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Quaid and Sheen Play Clinton and Blair in Morgan’s Special Relationship

Quaid and Sheen Play Clinton and Blair in Morgan's Special Relationship

HBO premiered the third latest installment in Granada’s series starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, The Special Relationship, Wednesday night at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles, where Amy Dawes spoke to star Dennis Quaid and writer Peter Morgan.

It’s one thing to write and quite another to produce a movie in Hollywood that dredges up memories of a painful Clinton-era political scandal most Democrats would prefer to forget.

So in watching HBO Films’ The Special Relationship at its world premiere party, one couldn’t help but wonder what scenes might have been left on the cutting room floor.

As it is, the movie includes the regrettable “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” speech, (given by Quaid, as Clinton) and goes into the Clinton’s bedroom for a scene where Bill wakes Hillary (Hope Davis) to confess that yes, he did have an “inappropriate” relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Hillary’s reaction seems to have been short-changed, especially given how convincingly Davis inhabits her. But U.K. screenwriter Morgan is more concerned with how the scandal affects the burgeoning friendship between Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Sheen). No sooner does the newly elected Blair get in solid with Clinton than the scandal blows and makes the American president political Kryptonite. Blair gallantly stands by him at a press conference, but then comes calling for a massive favor when he needs backing on his call for military action in Kosovo.

When Clinton’s compromised second term ends, Blair seems to have little trouble developing a similar bond with his successor, George W. Bush. For Morgan, this appears to have been the rather cynical point of the writing exercise. “As someone who voted for Tony Blair,” he said at the after-party. “I really felt bewildered and somewhat betrayed that by 2004, he seemed to have become a completely different person. I really feel like the roots of how we both got into Iraq can be found in this story.” The drama is the third in Morgan’s trilogy about Blair, which began with the HBO film The Deal, continued with theatrical release The Queen, and culminates with this BBC co-production, which debuts May 29 on HBO).

While this entry lacks the Shakespearean heft of either The Queen or Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, (the play and theatrical release written by Morgan in which Sheen also appears), HBO does seem to have made the long-sighted move by strengthening its relationship with Morgan, who HBO Films president Len Amato in his opening remarks called “the most important dramatist working today.”

Morgan’s next project is for Warner Bros., a supernatural thriller called The Hereafter, which he wrote as a spec script that Clint Eastwood took on as director. Shooting has wrapped, with Matt Damon in the lead, and Morgan said he was about to get his first look. And he said that Eastwood, true to form, never asked him to change a word of it.
As for Sheen, who’s terrific once again as Blair, he’d just returned from New York where he appeared on NBC’s 30 Rock. He next appears in the film Tron, due out later this year, and is set to play an American in Paris in Woody Allen’s next film, about which he says, he knows very little else.

A number of people at the after-party were praising Quaid’s performance, but to me it often seemed like a blustery caricature. Oddly, he also made Clinton seem about 20 years older than he was at the time. Quaid next appears in Soul Surfer, a feature in which he plays the father of a real-life teen girl who returned to surfing even after losing her arm in a shark attack.

Asked whether it was more fun to play Clinton or to play another rascally Southerner, Jerry Lee Lewis, as he did in Great Balls of Fire, the once hard-partying Quaid said, “Clinton, because I can remember it,” and flashed his famous grin.

At the after-party the DGA lobby was decked out with life-size photo facades of both the White House and No. 10 Downing Street, and the cuisine diplomatically embraced both British fish and chips and American favorites like mac and cheese.

[Photo credits: Billy Vasquez]

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