Q&A with Rod Lurie, Master of the Drool Trick
Set in the year 2008, Rod Lurie's Deterrence plays out entirely in a dumpy diner in Aztec, CO. President of the United States Walter Emerson (played by Kevin Pollak) is on a reelection tour and gets stranded at Morty's Roadside Diner in a freak snowstorm. Iraq pulls some shit in Kuwait and things quickly heat up to what could be World War III.
Lurie wrote as well as directed. I say it's on par with Fail-Safe, which is saying a lot. Especially for the budget that Lurie had to work with. The film comes off as a sort of filmed play that will leave you thinking for days. It's got Timothy Hutton and Sean Astin in it, so it ain't some cheesy Sci-Fi Network shit. Serious issues are posed with this film. And serious thinking is required.
Now, that said, let's get down to the shit: Rod Lurie and I went to Parkway Elementary School together in Greenwich, CT. Rod was a Jew, like me, living in an overwhelmingly WASPy area. I was beaten up daily for being a kike, and I have to wonder if the same thing happened with him. And his brother, Barry.
I also wonder if his father, Ranan Lurie, the famous political cartoonist, may have played a role in Rod's thinking for this film. I remember him going off to the Mideast to fight in the Israeli army when we were kids.
But what I remember most about Rod was his drool trick. Rod could let drool fall out of his mouth, make it reach all the way to the floor, then suck it back up again. It was incredible. I had to know if he could still do that.
So with this quest in mind I set out to meet with Rod Lurie, a guy I haven't seen since the end of the sixth grade, when I went on to a public junior high school and he went on to Brunswick, an all-boys academy. What I found was someone who not only remembered me, but who reminded me of who I was. It was like a whole year of psychotherapy, for free.
Good seeing you, Rod.
I'm quite taken aback, I didn't know I was going to see you. When I saw your name I was like, "Is that the same George Tabb?"
Same George, different hair. I ditched the Jewfro.
I can see. Blond hair. Interesting.
So, let's get to it. Can you still do the drool trick? I remember seeing you in the Parkway library letting your drool go all the way to the floor...
Then you'd suck it back up. Then you'd...
And I saw you once pick up a piece of paper with drool and...
I remember it quite well. I can't do it anymore. (laughs)
I remember doing it, and it was quite a talent I used to have as a child. Unfortunately, ya know, when I realized it was not in the Olympic games, I just sort of retired from it. But I remember doing it. It was usually with milk.
Yeah. It had the right texture.
Yeah, you'd get this big long white sperm trail going down to the ground.
Right. But back then we didn't know what a sperm trail was.
So you haven't tried it since?
Give it a shot.
I can't do it with Diet Coke.
Okay, we'll get Gwen the publicist to bring in some milk.
I don't drink milk. I'm lactose intolerant. Just write I did it.
I haven't done it in years. The last time I did it was in sixth grade. And I caught such hell from my parents for doing it. It scared the bejesus out of me. It's interesting, every person I run into from Parkway says, "Hey, Rod, can you still drool?"
Yeah, it's like watching some sort of porno trick.
Are you married now?
Does your wife know that you could do that drool trick? It might turn her on.
She does. An old friend told her about it. But I'm not famous enough for people to care about me doing the drool trick.
To me you are. I've closely watched your career. Writing for Los Angeles magazine, doing that short film, the radio show, writing your book...
Okay, so you care.
You're a Jew, correct?
In fact, I remember your father being in the Israeli military.
Right. While we were in school in 1973, he was in the October War.
I remember seeing pictures at your house of him parachuting and stuff. I thought it was really cool.
How'd you survive being a Jew in Greenwich? 'Cause I got beaten up every fucking day...
Well, that's because you were a snotty little kid. Who told bad jokes. It had nothing to do with you being Jewish. You were a smartass and you deserved to get beaten up.
Wait wait wait! They used to call me "kike" and "dirty Jew" and kick my ass.
Well, yeah, I did experience a little of that too. Although I didn't quite get beaten up.
I mean, come on Rod, we were probably like two of the five Jewish families in Greenwich.
Right. And at Brunswick school I was one of three Jewish kids there. I guess I do recall some anti-Semitism. But at that time it wasn't very pure. It was just sort of the thing to do. No one understood what they were doing...
I agree those little fucks probably didn't know what they were saying.
Right. Exactly. You know what? To tell the truth, now that I think about it, at Parkway, when we were young, that was something of an issue. My father, when we were growing up, told my brother and me...
Barak. He uses his real name now. We were born in Israel. My dad said we were not to fight unless there was a verbal anti-Semitic attack on us. Or physical. And then he told us no matter what happens to us in school, no matter what punishment is pounded upon us, that he wanted us to fight. In 1973, it was, um, how many years, about just three decades after the Holocaust.
Which brings us to your movie. You've got a little Jewish president with a chip on his shoulder, and he's pushed around by the Arabs in Iraq?basically he's called a "dirty Jew."
Then the president goes and does what he does. I'm trying not to ruin the movie here. Anyway, do you think that character is you? Or your father telling you that you should avenge the Jews?
Maybe subliminally. I haven't really thought about that. And I certainly didn't do it with that intention. What I was trying to do was, well, you have a movie where a president has to make a decision about whether or not to drop an atomic bomb or a nuclear bomb, and I wanted to create every obstacle possible to him, and one of the biggest obstacles would be that it's one thing if Gerald Ford or George Bush was gonna drop bombs on Iraq, it's another thing entirely if a Jew is gonna drop it because his motives can be viewed as ulterior. I think the character has military reasons not to drop the bomb, he has strategic reasons not to drop the bomb, and now he has a sense of history not to drop the bomb. A sense of his place in history. He does not want to be regarded as a racist.
