"On the left" Michael Kinsley of CNN's "Crossfire" (and the New Republic) plays a reporter in fellow liberal Philip Kaufman's upcoming movie thriller "Rising Sun." A conservative TV gadfly from the right, John McLaughlin of the self-named "The McLaughlin Group," will be seen in another Hollywood movie, "Dave," playing a loud, acerbic, conservative political talk show moderator--himself.
Last year National Public Radio's Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg was a surprise face in the Eddie Murphy comedy "The Distinguished Gentleman." And Ben Bradlee, retired executive editor of the Washington Post, shows up with his wife, writer Sally Quinn, in the just-released remake of "Born Yesterday."
What's going on? Well, it seems if there ever was any question that fact and fantasy are mixing even in the highest levels of American punditry, the answer should be clear now.
"People can't tell the difference between news and movies anyway," said journalist-screenwriter Jeff Silverman, who, after years playing a reporter in cameos, says with a laugh that he now only "wants to take roles that allow me to stretch." (He was a mugger in "Exposed" and a ballplayer in "Field of Dreams.")
Kinsley's Hollywood bow came about after an unsolicited call from one of director Kaufman's assistants, who inquired of his interest in coming to L.A. for a day's work to play alongside Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who in their cameos get to grill the main U.S. senator character of "Rising Sun."
"They (20th Century Fox) flew us out to California (first class), we got to see a movie set. We had trailers with our names on it . . . I never went inside, but loved the fact we had one. It was just fun. I'd never been on . . . what's it called, a back lot? Yeah. It was great."
After several takes and 45 minutes of work, Kinsley said he was impressed with moviemaking: "I interview senators for a living and I can tell you, the actor who played the senator (whose lines were mostly unscripted) did much better than the real ones do."
Kinsley also joins a whole host of journalists in Warner Bros.' comedy "Dave" starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver when Kline successfully--at least for a while--impersonates an ailing President of the United States.
Shot on location in Washington, the scenes with the famous Fourth Estaters included those with McLaughlin and his show cronies Eleanor Clift, Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes (Jack Germond said "no"), Totenberg (again), the ubiquitous Robert Novak, Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Richard Reeves of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, political columnist Christopher Matthews of the San Francisco Chronicle, John Yang of the Wall Street Journal, television reporters Sander Vanocur and Bernard Kalb and, who else, Larry King.
"Dave" is set for release in early May, "Rising Sun" in mid-July.
Considering these journalist-actors worked for scale (per diem SAG minimum is $466), they might not quit their day jobs anytime soon.