‘The Apprentice’ Director Ali Abbasi Says Trump Will Probably Think the Film Is ‘Demeaning and a Conspiracy’

Cannes 2024: But the director of the harrowing Trumpian tale also insists, “I don’t necessarily think this is a movie he would dislike”

Ali Abbasi and Sebastian Stan
Ali Abbasi and Sebastian Stan (Getty Images)

Donald Trump would not like or dislike “The Apprentice,” director Ali Abbasi said at a Cannes Film Festival press conference on Tuesday. “If I was him, I would be sitting in New Jersey, Florida, wherever he is now… I would think, ‘Oh, this crazy Iranian guy, they did this movie and it’s f–ked up, and it’s demeaning, and it’s a conspiracy…

“I don’t necessarily think this is a movie he would dislike,” he added. “I don’t think he would like it, I think he would be surprised.”

The Iranian-born, Denmark-based director also said he’d be happy to show the movie to its subject. “I offer to go and meet him wherever he wants,” he said, “and talk about the movie and have a screening and a chat afterwards.”

Abbasi also referenced Hitler and other “despicable monsters” of history and noted that even “the most reprehensible person in history also liked a dog, or fell for someone, or was nice to somebody” at some point. “The Apprentice,” he said, has a “humanist ideology about taking these people who are icons, who are hated … down to Earth, and deconstructing that mythological image into earthly human beings.”

With doing so, he continued, “comes understanding, sympathy. That doesn’t mean you forget — but it means (you feel) sympathy. If there is a mission for the movie, that would be it.”

The film stars Sebastian Stan as a young Donald Trump; Jeremy Strong (who could not be in Cannes because he’s currently appearing on Broadway) as Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn; Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump; and Martin Donovan as Donald’s father, Fred Trump. Stan in particular had a wealth of decades of Trumpian content available on him to sift through as he developed the character, something that he found to be a blessing and a curse.

The abundance of Trump footage allowed Stan to immerse himself in the character completely, “basically living with him to some extent, in my headphones, on my phone, YouTube,” he explained. “Everywhere I was going, whatever I was doing, if I was in the bathroom, I was listening to him.

“I don’t know how else to do it except one hundred percent,” Stan added.

Donald Trump is “a human being like everybody else,” the actor said. Playing such a divisive real-life person could be a challenge, but “I always feel like there is something to learn. (Actors) have to take on things that are risky and uncomfortable to talk about. I think it’s important that we do.

“It’s in our face every day. We need to have a perspective, we need to at least confront one another — hopefully in a peaceful way — about what is happening and what we’re seeing.”

For Donovan, finding source material for Fred Trump was significantly more difficult. “Fred is not an iconic figure like Donald,” he explained. The film’s production team found video of the elder Trump accepting an award, he continued, “and it’s about a five-minute speech, and I just played that over and over and picked up on his rhythms and went from there.”

Donovan also pulled from his own childhood. The actor said he wasn’t born into the same class as the Trumps, but grew up around people who thought like the family, especially Fred. “(By) channeling people I knew growing up, I know the terminology they used,” he said. “I was around racists. I know how those people think.

“It was frighteningly easy to access,” he added. “I see Fred as not a one-off in terms of his views. I think his whole worldview is endemic to the white ruling class. That’s how those people view the world.”

The movie debuted to powerful reviews Monday night. Described as “a true-life horror story” that Abbasi approached as a “Frankenstein tale,” it follows a young Donald Trump as he ascends into the upper echelons of American infamy.

As for one review that said “The Apprentice” looks “like a sh–ty TV movie,” the director beamed. “It was the idea from the beginning,” he jubilantly explained.

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