'Get Me Roger Stone' Director Reflects on His Subject, a "Malevolent Forrest Gump"
"Whenever something dark and sinister is happening in our politics, Roger is inevitably lurking in the shadows," says Morgan Pehme.
Roger Stone hasn’t yet watched Get Me Roger Stone. The titular subject of Morgan Pehme, Daniel DiMauro and Dylan Bank’s new Netflix documentary will screen the film when it makes its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23.
Never mind Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway. When it comes to assigning credit (or blame) for Donald Trump’s improbable ascent to the presidency, look no further than Stone, a longtime political operative known for engineering scandals and embracing dirty tricks. A political prodigy, Stone dropped out of college to become a confidante of President Richard Nixon and was the youngest person called before the Watergate Grand Jury at the age of 19.
“Jeffrey Toobin says in our movie, ‘He is this malevolent Forrest Gump.’ Whenever something dark and sinister is happening in our politics, Roger is inevitably lurking in the shadows,” Pehme tells THR. “That’s what we thought would make him a really intriguing character for a documentary, and we’re happy to say that he never disappointed us over our many years following him.”
Get Me Roger Stone, which will debut on Netflix on May 12, offers a window into the surreal 2016 election, as well as the psyche of Stone, an outlandish figure who now finds himself at the center of FBI's investigation into possible contacts between Trump campaign operatives and Russian agents (Stone told THR that he welcomes the chance to testify before Congress).
The Stone-Trump union dates back to the 1980s, when the former first urged the latter to consider running for political office. To this day, “nobody is closer to Trump from a political standpoint than Roger,” says Pehme. “Roger saw something in Trump before anybody did. Trump trusts so few people that Roger is still one of the people that he will always turn to for a candid appraisal of anything that he wants Roger to weigh in on.”
But when the Pehme and his fellow directors started filming in 2011, they had no idea how their narrative would culminate in 2016. Among the highlights/lowlights, Stone was behind the scorched-earth policy that eliminated Republican hopefuls Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz in the bake-off for top of the Republican ticket and pushed damaging stories about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Over the five-plus years, Pehme shot hundreds of hours of footage with Stone and conducted dozens of interviews. His ultimate take on Stone is complicated. “Roger is an enormously complex person,” he says. “He is extremely charming and thoughtful and learned, and he is also somebody who has done some absolutely appalling things throughout his career and had a profound impact upon the country. We’ve always tried to separate out our personal feelings about him from our study of him as a subject.”
Wherever Stone goes, drama often follows. In January, he said he survived what he believes was an attempt when he was poisoned with polonium.
“I feel like with Roger, the phrase ‘grain of salt’ is something you should have handy at all times,” the film’s executive producer Blair Foster says with a laugh.
Adds DiMauro: "Roger knows what he’s doing in the sense that his embrace of infamy lends itself to allowing liberal writers, or in this case liberal filmmakers, to profile him. This approach that 'no press is bad press' comes directly from his mentor Roy Cohn. Exposure, either negative or positive, increases his brand -- it adds to the legend of Roger Stone and how he’s made a place for himself in the annals of our political history."
In March, Stone says he withstood another attempt when a car with tinted windows came out of nowhere from a side street and T-boned his car as he drove to a book signing event in Florida. Stone’s car was totaled.
“Roger knows how to mythologize his own life, and he understands that outrageousness is the way to stay in the public eye,” says Pehme. “To be frank, when I first read about the car accident, I thought it was total bullshit. Then a reporter I know actually sent me the police report and then I was like, ‘OK, maybe it makes it a little bit more credible.’”
As for how Stone will respond to Get Me Roger Stone, Pehme thinks the agent provocateur will be pleased. After all, Stone has long embraced “this vile reputation,” a rarity in the world of politics, where people try to paper over their misdeeds.
“Many times, over the years when we were making this movie, Roger made it very clear to us, perhaps half jokingly, that our lives would be in danger if he didn’t like how the movie turned out,” Pehme says. “If we turn up dead in some mysterious car accident before May 12, your readers should know that it wasn’t an accident.”
“I'm sure there will be things in the documentary I like, and I'm sure there will be things in the documentary I don't like,” Stone told THR. “I have two tickets. I'll bring libel lawyer with me for the other ticket.”