9:00 am PT by Chris Gardner
‘Trump vs. Hollywood’: Brett Ratner, Kristy Swanson and Scott Baio Among Talking Heads in New Doc
Barak is quick to say that the film is not exclusively pro-Trump because it features conversations on a wide range of topics including the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter as well as appearances by Avi Lerner, criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos and Brett Ratner, marking the latter’s first sit-down since he’s faced sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women including Olivia Munn. A few hours after the White House appearance, Barak got on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss why she wanted to make Trump vs. Hollywood, what Jon Voight had to do with it and why she didn’t ask her friend Trump to appear in the film.
I didn’t plan on starting here, but seeing that we’re at the White House visiting Jared Kushner today, can you tell me about that and what you were doing?
I wouldn’t want to discuss that. We’ve been there many times. We saw Jared Kushner and other people, and basically, we are in deep conversations regarding our society and our two divided Americas. We have to make sure that we can talk to each other and agree to disagree. Otherwise, we are losing the biggest democracy in the world and our name. It bothers me, as somebody who is an international interviewer. I do know how our name around the world has been damaged.
Who came up with the idea to do a documentary about Trump vs. Hollywood?
[My other half Bill Gunasti] and I talked with Jon Voight, who is a very close friend of ours, sort of like a father figure. He’s always been a bit conservative. Jon and another friend said how impossible it can be to say that they support Trump. So, I was thinking maybe we do something about that. Instead of putting [Jon] there, we decided to ask other people, younger people. Jon was extremely involved behind the scenes, like a mentor. We started with 10 Trump supporters, asking them to open up as never before about how painful and sometimes shameful it was for them to get out of “the closet” and say, “We are supporting Trump.” I used to be a liberal Democrat and it’s very known I hosted Hillary Clinton in my home. Bill and I have friends from both sides of the aisle. So, I just said, let’s talk to the other side, too, not only actors but people behind the scenes, like acclaimed director Brett Ratner, Avi Lerner, who is always a friend, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Geragos, the famous attorney, Eric Roberts and everything.
Then George Floyd happened. We don’t live in a bubble, so Bill and I said, “We have to talk to some Black rappers.” We started with Eric B. in New York, and I asked Eric B. to point us to some other people who pointed us to other people, really acclaimed, accomplished Black rappers, comedians, sports figures. It was quite a challenge to get them to talk. The beauty of this film is that it’s inclusive. Everybody talks and I’m telling everybody, “Can we just talk to each other? We are divided into two Americas.”
Would you say this is a pro-Trump documentary?
I don’t think it’s a pro or anti. By the way, I am a friend of Donald Trump and Bill and I delegated in 2016 and 2020 [at the Republican National Convention]. For 2020, I brought lots of billionaires to support him before anybody did. I’m his longtime friend and supporter. I probably would have some arguments about things that he says like I would have arguments with anybody, including my husband. So, it’s not a pro-[Trump documentary]. The film is not a superficial film. I wouldn’t even call it a political film. I would call it a social film that shows our society during a pandemic, which is crazy. We always had two political parties, but what’s happening right now is scary and my question is, “Can we all talk?” The second point I want to say is that we should embrace our democracy. I have been very fortunate to interview some of the biggest dictators around the world, very colorful people, by the way, like Muammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat, I did the only sit-down with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and [Pervez] Musharraf of Pakistan. I have to tell you, in these countries you go to jail just for speaking half of your mind, let alone your [whole] mind.
Every American who’s reading this piece, should not take for granted our freedom of speech and our First Amendment rights because we are so lucky to be American that we can just argue and use the f-word and use rhetoric and just fight, which I hope we can do it with less hatred.
The film examines how conservatives in Hollywood feel that they have been sidelined in Hollywood for political views. What was most surprising about what they had to say?
Kevin Sorbo says, “Thank God for independent movies, I would be unemployed.” He said his agencies dropped him. Other people said that they cannot really prove it, but they believe their names were taken out of [consideration for projects]. Avi Lerner was very straightforward. He said, “Everybody in Hollywood is always trending forward politically, and I’m trying to include everybody.” Hollywood is a very small world, as you know, and they cannot prove that they were not put up for an audition. Lorenzo Lamas was the only person who was employed during COVID. He did Celebrity Apprentice in 2014, and when he supported Trump in 2015, he was realistic that he would never get a job. So, he got a pilot’s license and has been transferring medicine during COVID. That’s why he was fully booked but not as an actor. So, I thought that was quite a message.
As far as I’m aware, Brett Ratner hasn’t done any interviews since sexual misconduct allegations surfaced. Did he address his status in Hollywood?
Brett is a friend of mine and a friend of Avi and it wasn’t about that. Our experience was very different. He was very scared to do this interview not because of such reasons, he was scared to do the interview because of COVID. He does have his grandmother from Cuba living with him, and he’s very devoted to her. Avi Lerner was also born in Israel. We’re all that we call the Israeli mafia. He canceled it a few times because he didn’t know what to do.
