Casting a movie or TV show is make or break. We all know what happens when an actor inhabits a role completely. Also we know what happens when an actor and a role conflict with each other. Example: casting Donald Trump as President Of The United States. Curious as a stunt, utterly pointless otherwise. In fact, dangerous. But, Trump as simply a literal performer prancing about a literal stage (or movie set)? Then he becomes entirely “take him or leave him” – the way he was. Far easier to leave. And, maybe, to love, too? I know – that seems twisted. Bizarre. But, there’s a road in my Life I chose NOT to take and now I wonder about it: I almost cast Donald Trump in “Tales From The Crypt”. And, I sorta kinda wish I had…
To be completely accurate, my boss – Joel Silver – pitched Trump the idea of acting in an episode of Crypt. Trump loved the idea. All we had to do was send him a script. The entire exchange took place during the most bizarre car ride of my life. This story could just as easily play on my sister site “The How NOT To Make A Movie Podcast”. In fact, in Season One, Episode Two, I tell this story – but without telling the rest of the crazy car ride. I’m telling the story of the rest of that car ride here.
Like I said, it was a doozy. Crazy for a lot of reasons not the least of which I almost cast Donald Trump in “Tales From The Crypt”.
Some Crypt History
My creative partner Gil Adler and I took over Crypt at the start of its third season on HBO. Season two had gone wildly over-budget ($1 million) so Crypt’s executive producers – Joel Silver, Richard Donner, Bob Zemeckis and Walter Hill – fired Crypt’s producers and hired us ostensibly to see out its last season. Except Gil and I turned Crypt around, revitalized the Crypt Keeper, kept Crypt going for five more seasons and even scored an order of three Crypt-themed horror movies from Universal Pictures. Crypt took over our lives.
Of our executive producers, Joel was most hand’s on. It’s how he is. As I describe in the podcast, Joel is a creature of show biz. An impresario, larger than life. Normal rules simply didn’t apply.
Heading into season four – Gil’s and my second on the show – we began to reassemble our creative team, look for warehouse space in which to shoot the next season (we never shot on a studio lot – too expensive) and make deals. Gil dealt mostly with Joel because Gil handled the bulk of the producing chores while I handled the bulk of the scriptwriting. Ours was a very complementary, successful partnership. Soup to nuts – literally.
Normally, Gil and Joel could speak on the phone a dozen times a day. But, with the season looming, we had a couple of big issues. These required face time with Joel from both of us. And, so, we booked it – Wednesday one p.m. With a season under our belt, Gil and I understood the politics and the process of working with Joel. As we describe at length in the podcast’s season one, working with Joel could make you nuts. But it could also drive you to do great work. It was maddening yet exciting, too.
Time meant nothing to Joel. Gil and I might have told ourselves we had a one o’clock meeting with our boss, but our boss had no such meeting on his calendar. We showed up in his waiting room – same as lots of people. At some point, maybe, we’d get to go into Joel’s office. In season one, I tell how we nearly walked out of the meeting where we got the Crypt gig because Barry Josephson (the guy running Joel’s company) kept us waiting for an hour.
An hour! That was nothing! Hell, an hour’s wait was like walking right in!
The Wait Begins…
Gil and I sat in Joel’s waiting room for five hours! We watched countless others come and go. Gil tried repeatedly to just walk in the door but Joel kept waving him away – “Gimme a minute! Gimme a minute!” Those were Joel minutes, not anyone else’s minutes.
A few moments after six, Joel emerged from his office, one hand pressed to the side of his face. A crown had fallen out while he’d been screaming at someone and now he needed to head to his dentist in Beverly Hills. We would (finally!) get our face time with Joel during the trip to Beverly Hills.
Joel And Frank Lloyd Wright
I assume Joel Silver knows how to drive but I’ve never seen him do it. Joel had a fleet of SUV’s (with Silver Picture’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired logo on the side). Joel loves Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s owned several FLW houses. He always designed his office space in FLW style. Joel, say whatever you will about him, has very good taste in lots of things. So, Gil and I follow Joel out to one of his SUV’s. Reggie, Joel’s driver, slides behind the wheel. Joel sits up front. Gil and I climb into the passenger seats and off we go.
But, First, A Call…
The instant Gil and I go to start our meeting, Joel grabs for his car phone. Back then – the early 1990’s – few people had cell phones (they were big, bulky and heavy). Many, like Joel, had dedicated car phones. One call becomes another becomes the next.
Gil and I sit patiently. We can still see light at the end of this tunnel (and it isn’t a train).
