Two days after it was announced that Will Ferrell was set to play Ronald Reagan in a comedy that makes light the former US president’s affliction with Alzheimer’s, the comedian has backed out of the project altogether following outrage from the former president’s family.
On Wednesday, Variety reported that Ferrell was attached to star in and produce Reagan, a new comedy from writer Mike Rosolio, which begins at the start of the then-president’s second term when he begins to show symptoms of dementia. The plot centers on an intern, charged with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.
Rosolio’s script became hot property after making it onto the Black List, Hollywood’s annual catalogue of the top screenplays not to be made into films. Lena Dunham headed a live read-through of the script in Los Angeles in March, with James Brolin as Reagan. Publicity for the event described the screenplay as a “hilarious political satire”.
The news of Ferrell’s casting prompted Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, to excoriate Ferrell in a letter published Thursday on the Daily Beast.
“Perhaps you have managed to retain some ignorance about Alzheimer’s and other versions of dementia,” David challenged the actor. “Perhaps if you knew more, you would not find the subject humorous.”
Reagan’s son, Michael Reagan, tweeted that Farrell and the film-makers should be “ashamed” for mocking his father’s illness. He added, “Alzheimer’s is not a joke”
Former Reagan staffer James Rosebush also weighed in, telling Fox & Friends that Reagan did not suffer from Alzheimer’s in his second term, and the film was “an egregious attempt to rewrite presidential history, which to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, ‘will fall on the ash heap of history’.”
He also criticized the timing of the announcement, which fell weeks after Nancy Reagan’s death.
The New York Post reported that Farrell won’t confirm if his decision to pull out of the project was a direct result of the immediate backlash.
Davis expressed gratitude at the development, telling the newspaper: “I am so relieved that Will has decided against this film. I can’t imagine that anybody else would sign onto it.”
This article was written by Nigel M Smith, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th April 2016 19.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010