By Bob Cusack
“Mork” had a question for me.
“Why does Superman have three capes?”
The year was 1981, and I was a nervous extra in “The World According to Garp.” The wardrobe department had given me a Superman costume for the Halloween scene, and for some reason, multiple capes.
All I could muster was a shrug, and he smiled at me.
More than three decades later, I’m still in the entertainment industry, albeit a different one. It’s called politics. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.
A STINT ON 'VEEP'
Last fall, I was on the set of HBO’s “Veep,” a fictional show about politics. The filming of my cameo occurred during the government shutdown.
The first thing I noticed on the Columbia, Md., set were copies of The Hill, which were used as props in the office of Vice President Selina Meyer, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
In what can only be described as surreal, the cast and crew peppered me with questions about the maneuvering in Congress and when the government would reopen.
The night before, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had made a last-ditch effort to pass a fiscal bill through the House, but he couldn’t muster the support of his GOP colleagues. Boehner then embraced a deal that came out of the Democratic-led Senate.
After we filmed the “Veep” scene in the early morning hours, I headed to my real job as managing editor at The Hill. Before midnight, Congress had passed legislation that ended the shutdown.
Later, it hit me that I had played a role in a fake political show and then worked on a real political drama.
A POLITICIAN’S FAN BASE
Movie stars have to have a fan base, as do politicians. You can be controversial or polarizing or downright bizarre. You just can’t be boring.
The similarities, of course, between Washington and Hollywood will be highlighted this weekend as celebrities fly into the nation’s capital for the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) Dinner.
Amazingly, the dinner and the parties that surround it have gotten bigger every year. It’s debatable whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
Regardless, I have been fortunate in seeing some of Tinseltown’s famous faces up close.
Tom Cruise, who filmed “Minority Report” in D.C., knew the entire crew by name.
Harrison Ford, who I passed by as a somber diplomat in “Clear and Present Danger,” is a professional who treats background actors with respect. (Not all actors do.)
In other movies, I didn’t get very close to the A-listers. I was a pedestrian in a Georgetown scene in “Dave,” a reporter in “The Pelican Brief” and a bar patron in “Game Change.”
Like actors on the big screen, politicians play roles. Therefore, there are times when public officials don’t believe what they are saying.
For example, conservatives in Congress pushed Boehner to pursue the ill-fated ObamaCare-must-die-strategy during the shutdown showdown.
The Speaker knew there was no way President Obama and the Democratic-led Senate would agree to kill the Affordable Care Act. But he went to the House floor and delivered speech after speech on how the health law had to go.
He was acting.
Earlier this year, the Speaker basically admitted as much during an interview on “The Tonight Show,” when he said the GOP was to blame for the shutdown.
He said, “You learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk. So I said, ‘If you want to go fight this fight, I’ll go fight the fight with you.’ But it was a very predictable disaster.”
There’s a lot of theater in politics.
In the fall of 2010, every political expert knew that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was going to lose her gavel. The polls showed a huge GOP wave was about to hit, but Pelosi repeatedly predicted Democrats would retain the House.
There’s a reason for that. As a leading party figure, Pelosi couldn’t admit defeat. If she had, the effect on party morale, and more importantly, fundraising, would be devastating.
So when then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated the obvious and said that the House could flip, Pelosi didn’t take kindly to the remark and ripped him privately.
Publicly, she took a different tack. In a subsequent interview, Pelosi pointedly didn’t mention Gibbs by name. She simply dismissed the comment by “that gentleman.”
It was a power play right out of “House of Cards,” years before the hit show was created.