The calls continue. For some reason, Joel calls Donald Trump. My memory is they were discussing some other piece of business for a few minutes. Then Joel said “Hey, Donald, I got the two guys who do ‘Tales From The Crypt’ in the car with me! Say hello!”
“Hi, guys,” says Donald.
“Hey,” we reply.
“You should be in an episode!” says Joel.
Morton Downey And Television Terror
Now, for reference, getting big names to appear in Crypt was part of the deal. Donald Trump would have been a perfectly good get for us. The previous season, Trump had hired MORTON DOWNEY, JR for an episode. For about two seconds, Morton Downey was the equivalent of Sean Hannity. He was a right wing, loudmouth TV host who knew how to stir up his audience. “Television Terror” is a great episode. Morton Downey is one of the things that makes it great. He’s perfectly cast!
From that vantage point, casting Trump isn’t crazy. It depends how we cast him! Cast correctly, even a Donald Trump can shine like a diamond. Trump was hungry. He loved the idea of appearing in HBO’s biggest show at the time. Why wouldn’t he?
Joel suggested a few of the things Trump could play. Most of them were variations on a rich guy. Trump got even more excited. “Send me a script!” he said.
“We’re gonna do it!” said Joel. “Guys, you got a script to send Donald?”
We had lots of scripts that needed casting. Easy answer: “Yes,” we replied.
“They’re sending you a script,” repeated Joel. And just like that, the conversation ended – and the next one began!
Gil and I looked at each other more out of frustration with Joel. We sent out scripts all the time. Sending one to Trump would have been normal. And, it would have been just as normal if Trump had said yes and taken the role.
The Car Ride Continues
The car ride continued. Warner Bros studio is in Burbank. Depending on traffic, it can take 45 minutes to do what a crow could in five. By the time we got to Beverly Hills, it was after seven. Gil and I had now been waiting SIX HOURS to discuss important business with our boss.
“C’mon, c’mon,” said Joel as he exited the SUV and headed into the high rise housing his dentist. We grab the moment in the elevator – brief as it is – to start talking. Joel holds up his hands. Not now.
We follow Joel into his dentist’s office. Joel goes into the treatment room, Gil and I sit down in the waiting room. To wait. While Joel’s dentist fixes his crown.
Another 20 minutes drags by.
It’s now 7:30. Joel emerges from the treatment room his crown restored and his dentist following. Joel introduces us to his dentist. Joel’s dentist tells us he has an idea for an episode of “Tales From The Crypt”. It’s about a really horrible dentist. We agree to arrange a meeting with him to discuss – and out the door we go.
One Last Detour
Back in the elevator… back into the SUV – heading back to Warner Brothers. Joel’s back on the phone again, this time to his then girlfriend Lisa. She and Joel have plans for the night – an event. Joel says he’ll swing by the house and pick her up on the way back to Burbank. He hangs up with Lisa and starts yet another call.
Gil and I exchange glances. We’ve been at this for hours and hours now and have nada to show for it.
We arrive at Joel’s FLW house in the West Hollywood hills. It’s beautiful – it’s Frank Lloyd Wright. Gil, Reggie (the drive) and I follow Joel into the house. “Be right there,” says Joel as he heads to the bedroom wing. We’re not far away in the dining room.
We hear Joel’s voice coming from the master bedroom: “You ready?”
We don’t hear Lisa’s answer – at least, I didn’t. But, whatever she said, it started something. I don’t recall what Joel said next, but, whatever it was, it triggered Lisa. Lisa was very, very pretty. Very petite. She’d been a Playboy Playmate. Now, suddenly, she was a raging hurricane, screaming at the top of her voice at Joel.
Standing awkwardly in the living room, Reggie, Joel and I exchanged glances. Lisa was tearing Joel several new assholes. All three of us stifled the urge to laugh out loud. Joel would have heard us!
Finally, Joel emerges from the bedroom, his head bowed, eyes fixed on the carpet. “She’ll come later,” he said curtly, heading for the front door.
The three of us don’t dare make a sound. We’ve just watched Joel Silver – a man who terrorizes other people – get reduced to a puddle of warm jello. By a woman a third his size and weight. We’ve just witnessed something “special”.
We followed Joel out to his SUV, got in and drove back to Warner Bros. In total silence.
Say Goodnight And Go
A little after nine p.m., Gil and I stood by our cars in the now empty lot at Warners. We’d been with Joel an entire working day. But, the work we’d come to do that day remained undone.
We both got into our cars and headed home.
For the record? We never sent Donald Trump a script.