Wacko President Hails From
Virginia In 'Escape From L.A.' (The Virginian-Pilot/Aug 08/1996/US)
By Mal Vincent
The list of American presidents born in
Virginia is about to be expanded - at least to millions of moviegoers.
You remember. There was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison,
James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Woodrow Wilson
and, now, (drum roll) Cliff Robertson.
A new president from Virginia?
The year is 2013 and the new president of the United States, who looks just like
Cliff Robertson, is a former TV evangelist who has moved the capital from
Washington, D.C., to Lynchburg, his hometown. No smoking and no red meat are
allowed in America. There is lots of religion, but no freedom of religion. There
are no unapproved marriages. Immoral people, as well as hardened criminals, are
shipped to the island penal colony that is now Los Angeles - an island created
by a devastating earthquake.
And unfortunately, the new Virginia-bred president is totally insane.
It could only happen in the darkly mischievous mind of director-writer John
Carpenter, who has churned out John Carpenter's Escape From L.A., opening
Friday. It is a sequel to his 1981 cult film Escape From New York and it
may well have our state's tourism officials writhing with rage.
So much for the "Virginia is for lovers'' image.
Robertson, who was once chosen by President John F. Kennedy to portray him in
the movie P.T. 109, is a prez with a problem. His daughter, Utopia, has
rebelled and escaped from the Lynchburg White House. She's headed to join up
with South American revolutionary Cuervo Jones, who is poised to attack the
United States. Only Snake, the leather-clad antihero serving a life sentence,
can retrieve her.
Kurt Russell, coming off a career rebirth with hits in Executive Decision,
Tombstone and Stargate, again plays Snake.
"Snake is socially irredeemable,'' Russell said, "and he's the only character I
ever wanted to play again. Science fiction is the greatest genre because you can
do anything with it. You can ask, for example, 'What if the president were
crazy?' It's a simple proposition, but you couldn't tackle it in other movies.
In a sci-fi movie, you can play it.''
Russell, who co-wrote the new script with Carpenter and producer Debra Hill,
reasons that "there have probably been worse guys in the White House than the
president we portray in this movie. Anyway, a president like this is just a
Robertson, who won an Academy Award for Charly in 1968, says that he
didn't model the character after anyone specifically. "He had to be a good
speaker because he was a former TV preacher, but I didn't have anyone
specifically in mind.''
Sure, Cliff. And the Lynchburg setting is just a coincidence, right?
"I don't know anything about Lynchburg,'' the actor said. "The script is very
It is John Carpenter who is behind all this mischief. Puffing the last remnants
of a cigarette, Carpenter pointed out that the entire budget for the first film
($8 million) is less than Russell's salary for the second one ($10 million).
Sitting in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, the director is anxious to
answer questions about his new film:
Why did you wait so long to make this sequel? It has been 15 years since
Escape From New York.
"We wanted a good script. At one time, we were going to have everyone in Los
Angeles in an insane asylum, but it would have been too limited. Kurt came up
with the idea for the sequel as a result of the January 1994 earthquake. He felt
it was time. I mean the people of this city have been through fires,
earthquakes, gang killings, the worst riots in U.S. history, and still we refuse
to get out. We are in deep, serious denial here.''
You worked with Kurt Russell in The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China,
Escape From New York and, for television, Elvis. What is it that
you like about him?
"I say 'Walk over there' and he doesn't say 'Why?' He believes in getting the
picture made. When I first worked with Kurt on Elvis, he had left the
business. He didn't want to act anymore. The success of Elvis brought him
back. Then, before Escape From New York, no one would have cast him in an
action movie. He just wanted to prove he could do it.''
What is it that you think is the attraction of the character Snake?
"He's a highly corruptible antihero. He's basically a psychopath. I think of him
more as an old-fashioned Western gunfighter. I got into moviemaking, in the
first place, because I wanted to make Westerns. Snake is cool. He has a really
Why is it that you have been somewhat typecast in making dark movies? It seems
that in your movies the forces of evil are always organized but the forces of
good are disorganized.
"I got typecast with Halloween. For a long time, I didn't get offered
movies that didn't have zombies. But I did get to do other things. I got to do a
romantic drama, Starman, among others.
What political statement are you making with Escape From L.A. Is this
film attacking the religious right directly, or indirectly, or what?
Neither directly or indirectly. Make of it what you will. My political
affiliation is as a Capitalist. Kurt was a conservative once, but, now, I think,
he officially votes the Libertarian party, although he changes with the issue,
like most people should. The movie makes fun of extremes - extremes on both
sides. We have the fur coat thing in there, and the red meat restriction. That's
extremes on the other side. Personally, I think the movie is saying that
Americans are afraid of too much freedom. We want to give up every single
freedom we have in favor of order. We are so afraid of disorder, and freedom,
that we'd even legislate life away. People are really scared.''