- Dan Butler and Alec Baldwin, in Karl Rove, I Love You
Actor Dan Butler is on the phone with presidential advisor Karl Rove, a fan of his irascible Bulldog character on "Frasier." "I agree, the testosterone level of 'Frasier' really went down when I left the show," says the veteran supporting player, straight-faced. Pause. "I didn't watch it much either after that." Pause. "I think you're sexy, too."
This conversation never took place - or did it? It's a scene from a not-so-factual "documentary" called Karl Rove, I Love You, which Newbury resident Butler produced, co-wrote and co-directed. Currently making the rounds of festivals nationally, it will screen at White River Indie Films in White River Junction on Sunday, April 27, at 8:30 p.m. Butler, a full-time Vermonter since September, will be on hand for a Q&A.
Karl Rove is a deadpan satire of politics in Hollywood paired with a deeper meditation on what it means for an actor to "become" a role. At the beginning of the film, set before the 2004 election, Butler - like all the principals, playing himself - doesn't even recognize the name "Karl Rove." When a more activist friend enlightens him, the actor decides it's his mission to inform America about the sinister figure pulling Dubya's strings. He resolves to embody Rove in a one-man show that will expose the Republican heart of darkness.
Thing is, the more Butler learns about Rove, the more fascinated - nay, obsessed - he becomes. Soon he's channeling the spin-meister in dinner-table conversations, to the horror of his lefty friends. And the documentarian who's been following Butler for a film on supporting players - the movie's fictional framing device - ends up capturing a creepy, Talented Mr. Ripley-style transformation. As Butler puts it, "Karl Rove is the ultimate supporting actor. And he's leading this country."
Did any of this really happen? Just back from screening his film at a weekend festival in Oregon, the 53-year-old actor says, "I don't want to answer those questions - that takes the fun away." But he does volunteer that Karl Rove "hovers right between mockumentary and documentary. You know what I love about the piece, what really resonates in it? We really don't know what's truth, what's lie. The boundaries are so murky and interwoven." He says viewers often point to particular scenes in the film and say, "That had to have happened."
What about the now-resigned White House deputy chief of staff himself? Butler says he sent Rove a copy of the film "about three weeks ago. I haven't heard anything back." Will the arch-conservative be flattered? Politically, Butler says, "We really did go out to skewer both sides. I just found Rove endlessly fascinating. People on both sides want to have their good guys and bad guys very black and white. That's probably what inspired me to do it - to poke fun at all of it."
Karl Rove will close the WRIF festival, a weekend of 14 films screened at the Tip Top Café. Some have already appeared at local art houses. Others haven't hit the Green Mountain State yet, such as the documentary Girls Rock! - about a "rock school" for girls - and John Turturro's musical Romance and Cigarettes. Special guests include Hollywood editor Peter Honess, who will talk about his work on movies such as The Golden Compass and L.A. Confidential, and anti-shopping activist "Reverend Billy," accompanying his documentary What Would Jesus Buy?
But is that all? A recent press release from the Main Street Museum maintains that "as a special addition to the Political Science Discussion Series . . . Karl Rove will present a talk from the museum stage, also at 7 p.m. [on April 27], question and answer session to follow." So get those questions ready . . .