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Casting Campaign 2016, the Movie

Jeff Garlin as Chris Christie, Kirk Cameron as Rick Santorum, Justin Timberlake as Rand Paul — the possibilities are thrilling

Donald Trump; Gerard DepardieuDonald Trump; Gerard Depardieu

Gerard Depardieu in the role of Donald Trump? Sure.

Paul Morigi/WireImage/Getty; Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty

Start with the title: Clown Car! may sound like the movie someone will inevitably make about the 2016 presidential campaign, but how about evoking those great Seventies wacky-journey films like Death Race 2000, Vanishing Point or Smokey and the Bandit?

When I raised the question on Twitter, suggestions included All the President’s Wanna-Bes, Every Which Way But Left, Cannonball Rug, A Kochwork Orange and the subtly appropriate Hair.

All excellent ideas, and we may have to put the movie name to a separate vote. Right now, though, the more pressing question is this: If someone did make a movie about the 2016 presidential race, who would play the candidates? Wouldn’t that be the most thrilling casting job ever?

There was a fiery debate on social media about all of the roles. In the end, though, this is something that has to go to a vote. What we need in this country, after all, is more democracy.

For the time being, we’ll just ask people to vote in the comments section below, or tweet responses to me at @mtaibbi.

Without further ado: 

Donald Trump (as himself)
Gary Busey
Alec Baldwin
Will Ferrell
Gerard Depardieu
Gary Oldman
Val Kilmer
Gene Hackman

The biggest debate is obviously going to be about who gets to play the leading man in the film. Trump probably ought to be the only “as himself” role in the cast. Figuratively speaking, it fits the narrative of the campaign to have him as the only Real Person, surrounded by a bunch of actors.

But there’s also something to be said for the idea that Trump lacks the self-awareness to sell the humor of his role. Acting-wise the role clearly should belong to one of Hollywood’s interpersonal train-wreck actors, someone you can imagine waking up in bed with a farm animal and a bottle of Southern Comfort.

The first name you think of there is probably Gary Busey, although someone like Gerard Depardieu also makes sense. Alec Baldwin fits from the abject-assholedom angle. And I’m sympathetic to the argument for Will Ferrell as Trump; you could take a Ferrell-as-Trump movie to many interesting places. But is he too PG for the part?

Kevin James
John Goodman
Delaney Williams
Jeff Garlin
Steve Schirripa
Meat Loaf
Oliver Platt
Jon Favreau 

The Christie role is probably a two-man race, between Mall Cop thespian Kevin James and Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. But there was a lot of sentiment online for casting the affable Delaney Williams, last seen playing the porn-connoisseur homicide sergeant Jay Landsman in The Wire. Meat Loaf is an intriguing idea, especially if Cannonball Rug or whatever the film ends up being called has a musical component – we could have Christie singing his excuse for Bridgegate.

French Stewart
Bill Murray
Danny Trejo
Angelica Huston
“Grandpa” Al Lewis
Maxwell Emmet “Pat” Buttram

French Stewart’s qualifications here seem impeccable, right down to the distractingly squinty eyes. But Bill Murray would bring out the ham in Ted Cruz (think the “It just doesn’t matter” speech, only delivered to Tea Partiers on the night before the UN invasion of Galveston).

But this could also be a breakout role for Danny Trejo, who’d bring grit and street cred to the part – French Stewart isn’t leaping through a methane explosion onto a moving Harley to shoot Mitch McConnell with a 12-gauge. Angelica Huston, meanwhile, is also an inspired idea for the role, among other things because it would infuriate Cruz. Curiously, a lot of readers nominated dead actors to play Cruz, including Al Lewis of The Munsters and Pat Buttram, last seen playing bug-eyed Mr. Haney on Green Acres. 

Carly Fiorina; Christine Baranski

Kristin Wiig
Peri Gilpin
Meg Ryan
David Bowie
Andy Dick
Christine Baranski 

There was overwhelming support for Wiig as Fiorina online, although a few people felt she wasn’t loathsome enough. I like the choices of David Bowie and the underrated Christine Baranski, who could simply reprise the role of her sneering party-crashing aristocrat Connie Chasseur from The Ref.

