Very confident socially. There‚Äôs a part of Trump that is Dave, too. He‚Äôs so ill-prepared and he‚Äôs almost an imposter in and of himself.‚ÄĚ
Still, Matthews added, ‚ÄúI do think the idea of this movie is that a good person can be a good president.‚ÄĚ
Dunn‚Äôs son was born during the film. And he laughed when he noted that Ivan told him jokingly, ‚ÄúTell you wife to have the baby on a Saturday.‚ÄĚ So, she did. Both Dunn and Reitman feel ‚ÄúDave‚ÄĚ would be a far different film if was made in today‚Äôs political climate
‚ÄúI think the political spectrum is so tarnished,‚ÄĚ Dunn said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no dignity to anybody. Everybody kind of falls for it. It‚Äôs not confined to Trump. Everyone‚Äôs just kind of sunk to his game.‚ÄĚ
Reitman purposely put ‚Äúan innocence‚ÄĚ into the film ‚Äúas a way of trying to capture the kind of thing that Frank Capra did in his day for this period, which is really the 90s. It‚Äôs amazing how the world has shifted out of it. It‚Äôs much more cynical and an almost impossible place.‚ÄĚ
Though it‚Äôs hard to envision anyone else but Kline in the film, it was actually Warren Beatty who brought Reitman the project. After working with Beatty and Ross on the script, Reitman told Warner Bros. he thought it would be a great movie.
‚ÄúThey were about to make the deal and they said, ‚ÄėWe‚Äôd rather just do the movie with you, but not Warren.‚Äô I said, ‚ÄėI can‚Äôt do that. Warren was the one that sent it to me.‚Äô I actually walked away from the movie for about four months.‚ÄĚ
The studio eventually called him and said they were going make a deal with Beatty.
‚ÄúSo they made a deal with me and then Warren in his own inimitable way wouldn‚Äôt make a deal or they wouldn‚Äôt come to terms.‚ÄĚ
Because he didn‚Äôt respond, Reitman decided to try to get someone else. Beatty, ‚Äúwas very pissed at me for a while, although we‚Äôre friendly now. Then of course, I couldn‚Äôt get anybody to say yes.‚ÄĚ Including Kevin Costner.
Kline also turned down the piece because he thought they wanted him to repeat his Oscar-winning role of the wacky munitions expert in 1988‚Äôs ‚ÄúA Fish Called Wanda.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI thought he was casting me for all the wrong reasons,‚ÄĚ Kline said. ‚ÄúBut when we spoke, I knew in 30 seconds he wanted something totally different. We were absolutely on the same page about what it should be because it‚Äôs not a farce. It‚Äôs very delicate sort of romantic comedy.‚ÄĚ
Still, Dunn said, ‚Äúthere was a chance for slapstick comedy in every scene. Everybody was game.‚ÄĚ
And, Dunn added, the cast and crew would always try to figure out when Kline would do a pratfall.
‚ÄúWhat happened was at rehearsals I was sort of overdoing it a bit when I first sat down in the chair in the Oval Office. And [the chair] falls over. Then Ivan encouraged me to find other places [for pratfalls]. Ivan was wonderful in the way he would let us play and improvise, ad-lib whatever, and just be spontaneous without adhering to the script.‚ÄĚ
Reitman, Kline explained, ‚Äúedited the film to make it as real as possible and not too silly ‚ÄĒ that perfect balance of comedy and romance against the most cynical background imaginable.‚ÄĚ
At the film‚Äôs conclusion, Dave is reunited with Ellen and is running for city council.
Would he be a senator now? A governor?
‚ÄúI think he‚Äôs the president by now,‚ÄĚ offered Kline. ‚ÄúCertainly.‚ÄĚ
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