Given all the buzz about “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” it’s really no surprise that one rumor had persisted: that President Obama was considering a cameo in the movie.
The rumor sounded compelling: The film, based on a Post article by our colleague Wil Haygood and largely set during the years of the civil rights movement, chronicles the story of a White House butler (played by Forest Whitaker) who served eight presidents. The White House helped with research for the movie; the first family has close ties to producer Harvey Weinstein and co-star Oprah Winfrey; and the story ends with the butler marveling at the election of the first African American president.
Conservative blogger Matt Drudge tweeted Sunday: “Obama rare unpredictable move: Turned down cameo in fuss-film THE BUTLER! Movie glorifies election. Marketing to move it AWAY from politics.”
Time for a reality check, people: It was never going to happen for any reason. No way, no how.
“No president has been in a feature film — ever,” said presidential historian Carl Anthony. After they’re elected, at least. Ronald Reagan starred in movies before entering politics but never after he moved into the White House.
It’s one thing to drop by a late-night talk show, Anthony told us, but appearing in a movie crosses an unspoken line. There’s the dicey issue of supporting a specific commercial product, the question of how the film will be edited and the vague sense that appearing in a movie is beneath the dignity of the presidency. “There’s just so much more at stake with a film,” Anthony said.
So directors either rely on news clips and footage of a president (which is how Daniels depicts Obama in “The Butler”) or they use actors to portray the commander in chief. Daniels cast Liev Schreiber as LBJ, James Marsden as JFK, Alan Rickman as Reagan, John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment. A rep for Daniels told us that the director really wanted the president to do a cameo but, ultimately, decided against asking. Probably because he never had a realistic chance.
“It was more powerful to not have Obama in it,” Daniels said at a screening last week, reports the Huffington Post. “But we did go back and forth.” Daniels noted that there was one more reason: “We couldn’t get him!”
The original 2008 story: A butler well served by this election