Denis Leary on HBO's Recount and why your kid isn't cute as you think
For four years, he’s the been symbol of dysfunctional, East Coast-style guy attitude on FX’s firefighter dramedy Rescue Me. So it only makes sense HBO would turn to acerbic stringbean comic Denis Leary to play Boston-bred political operative Michael Whouley on HBO’s film about the tussle over Florida’s votes in the 2000 presidential election, Recount.
On a recent trip to NYC, HBO was cool enough to facilitate a sit-down with Leary, who was shooting scenes for Rescue Me in a well-trimmed Queens neighborhood. Plunked down in a well-appointed trailer right outside a raucous middle school – the screamed profanities from kids filtered in from the basketball court right outside his door – we talked about Recount, Rescue Me and the two new books he and his wife have coming out. Here's my Floridian story featuring Leary's quotes, where both Democrats and Republicans object to the movie.
Here’s the fruits of that conversation:
Leary: My book is called Why We Suck, a Feel-Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. It’s credited as Dr. Denzler. Actually I’m a doctor. I received a doctorate from my alma mater. I know it’s bullshit but …(laughter) and it’s basically kind of a memoir but it’s really my answer to all these Dr. Phils and this stuff, and basically explain what’s, in my opinion, what’s wrong with this country. And it’s everything from how to raise kids to, you know, what’s wrong with sports, to politics.
Me: Is there a bit you can kind of tell me about?
L: Oh, God. I’ll just give you a couple of chapter titles – Autism, Shmautism is a title of one chapter, you know. Your Kids are Not Cute is a title … so I’m not being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. It’s opinion from the point of view of what this country is … what it’s supposed to be and what some people think it’s supposed to be. But it’s also just practical like how we all, you know, live and how … what the rules were ‘cause we all know …
What the rules should be.
L: What the rules should be, exactly. That’s what it really is. It’s like we all know what the rules should be, and everybody wants to switch ‘em up. Anyways, that’s my book.
Now, I’ve gotta say, man, as somebody who lived through the recount, this movie is like a bad nightmare revisited. (laughter) You’ve taken us back to some dark times in Florida history. So tell me a little bit about what drew you to this and what did you think about the recount before you worked on it? And did you get a new perspective on what happened because you …?
L: Well, my take is probably qualified because, in terms of the parties, I don’t really give a shit. If there’s somebody that I actually thought like, these are my four issues or whatever they might be, if I thought that person was speaking about those, I’d vote for him. So and that goes to my lifelong, you know, Kennedy Democrats, I was born and raised in a working-class family in Massachusetts, so you can only imagine how … for me it was like, literally, the picture of the pope and the two Kennedy brothers, you know?
L: So I wasn’t crazy about Al Gore, but I vote … I do vote, I vote every time I get the chance so I think I was probably thinking what everybody else thought, which is … self-righteously thinking … and partially because of what we saw, that Al Gore took the high road and those (Republican) guys took the low road. That’s probably what I thought.
L: And I have no … I have very little interest in working when I’m not doing Rescue Me unless I’m doing my own production, a war, it’s in New York and involves a friend of mine or is like some famous director that I really want to work with. But having said that, I mean…
This was none of those things, right?
L: This was none of those things and I’ve turned down Martin Scorsese …He wanted me to shoot something while I was doing Rescue Me. I was like it’s not going to be fair to you or me, so I’m being practical, you know. So Kevin (Spacey) called me and said you gotta read this script and I was like, where is this shooting? In Florida? I’m not doing it. He goes, read the script. So I read the script and now I was like, all right, well, Florida. How long? Three months. That’s gonna turn to four. So, then I met the guy (Michael Whouley)… I had to chase down the guy that I was playing because he’s the only person in the whole thing that’s sort of a non-PR.-seeking guy? So I found him and I got him to talk to me, and then I was kinda hooked.
And what about it hooked you?
