Hollywood Movies

‘The Apprentice’ Director Shrugs Off Trump Lawsuit Threat

May 21, 20245 Mins Read

Filmmaker Ali Abbasi has responded to the Trump campaign’s threat to sue over his movie The Apprentice, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday night to an eight-minute standing ovation

“Everybody talks about him suing a lot of people — they don’t talk about his success rate though, you know?” Abbasi said Monday morning in France, drawing laughs from the crowd at the first press conference for The Apprentice. 

The director acknowledged Trump’s likely assumptions around the movie, saying, “If I was him, I would be sitting in New Jersey, Florida or wherever he is now — or New York — and I would be thinking, ‘Oh, this crazy Iranian guy and some, like, liberal cunts in Cannes, they gathered and they did this movie and it’s fucked up.’”

“But I don’t necessarily think that this is a movie he would dislike,” Abbasi added, before saying he would be happy to screen the movie for Trump and discuss it with him. 

He continued: “I don’t necessarily think he would like it. I think he would be surprised, you know? And like I’ve said before, I would offer to go and meet him wherever he wants and talk about the context of the movie, have a screening talk and a chat afterwards, if that’s interesting to anyone at the Trump campaign.”

The Apprentice explores Donald Trump’s rise to power in 1980s America under the influence of the firebrand rightwing attorney Roy Cohn. Sebastian Stan portrays a young version of the real estate mogul in his pre-MAGA days while Succession star Jeremy Strong plays Cohn, along with Martin Donovan (Tenet) as Fred Trump Sr. and Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) as Ivana Trump.

The film has been described as a surprisingly humanistic portrayal of the global icon now known simply as “The Donald,” but it also contains several disturbing and profoundly unflattering scenes, including a sequence where he rapes his first wife Ivana, gets liposuction and surgery for his bald spot, becomes addicted to diet pills, and betrays the trust of many of those closest to him. 

At the premiere Monday night, Abbasi laid his intentions bare by stating, “There is no nice metaphorical way to deal with the rising wave of fascism. There’s only the messy way. There’s only the the banal way. There’s only the way of dealing with this wave on its own terms, at its own level and it’s not going to be pretty.”  

“I think the problem with the world,” he added, “is that the good people have been quiet for too long. So, I think it’s time to make movies relevant. It’s time to make movies political again.”

Later Monday night in Cannes, as a glitzy after-party for The Apprentice was getting underway, word began to spread that the Trump campaign was threatening to sue in response to the movie. 

“We will be filing a lawsuit to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “This garbage is pure fiction which sensationalizes lies that have been long debunked.”

“This ‘film’ is pure malicious defamation, should not see the light of day, and doesn’t even deserve a place in the straight-to-DVD section of a bargain bin at a soon-to-be-closed discount movie store,” Cheung went on, “it belongs in a dumpster fire.”

The Apprentice still didn’t have a U.S. distributor in place, although it sold earlier in the Cannes festival to StudioCanal for the U.K. and Ireland, where it will be released theatrically later this year.

Asked at the press conference about the release plans, Abbasi joked, “We have a promotional event coming up called the U.S. election that’s going to help us with the movie. The second debate is going to be Sept. 15, if I remember right, so that’s a good release date for us, I would say.”

Strong, already hailed by critics as a highlight of the film, was absent from both the Cannes premiere and press conference for The Apprentice because he is busy performing in New York on Broadway in an acclaimed version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Abbasi read aloud a message from the actor at the start of the press conference.

The message read: “‘An enemy of the people’ is a phrase that has been used by Stalin, Mao, Goebbels and, most recently, by Donald Trump when he denounced the free press and called CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS News, the New York Times ‘fake news media.’ An enemy of the people,” Strong wrote. “We’re living in a world where truth is unresolved. That assault on truth, in many ways, began with Trump’s apprenticeship under Roy Cohn. Cohn was called an assault specialist by the National Law Journal. We are experiencing Roy Cohn’s long, dark shadow — his legacy of lies, of outright denialism, of manipulation, of a grand disregard for truth.”

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