But when we went to [interview] him, he was sweating. He was sweating and sweating, you’ll see in the film. Bill said, “Daphne, let’s get the crew out, let’s leave. He has COVID.” I said, “No, he’s sweating because he’s nervous.” It was very funny. I didn’t know the facts about [Ratner’s misconduct allegations]. I am super supportive of #MeToo. Gretchen Carlson would tell you, I’m the one who supported her from day one. I have a very close relationship with the Murdoch family. In everything, we have to know the facts. I don’t know about Brett, he is a friend. Everybody should be innocent until proven guilty. Brett is a lovable guy, very talented.
Scott Baio’s comments in the trailer are catching fire online. He says, “It bothers me that people won’t speak to me because I’m a Trump guy.” Then he says, “If you’re not hiring me because I’m a conservative, shame on you. And if there’s a civil war, don’t forget who has the guns.” What is your take on that comment specifically?
I hope everybody takes it as a joke. Scott is a lovable guy. It’s such a hot potato. I think this is just a remark. Basically, it’s coming from a hurtful place. He said in the film that when he was one of the speakers at the RNC in 2016, people were just flaming him. I feel I should protect my interviewees to say he didn’t mean it in a bad way. I think he was joking. But of course, it’s a soundbite, you and I are not going to argue it, it’s definitely a soundbite. Right?
In these times with so much gun violence, people could take it as threatening. A couple in Missouri stood outside their home with guns pointing at protesters, so it’s easy to see why people make a comment like this as disturbing.
To be fair, Scott was the first interview and it was done before the looting and protests of the summer. I don’t know if he would make the same soundbite let’s say, six, seven, eight weeks later. I find it as a joke, but I would expect him to think twice to make the same joke six, seven weeks later. So, we have to put it in perspective. When you see the whole two hours and four minutes of the documentary, I think you’ll get what he’s saying. He is hurt, you understand.
Why didn’t you get Donald Trump to sit down for the documentary since he’s a friend? Did you ask?
I like exclusive interviews and I want something new. The people we talk to, it’s all very painful or funny moments or things they’ve not talked before about. The president, by nature, is already exposed. Donald Trump is talking every day, as he should. By the way, I actually applaud that because I think he’s probably the most accessible president we’ve had. If you remember before, the president of the United States talking to the media was a big deal. Now, it’s happening several times a day. It’s a different reality. So, it should just distract the conversation because of course, he is aware of the film from day one. We know what he thinks, don’t we?
There are funny moments like Avi Lerner talking about the famous moment with my friend Robert De Niro punching Arnold Schwarzenegger because he hates Donald Trump. Apparently, it was in a dinner for the Israeli army for a fundraiser. Robert De Niro was next to Avi trying to punch Schwarzenegger and by mistake punched Avi because he was so angry and was screaming about [the president]. Avi says, “What are you doing? First of all, if you hate Trump, first calm down, but why are you punching me?” By the way, Schwarzenegger is the wrong person to punch because he hates Trump as well. So, it was very strange.
We did not include my very, very close friend Jon Voight who is a close friend of Trump because you know what he has to say. They just take the attention of some of the people who did not speak yet and would like to tell a story.
We’re now days away from the election. As a Trump supporter, what do you make of his chances?
It’s a very crucial election. I have all my media friends asking me every night, “What do you think? What do you think?” My thinking is probably as good as yours and theirs. It’s a crucial time. My feeling is that we may go for some time after the election with two sides contesting each other because of the ballots. I hope people are not violent.
Back to the trailer. It opens with tweets from Debra Messing, Miley Cyrus, John Legend, Rosie O’Donnell, major Hollywood names who have spoken out against Donald Trump. To his detractors, what would you say is the reason you continue to support him?
As I said, I’m not a blind supporter. I’ve been a friend of him since [I was in my 20s], and we have mutual respect. He knows I don’t need anything from him, neither does my husband. … I just feel that Donald, if he’s given a chance again, would be able to connect with the other side together in a healthier dialogue without the pressure of winning the election and get an appeal to all kinds of groups that he needs to support him. Biden has been there for 47 years, and he is a very nice guy, don’t misunderstand me, I just am saying that I don’t find anything that he can bring into this kind of social situation or this terrible economic situation, everything. You really need a strong guy. I hope that Donald would be [that guy]. Donald will learn from his mistakes. They all make mistakes and can do it. Nobody is a perfect candidate.
What do you hope audiences take away from the documentary after they’ve seen it?
I want people to watch it and laugh, and watch the painful moments and listen. And let’s say, “Hey, it’s not that bad, we can really sit at one table and talk.”
Interview edited for length and clarity.
12:25 p.m., Friday, Oct. 23: An earlier version of the story mentioned Sylvester Stallone as participating in the documentary, however, despite his name appearing in the official credits, he does not appear in the film due to scheduling conflicts.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.