Actors and Their Political Views
Recently, the political blogosphere went ballistic over an op-ed piece written by academy award winning actor Jon Voight. The article written July 28th in the conservative Washington Times took a harsh, critical view of Democratic presidential nominee Barrack Obama. I mean who knew Mr. Voight was a raving mad conservative? At least he’s not foaming at the mouth yet, or maybe he is if you read what various bloggers have written about him. This whole brouhaha came to my attention through the highly regarded Politico website in a story by Jeffrey Wells. Apparently, Voight’s editorial stepped on a few toes in Hollywood. The ensuing uproar reached such a crescendo that the b word was mentioned by at least one influential blogger. Yep that’s right – blacklisted. Of course we are approaching the 61st anniversary of the ultimate Hollywood blacklist which began with the “Hollywood Ten”. That led to the inability of many talented directors, actors, and writers to find work in the Hollywood film industry due to supposed Communist ties and affiliations. And while the current uproar pales in comparison to that tragic period in American history, it is no less insidious. Today, bloggers have an inordinate amount of influence over decision makers in the world of politics and entertainment. They shape opinion and make and break careers.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because someone of Mr. Voight’s stature and talent can be torn down in an instant due to a particular political stance or posture. I had the pleasure of working with Jon Voight a decade ago in a film called Varsity Blues. Since my role was minimal, I had the opportunity to observe first hand this immense talent. And while playing the role of an autocratic high school football coach was not his greatest, it none the less offered me invaluable lessons on acting that years of classes failed to provide. I was watching one of the greatest actors of our time and I was getting paid to do it. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
But more important than any acting lesson Voight could impart to me was the example of how an actor should comport him or herself on the set of a movie. Day in and day out, I saw nothing but the utmost professionalism, punctuality, preparedness, graciousness, respect, and kindness exhibited by Mr. Voight. I saw him take an interest in and advise the younger actors on the set. He had a kind word for all – even for the occasional redneck hillbilly who would wander onto the set. (Where’s security when you need them?) He would always sign autographs and pose for pictures long after his scenes were filmed. To me, that’s the sort of actor you want on the set of your film regardless of his or her political view. As far as I know politics didn’t rear its ugly head on the set of Varsity Blues.
I certainly don’t agree with everything Mr. Voight had to say in his editorial. And while I haven’t fallen under the spell of Obama mania, I haven’t exactly been drinking that funny Kool-Aid they seem to be drinking on McCain’s Cheap Talk Express either. The problem as I see it is we have too few candidates (it appears again that third party candidates like Ralph Nader and Bob Barr will be ignored by the mainstream media) and too many members of the commentariat and punditocracy. But having said that, Voight is still entitled to his views and he shouldn’t be punished for them. Today it’s Jon Voight; tomorrow it might be your favorite actor or actress.
While it is assumed Hollywood tilts to the left in its politics, in the past it has always been more concerned about bad behavior, scandal, and outrageous demands. Controversial director Oliver Stone’s upcoming overt political film about the current president, W, was apparently filmed in a workmanlike fashion with little or no political diatribes bandied about on the set which could have very easily wrecked that production. In Mark Harris’s excellent book, Pictures At A Revolution, the five films nominated for the 1967 Academy Awards are examined in detail. Warren Beatty’s quest for perfection on the set of Bonnie and Clyde (Beatty relented to the directorship of Arthur Penn only if Penn agreed to an argument each day of production!) and the petulant, inebriated, unstable behavior of Doctor Dolittle star Rex Harrison are related in jarring fashion. The frail condition of Spencer Tracy led to delays and distractions on the production of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. It’s a miracle these great films were ever completed. A more recent example of distraction and dissension on the set of a film is Tom Cruise’s antics on behalf of Scientology during the filming of the War Of The Worlds. After all, these are the kinds of things that will sink a project; not someone’s thoughts on whether Obama will usher in “a new age of socialism” or a repudiation of one’s Vietnam War protests as in Jon Voight’s case.
Hopefully this silly season will pass and rational minds will prevail. Now approaching 70, Jon Voight is entering the twilight of his career. The man who gave us such memorable performances in the films Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Coming Home (for which he won an Oscar), and Runaway Train, just to name a few, still has a lot to offer. He shouldn’t be blacklisted for political beliefs and perhaps more importantly shouldn’t be remembered solely for being the estranged father of Angelina Jolie. He deserves better and we do too. Let the man do what he does best – act.