The other day I was asked on the new CBS This Morning program, (which is fantastic by the way) what was the momentous decision that got me into the movie business. And all I could remember was being 14-years-old and thinking, "I'm going to play high school baseball, go out to center field, catch an enormous fly ball and save the game." Instead, that ball kept traveling, traveling, and traveling, and sailed over my outstretched glove. All I could hear was, "YOU SHOULD HAVE HAD IT!" Right then and there I knew that baseball was not the career for me and I would settle for my second love, movies. I am a very lucky guy to have the chance to do what I do. But, over this last period of films, I keep thinking it's truly about the journey. I remember Marty Scorsese called his book A Personal Journey Through American Movies; we at Miramax Books were lucky enough to publish it. Part of the journey is the research of the characters in the story and the real life people that the films are based on.
In the case of Marilyn Monroe, I have already described Michelle Williams and her incredibly strong work ethic in terms of reading every book on the subject (and books beyond the subject) to understand and frame her character in My Week With Marilyn.
At that same very high altitude, you have Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. Her knowledge is so strong about so many aspects of Margaret Thatcher. Like Michelle with Marilyn Monroe, Meryl's journey through the character of Margaret Thatcher has been fascinating to me. There is no character more polarizing on the liberal side of the street that I live than Thatcher. You might as well be talking about influenza. But, what Meryl always points out is how Margaret Thatcher's social agenda was so similar to that of many of the people that we call "progressive." She was for gay rights, she was for freedom of choice and she protected her ministers. Through all their scandals, she fought for their competency and didn't judge their personal lives against their professional lives. She was fiscally conservative, tough-minded in her principles and showed great integrity in what she stood for. In a way, she raises the leadership question for the United States. We need leaders, but today it's like everything else -- they play it safe. I hear those words all the time -- "playing it safe," "taking the middle ground," "taking the easy way out." That's why I'm so thrilled with The Iron Lady, because it's about not playing it safe. It's about taking the risks, about going out there and doing the things with integrity.
In today's world of tightly controlled public relations, is there any way to be other than safe? I always find myself rooting for people who stand up for what they believe in, and it always gives me a great charge to see it happen. But it's all too rare, and I know this will shock my Republican friends, but I know President Obama is someone who stands up for what he believes, and I know the First Lady does as well. They are strong believers in helping America's underserved. They might go about it differently than Margaret Thatcher, but their belief is strong. And in the end, lending a helping hand, may achieve the same result as Thatcher, if it is done properly.
When you watch the Republican debates: it's like having six fighters in the ring that never lay a glove on each other. It's incredible to me that somebody doesn't just take someone out in that forum. They never seem to do it. Everybody is just so bloody polite. That's why I love Margaret Thatcher: she made hard decisions and spoke freely. I was certainly against many of these decisions at the time, but the England that I went to when she was Prime Minister and the England that exists now is largely due to her great influence, her risk taking and her changing the attitude of the people to make them more entrepreneurial. She had the guts to make tough decisions that at the time made her incredibly unpopular, but in the long run did many wonderful things for England. As somebody says in the film, "She put the "Great" back in Great Britain."
The debate on the movie is fun because the conservatives get mad at you if you don't saint Margaret, and the liberals get mad at you if you don't demonize her. But, somehow the movie brilliantly shows Thatcher's humanitarian side. Especially in the scenes when Meryl plays the older Margaret Thatcher, they are deeply compassionate. Her acting so skillful that both sides of the bench, as they say, applauded her.
I thought it was kind of funny for Michele Bachmann on the last visage of the campaign to say that she was "The Iron Lady." John Campbell, who wrote The Iron Lady, which the movie was based on, said he's now afraid that the euphemism "Iron Lady," will be used in vain following Michele Bachmann's analogy. He also quoted Lloyd Bentsen's famous line to Dan Quayle. When Quayle invoked John F. Kennedy, Benson said, "I knew John Kennedy, AND YOU ARE NO JOHN KENNEDY." John Campbell said, "AND YOU (Michele Bachmann) ARE NO MARGARET THATCHER."
One of my favorite stories of Margaret Thatcher is how she got her nickname, "The Iron Lady." The name comes from the Russian Red Star Army Magazine who decided to call Thatcher "The Iron Lady" when they realized that she was going to assume the position of Prime Minister in the UK. And because of her position as a strong anti-communist, they meant "The Iron Lady" in a derogatory way. The next day, Margaret Thatcher dressed up in her best RED dress and said at her press conference that she loved the nickname. And for a special treat, she helped end the Cold War, destroy Communism in Russia, and bring freedom to the people. When you watch that press conference and see the incredible twinkle in her eye, you realize that twinkle is everything: take on the challenge, laugh in their faces and embrace an attitude. That is what's missing from so much of today's politics and so much of today's decision making.