Yet don't you somehow identify with the president? "If they call you bad names as a Jew, blow them away."
What my father was saying was that we have to be the anti-sheep. That we are not going to accept anti-Semitic hatred. And that we are going to fight for that. What you are saying is plausible, but it's Freudian, my friend.
Is your dad still alive?
My dad is not only alive, but he's in the Guinness book as the number-one cartoonist in the world.
So what does he think of the movie?
My dad is a proud dad. He really loves the film.
I read somewhere where you said the film is like a Rorschach test. Depending on who you are depends on which side you'll take.
It's really interesting, George. You have people who have said the film is very patriotic, some people say it's jingoistic, some people say it's very right-wing, some say it's very left-wing. And it's because I simply choose to show, rather than tell. Believe me, you are going to find me very much on the left side of the spectrum.
Which is kinda funny, since we both lived in Greenwich, and you're saying you're left-wing, and I remember telling people to vote for McGovern and getting beaten up...
(laughs) That would definitely have gotten you beaten up in Greenwich.
And then you go off to West Point. And your father...
Yeah, well, I don't know. Actually, I think my father is rather Clintonian right now. Let me tell you what happens, and I think it will make immediate sense to you. It is true that when you are growing up in Greenwich, there is a lot of Republican money there. And West Point, I can certainly see how it can be perceived as a right-wing school, but then I'm an officer. And I'm off with my soldiers. Seventy percent of them are Hispanic or black, sending home money because their moms can't survive on their welfare checks, or their 14-year-old sisters are getting pregnant, and you begin to empathize with them. These people who are on the left. I just made another film called The Contender with Christian Slater, Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges, and no one will have any doubts which side I'm on with that one.
So you're a nice Jewish boy from Greenwich who went out to Hollywood and made it as a big-time director!
Let me tell you something, that didn't happen overnight. In order to become a director, my telephones were turned off many times. My power was shut off many times. I lost my house. It's not what you think.
Do you get laid because you are a director?
Well, yeah, from my wife...
I'm just bringing this up because I got laid from my career. Besides writing, I play in punk rock bands. The newest one is Furious George. Here are a couple of our CDs.
Furious George? Furious George! You guys have that major copyright lawsuit going, don't you?
Yeah, The Man In The Yellow Hat is trying to fuck me up the ass.
Yeah, well, I ended up being a punk rocker from Greenwich.
Get out of here! You?
I spent the last, ahem, however many years it's been, after moving to Florida, playing the punk rock and touring.
Is that right? Is that where you make all your dough?
Wow George, this is something else. You must be a Sid Vicious fan. You must have seen Sid & Nancy.
I remember sneaking out of Greenwich on Metro North and checking out bands at places like Max's and CBGB. When you used to go to school dances, did you ever ask girls to dance? Or were you a pussy like me, too afraid to say anything, so you just stood against the wall?
You know, I did ask girls to dance, actually, and I was always very unnerved doing it and I was a terribly sloppy dancer and...
But they said yes?
Some did. Some didn't. But some did.
You're a lucky bastard. Plus, you could do the drool trick.
I could have done another drool trick that would have been much more effective.
You remember my stepsister Dana?
I don't think so. How old was she?
Same age as us.
I don't recall.
Really? That's too bad. She liked you. And had big tits.
In the sixth grade?
Sure, you don't remember?
Oh yeah, I remember her, she was my first sexual experience. Your sister. (laughs) In the sixth grade.
There were lots of cute girls at Parkway Elementary School.
Yes. I remember a really hot one named Sarah. Then there were two Amys.
Oh, the Amys, whoa! So you and I ended up in creative fields. Kinda normal. But you know, most everyone else ended up being investment bankers, stockbrokers or whatever. Jobs with nothing interesting to do, no creative outlet and lots of pressure.
George, you can't say you ended up being normal. Look at you! You're a punk rocker and creative, and that's pretty cool.
Well, you're a movie director and living out my fantasy.
We're both living out creative lives. And at least if we fail, we fail having fun. Having a good time. Not like the investment bankers or whatever. And hey, it must be a thrill for you to be in front of an audience, even if you suck.
Oh, we do. And we let the audience know it. It must be a thrill for you to be a director.
Do you remember the little films you used to make?
Super-8. Animated and live action. Those were fun.
I was jealous.
You were jealous of me?
Sure. I had always loved movies, and there you were, making movies back then. Doing little films. In my mind that was very exciting and very inventive. I once went to my mom and asked if we could buy an 8 mm camera so we could make films like George Tabb and she said, "No. Go make films with him." But I also really liked those little tape parodies you used to do. There was an interview, and a question was asked like, "What do you think about Watergate?" and then you'd play "Let It Be."
Yeah, I stole stuff from albums. Still do. But these days it's called "sampling." See? Nothing's changed in all these years.
Yeah. I'm still jealous of you. I'd love to be a punk rocker. Be that free.
Yeah? Well I'd love to be a Hollywood director.
Deterrence opens Fri., March 10, at UA Union Square (850 B'way at 13th St.),253-2225, and UA 64th (1210 2nd Ave. at 64th St.), 832-1670.
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