Kirk Cameron
Steve Carrell
Judge Reinhold
Paul Reubens 

There was some sentiment to have Santorum played by Michael Ontkean, the Canadian actor who resembles Santorum and is best known for his deft performance as Ned Braden in the Oscar-snubbed minor league hockey epic Slap Shot. But someone from a civilized place like Vancouver might not be able to grasp the darkness of Rick Santorum.

A Canadian might try to play Santorum’s fundamentalist Christian persona as a passive, beatific dreamer, where what you really need here is a secret BDSM freak who gets aroused looking at Know Your Bible illustrations of the crucifixion. Kirk Cameron to me is the obvious choice, although the Foxcatcher version of Steve Carrell is pretty close to being who Rick Santorum really is, right down to his inexplicable belief in his ability to win any contest that exists outside his own mind.

Kevin Spacey
Jon Hamm
Stephen Root
Tom Hanks 

Spacey, whose voice is very close to Huckabee’s, is an obvious choice, particularly if Huckabee turns out to have a diabolical plan for winning this thing in the end (he gets up and walks into the presidential limo as we notice our coffee cups were made by Kobayashi porcelain). With Hanks, you worry he might take it seriously and screw up the whole movie.

Aziz Ansari
Dev Patel
The corpse of Bob Denver
Jack McBrayer

The funniest suggestion I received for the role of Jindal was the empty chair from Clint Eastwood’s infamous convention speech. In my mind, if Bob Denver was alive, he’d be a lock.

Daniel von Bargen
James Caan
Victor Garber
Stephen Tobolowsky + wig

I realize von Bargen is dead, but the man who nailed the role of lunkheaded Mr. Kruger on Seinfeld would have been perfect for the role of Pataki (“My fellow Americans, our budget this year just passed into the red… or the black… whatever the bad one is”). Excellent instincts by @cptyesterday, who ably picked out the wonderfully nondescript veteran Canadian character actor Victor Garber, but also wondered “if he’d settle for such a small part.”

Chris Parnell
Vincent Kartheiser
Steve Carrell
John Cusack
Michael Sheen

Parnell was the overwhelming choice for this role on Twitter, although in Hollywood they always give the evil-douchebag role to a Brit, so that makes me think Michael Sheen.

Ed Begley Jr.
Jason Siegel
Ed Helms
Beau Bridges
Jeffrey Tambor
Chevy Chase
Jane Lynch

Jeb is a tough one. Beau Bridges would bring that less-heralded-brother angst to the role, and he fits facially too. Begley Jr. is the right height, and would also do a great job cowering and peeing himself in Trump’s presence. Tambor has the vast experience playing the sad-sack second banana. Both Lynch and another popular choice, Jamie Lee Curtis, are too manly for the role.

John Leguizamo
Danny Pino
Oscar Isaac
Fred Armisen
Santiago Cabrera 

I’m torn here between Fred Armisen, who’d bring a goofy nuance to Rubio, and John Leguizamo, who could really sink his teeth into the psycho-moonbat angle. Pino and Cabrera are closer looks-wise. Isaac would be more appropriate if Rubio was a true contender.

Justin Timberlake
Neil Patrick Harris
Ryan Phillipe
The kid from Billy Madison
Vincent Cassel
Anthony Geary
Barry Williams
Hugh Laurie
Michael Cera

Justin Timberlake was born to play Rand Paul. I feel like he was training for it when he nailed the role of dry-humping substitute teacher Scott Delacorte in the underrated Cameron Diaz epic Bad Teacher. That said, Neil Patrick Harris is a strong contender, among other things because of his experience playing the cool-headed fascist psychic Carl Jenkins in Starship Troopers. Nobody is going to argue with the kid from Billy Madison as a choice, however, and strong arguments could be made for Barry “Greg Brady” Williams, Ryan Phillipe or even poor Vincent Cassel (I’d like to cast as many French people as possible in this movie, because it would annoy the citizens of both countries).

Zach Galifanakis
Eddie Izzard
Carol Channing
Steve Buscemi
Ricky Gervais
Justin Bieber 

Eddie Izzard could do a fabulously campy Graham – his impersonation of Church of Englanders singing, “Oh God, what on earth is my hairdo all about?” sounds uncannily like a Graham stump speech. Galifanakis could probably play Graham in his sleep, but the Judd Apatow factor in this movie is dangerously high as it is. 

