Woods tackles role of Rudy

January 13, 2003|By HARTFORD COURANT

HOLLYWOOD -- When actor James Woods got the role of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for a TV film, his mother warned him.

"She said, `Jimmy, this guy is the biggest American hero -- regardless of what the liberal press says -- since Franklin Roosevelt. Don't let them screw this up.'"

The actor didn't let it happen in the USA Network production of Rudy!: The Rudolph Giuliani Story, he told critics in Los Angeles last week. "I mean, there's virtually nothing about Rudy Giuliani that I don't unequivocally admire."

To portray the mayor in the film, which has its premiere in March, Woods got the comb-over and learned the lisp. Mostly, he says, "We decided to go more for the spirit of the character, given the very dramatic circumstances of his life, and do homage."

Few public lives are as dramatic, Woods says.

"Rudy Giuliani has had the perfect three-act life so far. He started really strong, saving New York," the actor says. At a time when the city "was virtually decaying around your feet."

In his second act, he struggled through a number of difficulties. Then he was given an opportunity in the third act to emerge as the great, heroic man that I generally believe he is and always has been," Woods says.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 through which Giuliani led the city -- and in many ways the nation -- takes up only 10 percent of the film, according to director Robert Dornhelm.

All agreed the terrorist attack and how he reacted to it are what, in many ways, defined his tenure as mayor. "It's an age-old question: Do the times make the man, or does the man make the times?" Woods says. "In Rudy's case, he certainly did shine."

On the other hand, the film's not a whitewash. "He's a great man, warts and all, like all great men," Woods says.

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