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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 portrayal.

"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 trouble."

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.


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