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Prolific producer Jerry Weintraub wants TV viewers to meet his dear friend, who just happens to be the 41st president of the United States.
The Hollywood veteran is teaming with HBO for 41, an in-depth look at the life of George H.W. Bush that the premium cable network will bow two days after the former commander-in-chief’s 88th birthday in June.
The project marks Weintraub’s latest endeavor with HBO and comes six months after it picked up Behind the Candelabra, a biopic on the life of Liberace starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Weintraub — who last year was the subject of a documentary, His Way, on HBO — to get his thoughts on Hollywood and politics and discuss why the time is right for 41 and why he wouldn’t tackle a project on George W. Bush.
THR: Why now for 41?
Jerry Weintraub: George Bush is a very dear friend of mine, which I’m honored to be able to say; we’re very close and have been for 45 years. I have a home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and I knew him before he was in politics. He’s a man whom I adore, honor and respect, and I wanted to do something that was about him and not political, because this is part of his legacy. He’s a great family man, a very philanthropic guy and a beautiful man, and I wanted the world to hear that without politics involved.
After spending so much time with Bush, what about the project surprised you?
The story is really told well. People who are Democrats are going to love it; people who are Republicans are going to love it; and people who don’t care about politics are going to love it. He’s seen it, and I know he loves it. I’m showing the film at his birthday party in June, and I know he’s excited about it, and that excites me.
Are there other political documentaries you’ve liked?
The one about me I thought was great (laughs).
What did you think about HBO’s Game Change?
I loved it, I thought it was fantastic. Julianne Moore was brilliant, and Jay Roach did a magnificent job with it. It’s a great film.
What about the Sarah Palin doc The Undefeated?
I never saw it.
Would you consider making a documentary about George W. Bush?
No. I don’t have time to do that. I would advise him to wait; his father is 88, it’s a little different doing a documentary on a president that’s been out of office for 30 years and a president who is only recently out of office. I don’t think there should be a documentary really on W at this point. I think history has to have a chance to digest the work that the president — or anybody — has done. People have asked me to write a book for years, and I kept saying to them, “I’m not finished yet.” I’m still not finished, and I’m writing my second book now. It took me 70 years to have enough background to have a book or a reason to have a book, and that’s why it was so successful and that’s why the movie was so successful: There was a wealth of material. It’s not time for George W; you can’t digest his life yet.
What do you think about Hollywood’s support for Obama right now?
Politics is a very interesting subject, and people should support whom they like and whom they think can help the country. My friend George Clooney is making a big dinner for him, and I hope it’s a huge success. I hope the whole city supports whomever they want to support. I think it’s very good to be involved in politics. And I’m not telling you whether I’m going to the dinner, and I’m not telling you whom I support (laughs).
We’ve seen some interesting presidential parodies lately with a white actor on Saturday Night Live portraying Obama. What do you think about that?
I think it’s great. We’ve always had parodies about our political leaders — and everybody else for that matter. Comedy is wonderful, and anybody who can’t take it should get out of the kitchen.
Damon recently made a comment saying that a “one-term president with balls would have been better than Obama.” What do you think about Damon’s remarks? Do actors have the right to pass judgment?
I think Matt Damon is a great guy; he’s a very close friend and like one of my kids. I think he has a constitutional right to say anything he wants to say. Just because he’s an actor doesn’t mean he can’t say what he feels. He should say what he feels.
41 premieres at 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, with multiple repeats scheduled throughout the month on HBO. Will you watch?
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