L: He’s pretty interesting. He validated a lot of the information in the first draft of the script. Everybody’s culpable here. And taking the high road was just not the way to go. It was like if a heavyweight match was a draw after 15 rounds and they said, all right, you guys want to keep going and we just turn it into a street fight. You know, you can’t stay in the ring with your gloves on and complain, cursing the darkness, you know what I mean?
Click on the link below to read more of the interview (Click on photos to enlarge):
L: So … every other day there’d be like John Hurt or Tom Wilkinson or Laura Dern or Ed Begley, but you’d go, oh, yeah, right, forgot about this part. Shit, he looks just like the guy. So the work kept getting better. And I think there was a sense of importance, like let’s show what really happened
You know, I was wondering how conservatives are gonna feel about this movie. Did you worry at all that they would feel you were showing them doing something underhanded to win the presidency?
L: No, I gotta be honest with you. You know, I look at it like, you know, the guy I play is a guy that’s only worked for the Democratic Party so obviously he’s not about the man. He’s about the cause, the party, right? You know, he says it in the movie in a couple of spots in his own way, like he’s got this sort of sports attitude toward it. I’m sorry that this is the way the process works, but if there’s two minutes left in the game and the other guy’s clawing his way over your center to get to the quarterback and there’s no call? You know what I mean? I’ve never been one of those guys that bitch to the referee but, look, you want to win the game or you want to lose the game?
L: They talked to Baker, they interviewed Baker, and Baker was right. This is a street fight for the presidency of the United States and it’s in the state that’s run by the guy you’re up against’s brother, you know. It’s not against the law, it’s just the facts.
And the woman who’s in charge of the whole election process is also the co-chair of the GOP campaign in Florida (laughter)
L: The thing I always remember about Al Gore, for better or worse, is that after it was over and he made that speech, my response to it … somebody I was with was saying, that’s such a great speech. I said, yeah, but where was it during the process? He had a stick up his ass and now, all of a sudden, he’s a great speaker? When it’s over?
Oh, my God, it’s crazy. And, you know, for us in Florida, you know, it’s like every screwed up thing that happens is in Florida.
L: Well, once again though, they can’t blame you for the fact that they didn’t count their votes this time ‘cause that was the Democratic Party trying to set up their own premise for another movie. They’re not gonna let two major states be counted. That’s not gonna come back to haunt you.
Yeah, exactly. You may have to come back.
L: Recount Two, you know?
Did it make you cynical about the process at all, seeing sort of the nuts and bolts about how the sausage got made, so to speak?
L: “There’s a mettle that’s tested. You know, I always wondered … I mean, I didn’t buy into the Swiftboat media accusations about John Kerry but I gotta say, to me, I wished he’d gone right back at them earlier. There’s sensibility and then there’s common sense. So it’s like somewhere in there, in the middle, Obama’s power lies. He knows where his power lies – in his ability to speak. I firmly believe and, look, I’m just telling you the balls-on truth, I didn’t think either one of those guys, Bush or Gore, were great speakers and I think that reflects something. So when you look at Clinton or you look at … well, Bush is an extreme example, and you look at Obama and even McCain, I guess … you go, okay, what does it say that somebody can stand up there and sort of speak off the cuff or speak well to begin with and then also be funny? That says something, right? So it’s in play already. It also says something when somebody can’t be funny but behind the scenes, when it comes time to grab the ball and, you know, on the 2-yard line, you gotta have that, too.”
Exactly. That’s what people were saying about the Rev. Wright thing, not so much that you thought Obama, you know, believed anything that guy said but how is he gonna deal with this crisis? And if he can’t handle, you know, his nutty pastor, ex-pastor, how’s he gonna handle Pervez Musharaf?
L: “Ultimately the message will probably be “vote,” and then we don’t have to do any of this stuff again. But I think the message is also, you know, if everything falls away from what it’s supposed to be, get ready to improvise with the best-laid plan, and play to win, you know?