Star Makers Eye the Candidates : Experts Offer Unsolicited Suggestions to Presidential Hopefuls After Debates
Pierre du Pont could use a turn on the boards as Stanley Kowalski. Paul Simon seems better suited at present as Pee-wee Herman’s father. Jesse Jackson needs to commit to consonants. And most of the Republican presidential candidates should start humming in their spare time if they want to catch voters’ attention.
And Tom Brokaw should consider a run at the Oval Office.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Dec. 04, 1987 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 4, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 20 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Voice coach Rowena Balos’ name was misspelled in Thursday’s story on Hollywood experts evaluating the presidential debate.
So concluded three Hollywood professionals who evaluated the candidates’ television performances during NBC’s presidential debate Tuesday night. Who looked, sounded and acted presidential by Hollywood standards? Who had It ?
Acting teacher Dan Fauci, voice coach Rowena Bolas and casting director Mike Fenton all concluded that no candidate really has It yet. And only one or two candidates even come close at this point to having Something.
If he were casting the role of President from among the dozen Republican and Democratic contenders, said acting teacher Fauci, he’d think about issuing another casting call. “There’s no one I can see as President of the United States,” he said shortly after the debate ended. Then, he added, chuckling, “Well, except Tom Brokaw.”
How does someone act presidential?
Fauci, a former New York-based acting teacher whose students include Ted Danson, Lisa Bonet and Woody Harrelson, evaluated the candidates in much the same way he’s worked with actors.
“I look at their presence--bodily, intellectually and emotionally. Are they really in touch with their belief system, their passion, their vulnerability--or are they just playing to the audience?”
Fauci also watched for a candidate’s “sense of danger. Do they take stands or compromise?”
What about sounding presidential? Voice coach Bolas--who has worked with Joanne Woodward, Judy Davis and Barry Bostwick, among many others--said she listened to--rather than watched--the debate.
“I tried not to listen to the politics, but to leave myself open to what caught my attention. Was it tension in the throat, nasality, vocal quality? What one wants to hear from a politician isn’t the voice. You want to hear the passion. We were all aware of John Kennedy’s accent, but what we really heard was his passion.”
Was there a presidential look?
Casting director Fenton, a veteran of hundreds of feature and TV movies (the most recent was “Hoover vs. the Kennedys”) didn’t watch the debate at all. Much as casting directors do when selecting actors for a project, Fenton reviewed a tape of the proceedings to determine who seemed “right” for the part of President.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson got high marks from the group for his overall performance.
“He was the best ‘pleader’ of causes,” said Fauci. “He’s committed, passionate and he can laugh at himself.” Jackson’s shortcomings, he said, were a “little” tendency toward self-aggrandizement, ‘we-they’ politics and exaggeration.”
Fauci said if he had Jackson in his acting class, “I’d make him play a billionaire capitalist who ran a sweat shop, so he wouldn’t seem so holy.”
Bolas said she appreciated Jackson’s “cleverness and imagery. But it’s hard to understand his vowels and consonants. He’s so committed as a person. He needs to practice committing to each vowel--to make it part of his philosophy that each T is not just a t --it’s the best T .”
Fenton’s only comment about Jackson: “He, strangely enough, seemed nervous. I don’t know why, he’s done so much public speaking. And I had trouble understanding him.”
Fauci also put Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) atop his list of good performances. “Although he was a little hostile in his communication, he did have something to say. He was the clearest of the Republicans and had a strong point of view. He didn’t talk in generalities.”
But Fauci would work on Kemp’s sensitivity: “I’d have him play someone very vulnerable, like Tom from ‘The Glass Menagerie” to work on compassion.
Bolas found Kemp clear, but tense: “I wanted him to clear his throat. It made me nervous. His passion was trying to come out, but was stuck in his throat. Bolas’ remedy: “He could do with a lot of humming and connecting more with his breathing. He also talked too fast at times.”
Bolas put Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis at the top of her vocal list, but felt the Democrat needed significant improvement: “He was easy to listen to, but a little tight in his throat. He’s closest to Jackson in his dynamic, but a little bit too jerky. He needs to relax his jaw.”
Fauci liked Dukakis’ “street-fighter attitude” but felt he asked “mealy-mouthed” questions and “sidestepped” questions fired his way. “I wouldn’t cast him as President,” said Fauci, “but he’d make a great grouchy old doctor on ‘St. Elsewhere.’ ”
Fenton’s top selection was Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) whom he described as “having a J.F.K. feel. I’d cast him as President.”
