“What difference does it make if it’s true?” : The Oral History of “Wag the Dog”

Twenty-five years after its release on Christmas Day 1997, the political comedy Walk the dog— centered on a fake war concocted to distract attention from a presidential scandal — can’t help but resonate in a world where shifting realities battle daily in the media landscape. “There’s always been a relationship between Hollywood and politics and we wanted to have fun with it,” says Jane Rosenthal, who produced the movie with star Robert de Niro. “But as proud as I am of the movie, it makes me very sad that you can’t even make up some of the shit that’s going on right now.”

With DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, and a wide range of stars and future stars, Walk the dog earned $64 million at the box office worldwide (back when audiences left the house to see this stuff), earned two Oscar nominations, and seemed so prophetic about the scandals of the Clinton administration that news trucks ended up parked in front of the director Barry Levinsonthe House. But it was also a true Hollywood story of behind-the-scenes negotiations, hasty celebrity cameos and, ultimately, controversy over who deserved the credit.

Walk the dog began with the core of a literary concept which was then developed through a process of adaptation and evolved into what many consider to be a completely new take on the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Mamet, only to be explored and improvised with abandon on set. Production was squeezed into a tight 30-day window, resulting in a frantic race to find and deploy all the right pieces for what would become one of the most enduring and biting political satires ever. Hollywood has ever produced.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a more prescient film,” says Hoffman, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance as the eccentric Hollywood producer. “It’s a little crazy.”

Below, in their own words, the cast and crew discuss the experience — and legacy — of Walk the dog, 25 years later.

1. ” What are we going to do ? »

Larry Beinhart (Author, American hero): I was watching the Gulf War on TV and made a joke, “This is a made-for-TV movie.” And I didn’t get the laughs I expected. Suddenly, I felt that I had to expand on it. I don’t think it was fabricated, but I think the Gulf War and all of its elements were very consciously presented as World War 2: the video. Everyone was cast in certain roles. I sat down, I said, “If I wanted to do a satirical, over-the-top version of this, I’d take a fake director like george lucas or Steven Spielberg. How would it have been? And that’s what the book is.

Jane Rosenthal (producer): There were a number of things in the book that appealed to us, but I just liked the idea that Hollywood was going to create a war. Bob and I are always politically inclined. So I sold the book to De Luca at New Line.

Michael De Luca (Former President of Production, New Line Cinema): I thought the book was an ingenious satire. I laughed a lot, even though it can get quite dark sometimes.

Robert De Niro (Producer/“Conrad Brean”): I haven’t really read the novel. I know I should say I did, but I didn’t.

Béinhart: By the time it went through the land and sold, [Bill] clinton was president. With the [Wag the Dog] screenplay, they made a Clintonian version of it. Instead of going out and actually having a war that would please the American people in order to solve domestic political problems, they fabricated the illusion of a war. It was a very fitting update.

Rosenthal: We hired Hilary Henkin to do a draft script. She had written a script for me and Bob called stolen flower and I had always been looking for something else to do with her. His draft was a faithful adaptation of the book.

Hilary Henkin (Scriptwriter): The core of the book was certainly inspiring, but we left out a lot of it at the start. Jane was the ideal producer for this material, as she saw the profound implications of the piece. I remember I had a little postcard with a wonderful line of Citizen Kane“If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.” I think it’s really the epitome. I went to see various imagiers, military, administrative, and I was made to understand very clearly that to control the perception of a war, the images which arrive at the door of the public must be diffused with precaution. But where is the intersection between filming an actual war and using it to your advantage, and just creating those scenes yourself? I remember sitting in front of people saying, “Where do you want your war? We will put your war where you want it. So that’s where my writing took me.

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