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Cathy's World: James Woods as 'Rudy'

By CATHERINE SEIPP   |   March 26, 2003 at 10:23 AM
LOS ANGELES, March 26 (UPI) -- I consider "Rudy," the new TV movie premiering Sunday on the USA Network and starring James Woods as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, something of an antidote to this past Sunday's Oscars. Which, God knows, need an antidote. But more about "Rudy" in a minute.

Call me congenitally irritable, but couldn't SOMEONE at the Oscars -- that annual festival of thank yous -- have spared one quick thanks for the troops? They are the ones, after all, who keep this country safe for (among other things) such enjoyably silly evenings.

And no, words of "support" for the troops, or wishing they come home "real soon" (in Best Actor winner Adrien Brody's sweet but missing-the-mark words), doesn't quite hack it.

This constant, public wish that the troops would come home is, at this point, rather like someone who stands on the sidelines as firemen rush into a burning building and yells at them to turn around.

he New York Daily News's Rush & Molloy did report that Brittany Murphy, who co-starred with Eminem in "8 Mile" and is the wonderfully dopey voice of sexy Luanne on Fox's "King of the Hill," said "Thank you to the troops and their families. ... Semper Fi!" at one of the post-Oscars parties. But that was a long way from the podium.

A more typical festive celebrity moment came when Tim Robbins, who along with mate Susan Sarandon is prominently against the war in Iraq, gave The Washington Post's Lloyd Grove what for after the Academy Awards ceremony.

The actor was angry that Grove had dared to interview Sarandon's mother, who in contrast to her daughter is a conservative Republican. "If you ever write about my family again ... I will (bleeping) hurt you!" Grove reported Robbins yelling. Hey, Tim, give peace a chance!

And then, of course, there was Best Documentary winner Michael Moore, who used his acceptance speech to rail against President Bush's "terrorism" in Iraq and "the fictition" of duct tape. This may well edge out Fred Durst's expressed hope at the Grammys that "we're all in agreeance" for the Weirdest Words Against the War prize.

Moore may have been roundly booed by stagehands (as well as a few members of the audience), by the way, but it's worth noting that he got a standing ovation in the pressroom.

As superblogger Glenn Reynolds has taken to remarking on his Instapundit site lately, "Oh, THAT liberal bias."

"I thought of all the Americans who complain about a 'liberal bias' in the U.S. media," Emmanuelle Richard, a French journalist friend of mine who was in the Oscars pressroom, wrote the next day on her own blog. "It seemed pretty clear last night."

Still, include me out of the yearly tsk-tsking at Hollywood's yearly celebration of hometown vulgarity. Anything that ticks off the Islamofascists -- and an evening of half-naked women is probably fairly high on the list -- is fine by me.

Let's not forget that if the more colorful mullahs had their way, Adrien Brody's gleeful smooching of Halle Berry (a married woman) would end up with Barry being stoned in the public square for adultery.

Anyway, there are a few dissenters from Hollywood's general tone of self-congratulatory moral rectitude. One is actor James Woods, who plays Rudy Giuliani in Sunday's "Rudy."

Woods, you may recall, was an inadvertent witness to one of the dress rehearsals for Sept. 11, 2001, which led to the situation we are in now. The actor reported suspicious behavior about some fellow passengers -- who evidently were doing a dry run -- to a flight attendant and co-pilot, and later identified two of them as two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

I asked Woods at the USA Network news conference about how his politics compare with Rudy Giuliani's. At first he was rather wary.

"I don't know why anybody would be interested in my politics," he said somewhat irritably. "I'm an actor. I'm not running for anything."

But Woods isn't averse to an argument. He recently called in to a Fox radio show to argue with "The Agency" star David Clennon, who'd been comparing the U.S.'s current policies to Nazi Germany.

Woods, who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on scholarship (he majored in political science) and is the son of a U.S. Army intelligence officer, quoted 19th-Century Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz to back up his point.

Discussing Clausewitz -- who warned against wasting time in warfare and argued that the best defense is a strong offense -- with the peace-in-our-time crowd may be like trying to explain algebra to a monkey, but at least Woods gave it a try.

And it didn't take long for him to warm to the topic of politics at the USA Network news conference, even though he knew the crowd wouldn't be with him.

"Let's face it," he noted, looking out at the audience of journalists. "Ninety-eight percent of you voted for Clinton and the other 2 percent voted for Ralph Nader, probably."

Woods had script approval with "Rudy," and he exercised it, noting that when he took the project his mother told him, "Don't let them screw this up." When he read an early version of the script, he noticed that on page five the word "village idiot" was used in connection with the White House.

"I put down the script, I called my agent, and I said, 'This script is not approved,'" Woods recalled. "He said, 'Well, you've only been reading it 30 seconds.' I said, 'That's all I needed.' I'm not going to do a script where someone is using the words village idiot about anybody at the White House during 9/11. It's ridiculous.

"The joke on the set always was that I was a sort of terrier wrangling all these liberal sheep," Woods said. "It's like I was dealing with the Rosa Luxembourg brigade," he added, referring to the socialist campaigner.

The actor observed at the news conference that "Rudy's" director, Robert Dornhelm, was wearing a red tie that day. "Big clue," Woods joked. "But I almost made him a true (Rudy) believer. The farthest he got was, 'I like Rudy when you play him.'"

"In our business, we don't get it," Woods added. "I drove cross-country four times this year. I like to drive, and I like to meet people. And if you go east of San Bernadino and west of the George Washington Bridge, people think completely differently. It's really amazing how out of touch our business is, and, quite frankly, your business is."

The moral seriousness of Rudy Giuliani, flawed though he often was, stands in stark contrast to the silliness spilling out into the streets now like a thousand clowns out of a Volkswagen. The day I watched my preview tape of "Rudy," I also watched on the news anti-war protesters trying to shut down various U.S. cities.

One of them -- and for some reason I can't get this particular idiotic image out of my mind -- actually began skipping, beer belly bouncing, as the police led him away.

"Rudy" opens with Giuliani apparently about to enter the wilderness that his hero, Winston Churchill, had wandered in for 10 years before the beginning of World War II. Rudy's marriage was breaking up in a public and embarrassing way, he'd had to drop out of the U.S. Senate race because of his recently diagnosed prostate cancer and many New Yorkers casually referred to their law-and-order mayor as a fascist.

But then came Sept. 11, and it turned out that Rudy's obsession with public decency was the logical policy of a man who was himself decent to the core.

His famous tactlessness can be seen, in hindsight, as a simple (if unfashionable) willingness to spit in the bad guys' eyes.

"Say hello to Fat Tony for me! Tell him I'll see him in the slammer!" the film shows Guiliani shouting to a couple of goombahs, while cleaning up at the Fulton Fish Market during his federal prosecutor days.

USA Network decided at the last minute to cut a quick shot of a body falling from one of the Twin Towers, deeming it too upsetting. That's too bad, because the image -- followed by Woods as Rudy covering his face with his hand in horror -- worked as a brief but effective reminder of the human disaster New York's mayor had to face.

Considering the current concern with civilian casualties in Iraq, plus the evidently short memories of so many people right now, maybe we need a reminder of those 3,000-plus civilian casualties we had on U.S. soil not so very long ago.

And speaking of war and violence, Woods reminded us of something else.

"I lived in New York under (Democratic Mayor) David Dinkins, and it was like living in a war zone," Woods said.

"There's virtually nothing about Rudy Giuliani that I don't unequivocally admire," he added. "Certainly his level of genuine human compassion was captured after 9/11. I mean, he went to 200 funerals. Sen. (Hillary) Clinton went to zero. He's a great man, warts and all."

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