Rod Lurie wasn’t an obvious candidate to helm “Killing Reagan,” the latest adaptation from Bill O’Reilly’s line of history books.
The force behind the political dramas “The Contender” and “Nothing But the Truth” is a liberal, and being a hired gun for National Geographic Channel after directing Robert Redford (“The Last Castle”) and Kate Beckinsale wasn’t necessarily in the cards. But the chance to introduce Ronald Reagan to a new generation — and get back on the Hollywood radar after a high-profile bomb — drew him in.
Q: I’m dying to get your take on the current presidential race.
A: One of the reasons I think we’re going to be a huge hit is that Donald Trump is making Democrats nostalgic for Ronald Reagan. I find Trump to be the very essence of the ugly American. I disagree with almost everything Reagan stood for, but when he took a bullet, he took it like a man. Remember when Trump was on stage and the Secret Service jumped up to protect him? Trump behaved like a little girl. When Reagan was shot, he tried to comfort the nation with banter and jokes, insisting he walk out of the hospital rather than being carried out.
Q: Republican candidates usually evoke Reagan’s name. Trump hasn’t done it much. Is the Reagan aura fading?
A: When I was shooting this film in Atlanta, I was carrying books around about him, and I found it rather shocking that waitresses didn’t know much about him or the assassination attempt. They didn’t know John Hinckley or even Jodie Foster. A part of making this film is bringing history to light.
Q: Tim Matheson and Cynthia Nixon, who play Ronald and Nancy Reagan, avoid looking like they’re in an “SNL” sketch. How much did you guys talk about staying away from broad strokes?
A: My mentor was John Frankenheimer. Have you seen his “Path to War”? Michael Gambon is brilliant. He found two or three things to replicate from LBJ and did it perfectly. That’s all you need. Tim picked up on the way Reagan breathed within his sentences. That was key.
Q: You are connected with political dramas. Is that OK with you?
A: I am. I’ll never make as much money as I could if I were doing Marvel comic movies, but this stuff is very engaging to me. My dad was a political cartoonist. I used to watch Primary Tuesday the way other kids watched baseball. I didn’t chase this movie. It was offered to me.
I’ll be straightforward with you. I made a film a few years ago called “Straw Dogs.” For the most part it got good reviews, but it didn’t make any money, and it destroyed me. Nobody was answering my calls anymore. Now I finally got this.
Q: You created “Commander in Chief,” with Geena Davis as president. I heard you left because the pace of TV was too demanding.
A: No, no, no. I was fired. They had Stephen Bochco [“NYPD Blue”] on contract and I got a call saying they were going to replace me. I had made the most feminist show of all time, and they hired a guy who is a masochist.
Q: Will you take credit if Hillary Clinton is elected president?
A: At the time, I would have said no. But now I’m going to say yes. Please let your readers know I’m making a joke.