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'Gods and Generals' -- and Congress

Lawmakers enjoy cameo roles in Civil War film

By Sean Loughlin and Robert Yoon
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. Robert Byrd, in costume, as a Confederate general.
Sen. Robert Byrd, in costume, as a Confederate general.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When the movie "Gods and Generals" opened Friday, a few lawmakers had more than a passing interest in the Civil War film: They're in it.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, George Allen, R-Virginia and Reps. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts and Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, as well as former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, are history buffs and they were eager to leave the political stage, if only briefly, for the hot lights of Hollywood.

None of the men are likely to give stars Robert Duvall or Stephen Lang any competition, but they enjoyed their cameo roles.

"This was an opportunity to participate in making history come alive," said Byrd, a political orator who likes to sprinkle his speeches on the Senate floor with historical anecdotes and references.

Sen. George Allen, with his son Forrest, in their costumes from the movie
Sen. George Allen, with his son Forrest, in their costumes from the movie "Gods and Generals."

Byrd appeared as a Confederate general, Allen a Confederate officer and Gramm, a Virginia delegate to the 1861 succession convention. Markey and Rohrabacher portrayed Union officers.

The images of the men in their historical costumes were also captured by a still photographer who specializes in the Civil War-era "wet plate" photography. Rob Gibson, who operates a studio in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was hired by Ted Turner Pictures, which produced the movie, during the shooting of the film in 2001 in Virginia and Maryland.

Gibson said he enjoyed the opportunity to help recreate a slice of this country's past, and thinks the lawmakers were tickled by the whole experience.

"Those guys ate it up," he said. "They loved it. These are guys who are so serious all the time. I mean, their work is serious. Something like this, it was a big kick for them."

Still, Byrd said he was keeping the experience in perspective.

"I haven't hired an agent and don't expect to be changing my day job anytime soon," Byrd said.

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