Danny DeVito On His New Film Curmudgeons, Trump and Global Warming

Image: Danny DeVito, Maarten De Boer/ Getty Images via The Daily Beast

Image: Danny DeVito, Maarten De Boer/ Getty Images via The Daily Beast

Emma Jones

“It might be a bad time to be a humanitarian,” muses Danny DeVito, actor, activist – and long time Bernie Sanders supporter.

Flanked by his son Jake and daughter Lucy, Danny is in London. The front pages are full of bile – allegations of sexual assault from Trump, the British PM Theresa May, has declared war on a ‘liberal elite’, while Russia and America bluster towards a new cold war over Syria.


“It’s a bad time to think of human rights and a bad time to think of global warming, and a bad time to think of all the injustices in the world,” he says. “So let’s make some more bombs, let’s level Aleppo, let’s get rid of Antarctica, those polar bears are sitting on a whole load of oil, let’s just wipe it all out. For crying out loud people, wake up.”


“It’s a bad time to think of human rights and a bad time to think of global warming, and a bad time to think of all the injustices in the world,” he says. “So let’s make some more bombs, let’s level Aleppo, let’s get rid of Antarctica, those polar bears are sitting on a whole load of oil, let’s just wipe it all out. For crying out loud people, wake up.”

Fortunately, he is the director of a short film that would melt the hardest of hearts. Curmudgeons is a sixteen minute labour of love by the DeVito family. Danny directs and stars in it; so does Lucy, and it’s produced by both of them, along with Jake. It is, Lucy notes drily, “a real family affair – normally I only know of brothers who go into directing together.”

Image: DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

Image: DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

The film is a tiny tale of big love between two old men. Danny plays one of them, Jackie, and the other Ralph, was taken by his dear friend David Margulies –one of his last parts before he passed away in January this year. With virtually no budget, the three and a half day production was an act of faith.

“It’s lovely that we’re all involved,” says Danny.” We went to the theatre more than three years ago to see a series of one-act plays by Lucy’s friend Josh Conkel, and Curmudgeons was one of them.  We just thought it was simply terrific. It was simple and had great heart, it had a twist and a real progressive message of embracing everyone’s choice.

“Lucy said it would make a great little movie, and so we asked Jake to do a treatment screenplay which is very close to the original. David Margulies was one of my oldest friends – I think we first met in 1969 when we did a play on Broadway together. He was a real dear friend and he was actually in the stage play. 

“David was very sick at the time, when we shot it over a four days in Brooklyn, exactly a year ago. He passed away in January. But you know, we’d finished the movie, and he got to see it, and it was a great experience all round.”


“I am really struck by the message it gives, which is it’s never too late in life. It’s never too late to be honest and express your love, and embrace the people you want to be with most.” 


Lucy says the film is a fitting tribute “to a wonderful friendship between two great buddies, but I think it’s also something you rarely see on the screen – love between two old men. I am really struck by the message it gives, which is it’s never too late in life. It’s never too late to be honest and express your love, and embrace the people you want to be with most.” 

Image: Lucy DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

Image: Lucy DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

As the veteran of more than forty five years of filmmaking, does that, like Danny’s character Jackie, give him the right to speak his mind – even if it’s in a curmudgeonly manner?

‘Well, in general the movie is mirroring life in many ways, including the fact as you get older you feel you can say and do everything you want,” is the actor’s reply. 

“Unfortunately, there are those who do that, like one Donald Trump, who’d do better not to. That’s a man that’s full of himself, he’s a know-it-all who was given a bunch of money by his Dad, he’s not a self-made anything.”


“Anyone is better than what could happen if Trump is elected. I really don’t want to move from the States at my age, but I suppose I wouldn’t want to live there anymore if it starts to feel any more fascist.”


Danny DeVito certainly spoke his mind - in favour of Bernie Sanders – during the democratic candidate campaign. Now he thinks “anyone is better than what could happen if Trump is elected. I really don’t want to move from the States at my age, but I suppose I wouldn’t want to live there anymore if it starts to feel any more fascist.”

Image: DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

Image: DeVito and Margulies in Curmudgeons

He frets too, that despite the enthusiasm of many of the young for Bernie Sander’s policies, that there’s another Trump waiting in the wings.

“I worry there is more of it, “ he confides. “We are so polarised – you have all the wealth in the hands of one percent of people, and at the other end of the spectrum folk are really, really poor. The middle is sagging. So what I worry about is that not only can we not stop a guy like Donald Trump, is that there will be another one along before too soon.”

In such tightrope-walking times, do artists have a responsibility in the projects they choose? 

“Well, you look for something that touches you,” he replies. “You want something that you feel close to and that gives you an emotional reaction. There’s room for other kinds of movies, sure, but we need to keep our eye open for what’s going on in the world.

“When I look at something like Curmudgeons though, it was worth the three years of work. Every single minute.”

Lucy finishes for her father. “ When you are old, and all is stripped away, what’s left? It’s your heart and the other people around you. I think that’s what we’d like people to leave with when they’ve watched Curmudgeons.”

 

Curmudgeons was selected to appear at the Tribeca and London Film Festivals, and can now be watched, free on Vimeo:


Want to learn more or take action? Here are some recommended resources:

 

Want to know how you can get involved in helping Aleppo? Pledge your support to the White Helmets, either by signing their petition or donating. When the bombs rain down, the Syrian Civil Defence rushes in. In a place where public services no longer function these unarmed volunteers risk their lives to help anyone in need - regardless of their religion or politics. Known as the White Helmets these volunteer rescue workers operate in the most dangerous place on earth.

If you are in the UK, take a look at the BBC's show Panorama, Aleppo: Life Under Siege. The film is an intimate portrait of ordinary people struggling to stay alive, including a civil-defence volunteer who risks death to save his fellow citizens. The film goes behind the headlines into the backstreets of East Aleppo to show the horror, chaos and fear of the daily bombings, but also the surprising humanity, resilience and hope of the people who remain.

 
 
 

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