Politics pervades 'Primary Colors' on-screen and off
March 18, 1998
Web posted at: 11:07 a.m. EST (1607 GMT)
From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- While this week's re-release of "Grease"
showcases the dancing talents of John Travolta, the actor has
moved on to political fare -- and some controversy -- with
his newest movie, "Primary Colors."
The movie, a fictional, albeit thinly veiled look at
then-Gov. Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, is based on
the best-selling novel of the same name. Furor over the
novel cost its "Anonymous" author, Joe Klein, his post as a
Newsweek political columnist, and earned him a reprimand from
the publication for falsely denying that he penned it.
The book proved so popular that Klein was nearly able to
handpick the film's cast and crew. The film version stars
Travolta as Gov. Jack Stanton, a doughnut-eating,
mama-loving, Southern charmer whose womanizing threatens to
bring him down. (Klein originally hoped to get Tom Hanks for
the part, but he turned it down.)
Emma Thompson is his wife Susan, her husband's staunchest
supporter and harshest critic.
Travolta notes that he isn't exactly playing Clinton.
"We always intended to make a film and a movie and an
entertainment piece, and it never was to directly reflect
adversely or otherwise to the first family," Travolta said.
But the fact that the actor's views on Scientology were
presented by Clinton at an education summit has made some ask
whether Travolta is playing to Clinton.
Travolta says the Scientology presentation did not affect his
"I never spoke to him about the movie, ever," he said. "As a
matter of fact, the movie was finished by the time I spoke to
him about Scientology."
The film was also finished before the Monica Lewinsky
scandal, and before Kathleen Willey made her allegations of
inappropriate sexual advances by the president.
"I would hate for people to just say, 'Oh, it's about, you
know, the scandal, because it isn't about that. It isn't even
about that time," said Kathy Bates, who plays White House
troubleshooter Libby Holden. "It just has timed out with the
coming of this particular film coming out right now with all
that's been going on."
While Travolta said his ties to the White House didn't affect
his portrayal of his "Primary Colors" character, Billy Bob
Thornton, who plays a James Carville-type spin doctor --
similar to the Democratic strategist -- did get the
president's approval before taking the part. He and director
Mike Nichols are considered friends of the Clintons.
He echoes the views of many cast and crew members who say
they simply don't care about Clinton's sex scandals.
"I wouldn't care if the president was involved in bestiality,
if he runs the country right," Thornton said.
Emma Thompson said much the same.
"I think it's a perfectly reasonable thing to be fascinated
by -- I mean, people's sexual lives are and always will be
much more interesting than anything about them, it's a
given," she said. "But if we allow that to get in the way of
our political choices, I think we're getting into real
Now the fate of the film depends on whether moviegoers can
muster interest in the events of 1992, when there is so much
drama in the news of the day.