'Reagan' Attacks Netanyahu

Director Stephen Gaghan talks about what didn't end up in 'Syriana'

After a Tuesday night Washington screening of his new film Syriana--starring George Clooney and partially, loosely based on former CIA officer Bob Baer's memoir See No Evil--sponsored by the New Democratic Network, writer/director Stephen Gaghan admitted he was a little afraid about taking questions from "a Washington audience," as such creatures tend to be "better informed" than most, and therefore more likely to ask tough questions.

But there's nothing like a Hollywood presence to disarm even the most exacting of Washingtonians, and Gaghan had nothing to worry about. Perhaps consciously, perhaps not, he was generous with his audience, sharing some illuminating anecdotes about the interviews he conducted with various D.C. political luminaries and policy wonks while researching the film--anecdotes that, he said, did not inspire scenes in the movie, as he feared no one would have believed them.

Among them:

  • As Gaghan was interviewing a "prominent Washington conservative thinker," the meeting was interrupted by a coterie of Iranian exiles who wanted to discuss how a plan to privately topple the Iranian government through the purchase and infiltration into Iran of "rainmaking machines" was going. (Though he declined to answer Voice contributor Laura Rozen's question as to just who the "thinker" in question was, Gaghan said he was sorely tempted; smart money is on someone with the initials M.L.)
  • Recalling an audience with Richard Perle at his home ("somewhere in Potomac or Bethesda") in late 2002, Gaghan said he’d asked Perle who was going to run the new Iraq. “I said, 'Look, it's not going to be Chalabi. The guy hasn't lived in Iraq since 1959. He wears Hermes ties. The Iraqi people will take to him like a bad organ transplant and reject him. So who's it going to be?' So he steeples his fingers, just like Mr Burns on the Simpsons, and at that moment the doorbell rings. And he says, 'I'll introduce you to Bibi on the way out.' And in the hallways, there's Bibi Netanyahu surrounded by, like, nine security guys. And Perle has this terrier puppy named Reagan. And Reagan runs up to Netanyahu and jumps up with his nose in his crotch. Most people would either do something like, 'Oh, good dog,’ or 'Richard, can you do something?’ but Netanyahu did something I'd never seen anyone do before: He just started quivering with rage. So I was like, 'Reagan, not on former heads of state.' "

    Gaghan's levity was not received well, he said, by Bibi or Perle.

  • Gaghan also revealed that the movie's ending (and no spoiler here, but let’s just say it doesn’t offer much hope) was a sudden, politically inspired last-minute deviation from the script. Just as work on the scene originally planned was starting, the crew in Dubai got word that George W. Bush had been re-elected. The news was such a downer, said Gaghan, that he made a mordant quick decision---one he chose not to share with the suits in Hollywood. When word reached them, they were not happy, and tried to get executive producer Steven Soderbergh to intervene. Soderbergh's response to the new scene: "Fuck, why didn't I think of that?"
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