But Bolas and Fauci found Gore young and inexperienced. “I’d like to see him in eight to 12 years,” Bolas said. “He has a lot of potential.”
Fenton also ranked Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) as a good example of a presidential type. However, Fauci and Bolas didn’t see him that way.
“He’s so position-less, he’s like the man who almost wasn’t there,” said Fauci.
Bolas had trouble remembering Dole’s voice, which she finally described as “very forgettable, it lacks a lot of passion and variety.”
The two scene stealers of the evening--as far as Fauci was concerned--were former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and former Delaware Gov. Pierre du Pont IV. “They were both communicative, they listened well and they had stronger points of view than the others,” Fauci said. “Babbitt lacked certainty, but I thought his ‘stand’ was outrageous (Babbitt stood up, spontaneously, challenging the other candidates to stand too, if they really wanted to balance the budget). I love a spontaneous reaction.”
Republican Du Pont’s egalitarian views attracted Fauci: “He acted against type, but I’d like to see him go further--play a hobo or maybe Stanley in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’.”
Bolas wasn’t as enthusiastic about either Du Pont or Babbit. “That voice and that funny jaw-wagging mouth mannerism,” she said of Babbitt. “He didn’t have Jackson’s fullness, he wasn’t generous with his sound. Vocally, when people’s voices are caught in the throat, it indicates a lack of generosity to those listening.”
Fenton on Babbitt: “Nervous and weak.”
Fauci agreed regarding the Democratic candidate: “He smiles at the end of every sentence, almost like a little apology. That makes him look tentative. I’d put him to work in class playing classic heroes--like Henry IV.”
Straight-arrow, bow-tied Sen. Paul Simon’s (D-Ill.) looks and low-key performance provoked Fauci to joke: “I’d cast him as Pee-wee Herman’s father.”
The acting teacher praised Simon’s “obvious intellect, but I’d have him work on his emotions. Right now his caring is intellectual, I’d want to see his caring visceral.”
Fenton said that he wouldn’t cast Simon as President: “He wouldn’t work. But he’s so smart, I think I might cast him as secretary of state.”
Voice coach Bolas said that Simon was the only candidate who was talking too deeply from the chest and “missed variety. I’d have him do really silly stuff and lighten that voice up considerably.”
Fauci, Fenton and Bolas were unanimous in their opinions of former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and former television evangelist Pat Robertson--dull, dull and dull.
“That guy took acting lessons from a bad teacher,” Fauci said of Gephardt, joking, “probably it was me 10 years ago.”
Gephardt “played to the audience rather than answer the questions,” said Fauci. “I found him the least concrete and the least specific. I’d put him to work in class playing really nasty villains.”
Said Bolas of Gephardt: “He was clear to listen to, but he needs a lot more opening up, he seemed very tight in the chest.”
Fenton “didn’t respond” to Robertson; Fauci found him a “Mr. Cream Puff who needs to play a week of villains with Gephardt,” and Bolas was “surprised at his lack of variety, depth and passion.”
Haig drew responses ranging from “forceful but unlikely” to “a little tired, no vibrancy.”
And no one seemed to have a remedy for Haig. Said Fauci: “I’ve worked with people like him. They have difficulty working on self-expression, they’d rather work on everyone else.”
Vice President George Bush behaved much like “a vice president,” Fauci observed. “Here’s a very smart guy trying to play it too cool. I think he’s very sad, there seems to be a lot of pain inside.”
Bolas agreed: “He’s got a thin voice that lacks music. It lacks richness. I don’t feel there’s a very warm personality there. The whole voice is very repressed.
The acting and voice remedies? Bush needs to hum a lot and do stand-up comedy.
The only seemingly faultless performance, according to Hollywood’s evaluators, came from non-candidate Tom Brokaw who “understood the issues, asked direct and pointed questions and was good in presentation. I’d vote for him for President,” said Fauci.
And the acting teacher hastened to add. “I thought every one of the candidates was very brave to go before 50 million people--without editing--and plead their case. But what they need is vision. Great actors have a vision of what they want to communicate--it’s not always intellectual--but rather visceral. The candidates need to get in touch with their personal visions.
“Before they go to acting class, they should take vision class.”