“Dick”, Watergate comedy director, 50 years after the scandal – The Hollywood Reporter


Fascination with the mysterious identity of Deep Throat, the Watergate whistleblower, contributed to the success of the Oscar-winning 1976 film All the President’s Menbut it also led to another, much more unlikely project: 1999’s Taila high-spirited comedy about two teenage girls who unwittingly find themselves at the center of scandal.

Tail focused on Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams), a pair of 15-year-old best friends who end up as President Nixon’s dog walkers and somehow become the famous informant Deep Throat for Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch). (It wasn’t until 2005 that former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt was revealed to have been the Job’s anonymous source.)

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972, which led to Nixon’s resignation following his administration’s efforts to cover up his involvement, director Andrew Fleming – who co-wrote the Tail screenplay with Sheryl Longin — tells The Hollywood Reporter that he remembers trying to find the right story to comment on what was, for him, a formative decade.

“We kept trying to find the essence of what the ’70s were, but it was hard at that time, the early ’90s, to really see the decade properly,” says Fleming. “And just joking, we said, ‘What if they were Deep Throat? And we just laughed – it was really just a joke. And then we kept absorbing that, and it never went away. We kept finding it funny and telling people about it. They said: ‘This is hilarious. No one will ever make this movie.'”

DICK, from left: Will Ferrell, Bruce McCulloch 1999
Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Fleming’s stock rose when he fronted the sleeper hit with Neve Campbell in 1996 The jobopening the door to realize a project of his choice. Tail was his first choice, but he discovered resistance as they took the project to the city. “We planted it everywhere,” he continues. “Everyone thought it was hilarious and then they were like, ‘Yeah, but we’ll never buy that. “”

Luckily, the last person Fleming had to sit down with was Mike Medavoy, who had worked with the filmmaker on the 1994 indie drama. Trio. Medavoy, whom Fleming describes as “very politically savvy and a real liberal democrat”, was a game to be played Tailno matter how, well, tricky the process.

Fleming recalls Dunst impressing him in previous films, including the 1994 one Interview with the Vampire. Ferrell, who had become a Saturday Night Live breakout after debuting in 1995 and starred in 1998s A night at the Roxburywanted to play Woodward, then a key piece of the puzzle was in place with the casting of Williams, one of the protagonists of the hit WB series Dawson’s Creeklaunched in 1998.

“Michelle and Kirsten did a little shoot together, and they were just hilarious and sweet and good,” Fleming says. “It took a long time for the script to be sold and put together, and then [the film itself] came together very, very quickly because Michelle had to go back to Dawson’s Creek.”

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DICK, from left: Kirsten Dunst, director Andrew Fleming, Michelle Williams, on set, 1999
Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

One of the team’s biggest challenges was finding the right performer for the title role, which ultimately went to actor Dan Hedaya after a team member suggested it. “[Casting Nixon] was really a struggle, and it was just a genius suggestion because he ended up being better than anyone we ever talked to,” Fleming shares. “And we talked to a lot of movie stars to play that role.”

The director has positive memories of the experience and praises Medavoy for aligning with the vision of resisting Safe Choices, even though few people have seen the finished product, which Sony released on August 4, 1999. “This wasn’t a hit at the box office, but the reviews were the best I’ve ever had for anything,” Fleming says of the film, which earned $6.3 million worldwide. ($11 million today). “So it was good and bad. I was so happy that I got to do the movie because I love the movie. I really do. It’s one of the favorite things I’ve ever done.

Fleming admits that audiences don’t “break down the doors of political comedy,” but it’s still worth making such films. He says Watergate, for such a daunting moment as it was, felt overwhelmed with satire, something he’s not sure can be said for Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Once we started doing research, it looked like a comedy — I mean, the president’s re-election committee was called CREEP,” he explains. “The transcripts of the tapes are just amazing because Nixon was a car accident of a human being: a racist and an anti-Semite and a homophobe. But the tapes and the things he said are dark and hilarious at times — and scary at others — but it all pales in comparison to the seriousness of things with Trump. I don’t know what kind of film you make of the Trump presidency. I really do not know.

Fleming heard that his film had been seen by everyone involved in the scandal who was still alive at the time – “That alone is gratification”, he says – and remembers Bernstein once saying to Longin that he found the film funny. Fleming has continued to work steadily and is currently in Europe for Netflix Emily in Paris as director and executive producer. But he found it difficult to understand what remains on the table these days to ridicule.

“People always want to laugh at things, but it’s harder to know what’s okay to laugh at because the world has gotten so dark,” he says. “It’s always about pushing boundaries when you’re doing comedy, and how do you push that when the world is already screwed? It’s just a lot more complicated now.

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