It took two days of outrage from the Reagan family and many ordinary Americans, but actor Will Ferrell finally announced Friday that he wasn’t going to star in Reagan, a “comedy” that sought to rewrite history by showing President Reagan slipping into Alzheimer’s during his second term. In the movie, his presidency is saved by an ambitious intern who connives the president into believing “he is an actor playing the president in a movie,” according to Variety magazine.
What critics dubbed “the Alzheimer’s comedy” has been sidelined — at least for a while. But perhaps it’s time for conservatives to fight back against Hollywood’s anti-Gipper prejudice by making sure that a planned big-budget film capturing Reagan’s real essence gets made. More on that below.
But the script for the Reagan movie got farther than you’d think common decency would have allowed. It was written by screenwriter Mike Rosolio and soared to the top of Hollywood’s annual Black List, an unofficial compendium of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. It was so popular that a table reading of the script was scheduled last month in which leftist actress Lena Dunham played Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.
Indeed, historians who have read the declassified transcripts of the talks between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the period between 1985 and 1988 say that a man who articulated such complex and ordered thoughts could not have been suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Hollywood sees no downside to mocking conservatives; it finds it both fun and profitable. Almost any conservative will do, but Reagan is the target the glitterati love most because he is so beloved of the people they so disdain and deprecate. He’s the target whose humiliation will cause his admirers [the] most fury and sadness. . . . Were this movie about anyone but Reagan, it wouldn’t have even been drawn to the attention of a bankable star. But it’s Reagan, so Hollywood couldn’t help itself.
Mark Joseph thinks Hollywood can and will produce a worthy Reagan film. He has been an executive on more than 45 films, including The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. Most recently, he was a producer of Max Rose and The Vessel, starring Jerry Lewis and Martin Sheen respectively.
‘It’s impossible to understand the last century without understanding who Ronald Reagan was.’
Joseph is now close to completing full financing of a big-budget retelling of Reagan’s life as seen through the eyes of Victor Petrovich, a KGB agent who is assigned to monitor Reagan’s career from the 1940s through the 1980s. Petrovich repeatedly warns his superiors that Reagan is an underappreciated danger to the Soviet Empire, but they largely ignore him. Joseph will soon announce an Oscar-winning director to helm Reagan: The Movie, and although the actor who will play the adult Reagan hasn’t been announced, last year Disney star David Henrie was cast to play Reagan as a teenager.
“The story of Reagan is a fascinating one whatever one’s politics,” Joseph told me. “We came at it from the angle of wondering what his enemies thought of him and how they followed him and ultimately lost to him. Nobody knew him like his enemies did — and it’s through that lens that we tell the story. It’s impossible to understand the last century without understanding who Ronald Reagan was.”
Joseph has consulted with or interviewed 50 of Reagan’s aides and intimates. (You can find out more about the project at reaganmovie.com.)
Despite the success of his presidency, Reagan’s reputation is under continued assault. Even before he died, CBS gave a green light to a vicious 2003 movie that disparaged him. (After protests, it was shunted to the CBS-owned cable channel Showtime.) Now, only weeks after Nancy Reagan’s passing comes the Will Ferrell debacle. It’s time for a movie that gives the Gipper his due and tells his heroic story in an honest, truthful way that the Hollywood elites will have trouble refuting in future years.
— John Fund is National Review Online’s national-affairs correspondent.