Ben Carson; Dennis Haysbert

Don Cheadle
Robert Guillaume
Dennis Haysbert
Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def)
Tim Meadows
Cuba Gooding Jr.

Gooding Jr. has already played Carson, but I don’t know… I’d almost rather have Gooding run for president and have Carson star in the movie. If we can’t do that, I like Dennis Haysbert of Heat, 24, and Allstate commercial fame. It’s a different kind of role for Haysbert. He’s got the wizened eyes and the deep voice, but he’d have to work at that just-struck-by-a-frying-pan look that voters in Iowa love so much. The former Mos Def is also a great choice because he’s probably smoked just enough weed to make sense of Carson’s candidacy.

Glenn Close
Jon Bon Jovi
Chris Cooper
Kevin Costner
Christopher McDonald

Glenn Close, reprising the asset-hoovering Captain Monica Rawling character from The Shield, is a strong choice for Kasich, although the Twitter user who suggested the violently yellow-haired veteran character actor McDonald of Happy Gilmore and Spy Kids 2 fame was definitely on to something. Costner, who dialed his screen presence almost all the way down to zero for another Ohio-themed role in the wretched Draft Day, might also be a low-energy fit at this stage of his career.

Josh Brolin
Tommy Lee Jones
Harry Hamlin
Gary Cole
Tyler Perry

Harry Hamlin is an interesting choice because as @ruckcohlchez pointed out, Perry probably got the idea for the smart glasses by watching Hamlin wear glasses on Mad Men. Cole could do it – Gary Cole could probably play anyone from Patty Hearst to Patrice Lumumba – and casting Tyler Perry to play Rick Perry would be a nice running homage to Dennis Miller in a Republican-themed movie. But in the end, it has to be Josh Brolin as Perry, doesn’t it? Between the resemblance and Brolin’s demonstrated skill at playing dazed, mentally absent politicians, his feels like a drop-the-mic audition.

John C. Reilly
Ed Hermann
Martin Clunes
Elias Koteas 

As @writer614 pointed out, it doesn’t matter who plays Gilmore, because “he doesn’t have any lines anyway.” Moreover you could cast anyone in the role – Peter Dinklage, Pete Postlethwaite, Forest Whitaker, Rooney Mara, anyone – because nobody knows what Gilmore looks like. If we must make a serious choice, I like the perpetually confounded Clunes of Doc Martin fame, although as an American and a veteran of many toxic-dumb-person roles, Reilly would have more of an instinct here.

MITT ROMNEY (when he enters the race)
Bruce Campbell
Michael Shannon
Fred Willard
Fred Ward 

It will be an injustice if the great Bruce Campbell doesn’t get to play Mitt Romney at some point in his life.

Robert Redford
Rebecca De Mornay
Helen Mirren
Meryl Streep
Amy Poehler
Emma Thompson

I think Robert Redford would make a great Hillary – just imagine it for a minute – but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t see the humor there. The studio heads will want Mirren or Streep if they can’t convince Emma Thompson to do it again (did she have a sequel deal for Primary Colors?). Rebecca De Mornay would be interesting if she souped up her Mrs. Mott/evil nanny role from The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

Bruce Dern
Christopher Lloyd
Larry David
James Adomian
Austin Pendleton 

Sanders is going to be an interesting and controversial casting decision. Adomanian has of course already played Bernie, but it’s hard not to imagine Larry David or especially Christopher Lloyd in the role. Veteran character actor Austin Pendleton did a great impersonation of a lefty politician in Searching for Bobby Fischer, although the actual role was an aging chessmaster obsessed with taking a pawn in a penny-ante tournament that matters only to other chess players.

Two final notes. One, I left out a few of the ancillary Dems, like O’Malley and Chafee, because, well, who cares?

Secondly, I have a strong belief that Chow Yun-Fat should be in every movie. Since he doesn’t really fit as any of the candidates, I’m open to write-in suggestions for his part in the film. Could he be Frank Luntz? Anderson Cooper? Huma Abedin? Nate Silver? All ideas are welcome.

In This Article: Election 2016


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