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Robert Wuhl – A Q&A

September 26, 2008

Robert Wuhl: Based on a True Interview

By Melanie Addington

(as printed in the Oxford Town)


Robert Wuhl has lived many lives from his beginnings as an actor in “Hollywood Knights” to “Bull Durham” to HBO celebrity of 12 years on “Arli$$” and “Assume The Position.” He is a writer, director, producer, and actor. Before all of that, he was a stand up comedian and began his career writing for Rodney Dangerfield. In a recent phone interview, we talked briefly about Hollywood, politics, and what’s next for him and the country. 

Q: You speak quite frequently about the term you coined from the movie: “Liberty Valance effect.” When Legend becomes fact, print the legend. Do you believe a good story is better than truth?

A: Depends on how you define the word better and story. Is a good story better than the truth? Absolutely.  

Q: You signed an extended 18-month contract with HBO in April for a new series. What can Wuhl fans expect? 

A: Trying to develop some new stuff, a scripted comedy.

Q: So, you are an actor, a writer, a producer, a director, but you also claim yourself a historian. As a historian, what do you think of our current candidates?  

A: Definitely not a historian, I don’t claim myself as  historian. But as far as the candidates, it’s great. It’s an incredibly exciting election, the first time in years where we dont have an encumbant president as any of the four candidates. The one thing I would say is I expect that voting will go up. 

Q: What do you think of the term “drill baby drill”?

A: You know my wife and I fight about this. I guess it depends on how you are using the term. I mean, is it my dentist using it? But really, I know how big Alaska is…you can drill, there’s alot of country there. Alaska is probably bigger than the south, the entire south it probably covers. 

Q: You wrote, produced and directed Assume the Position. What led you to this comedic special?

A: I do enjoy history, I thought it could be more fun, bring it to today, make people understand, everything is generational. I pitched it to Chris Albrecht, [the chairman and CEO of HBO at the time}. And he grasped it, the whole sunrise semester thing. 

Q: So, you could have done this show anyway, but you set it in a classroom, making you the professor. How does the way you are telling the story change the impact on your audience?

A: When I do it with students and when I do it in a theater its different. In order to get through your points to the students, their reference points are much different than an older audience. The classroom addes an energy and freshness. 

Q: You talk about pop culture icon Nathaniel Hawthorne writing the propaganda that led to college buddy, Franklin Pierce becoming president. Today we have celebrities coming out in support of candidates. Is that just more of the same or is it different?

A: [It’s] a little bit different. Hawthorne wasn’t just a celebrity – he was media, star of the media. In his media, he created a character that ran for president. He became his publicist. Think of how limited media is back then – there are printing press and books – Hawthorne is the guy.  So I think, in  way its more of the same. He created this guy, it was friends pushing for friends and I don’t see anything wrong with that. But, in a way its absolutely not the same. Now there are too many things to negate it. Its as if Steven Spielberg wrote the greatest story of some candidate. Immediately there are 42 other media outlets saying this isn’t true. There are pros and cons today, but at least you get the other side of the story. This Sarah Palin thing is the perfect analogy.

Q: If you could come back to life as any of the characters you have been, which would it be?

A: That’s a great question. The two closest to me would be Mr. Wuhl on the show [Assume the Position] and Arliss. He had a good life but was a pain in the ass…alot of stress…but Arliss loved what he did so that’s important. I don’t know if I’d want to be a lifer, a minor league baseball coach would not be a great life, minor league coaches have a tough life. Oh, but in The Last Don, I played a head of a studio and that was fun, except he got [killed], but if that part didn’t happen, that would be great.

 Q: An Oxford Town reader, Dave, wanted to know, do candlesticks still make a nice gift?

A: Absolutely, its allowed me to not have to think of a wedding present ever since. I always give candlesticks.

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