Actor finds serious side for 9-11 film

Saturday, September 6, 2003

— This time he did it without the false ears.

Timothy Bottoms -- who played George W. Bush in Comedy Central's sitcom parody "That's My Bush!" -- is again portraying the president. But now it's serious.

Bottoms has the lead role in "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," the Showtime docudrama that explores how Bush and his White House staff reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The movie premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, with repeats throughout the month.

Bottoms didn't use any prosthetics to match the president's features. He just parted his hair differently, did "a little bit of a Western accent" and tried to imitate that walk "as best I could."

Bottoms can't explain the influences behind the president's distinctive strut -- "If I met him I'd ask him!" But he knows how it looks. "It's like he's got a couple of six guns. He's a tough hombre!"

Lionel Chetwynd, the film's writer and producer, said he met with Bush for about an hour to hear firsthand how it was to be president, commander in chief and a husband and father during those days of crisis. He wanted the movie to capture all aspects of the man.

Chetwynd is on the record as being very supportive of the present administration, so it might seem surprising that he cast the actor who had made fun of the president in the 2001 sitcom.

The writer says with a chuckle that it was "obviously not my favorite show," but described Bottoms' audition tape as "90 percent persuasive" and his live audition as "extraordinary."

Besides, says Chetwynd, the actor's politics have nothing to do with it. "I still don't know what his politics are."

Bottoms professes similar ignorance about the political leanings of Chetwynd's script.

"I don't know whether it's pro-Bush or not," he says. "The president of the United States had to make certain decisions regarding the incidents that were happening. Any president worth his salt would have done what this man did ... take charge, be as unemotional as you can, get as much information as you can, make a decision."

The 52-year-old actor looks remarkably like the president, yet Chetwynd says "it wasn't simply the verisimilitude." He believes Bottoms also conveys the president's "extraordinary warmth" and how he seems to be "very comfortable in his skin."

Bottoms is looking very comfortable himself as he strolls the harbor in his hometown of Santa Barbara on a recent summer day, wearing shorts, a crisp white shirt, flip-flops and a straw hat.

The father of four children, he still has the manner of a boy playing hooky on a gloriously sunny day as he savors the beauty of the California seaside town. He has driven to the shore from the family home in the foothills.

On the way down, he pointed out the canyons he's hunted in, the boats in the harbor he's sailed, a sculpture of dolphins by his artist-father, and the pier that "was my baby sitter."

The local drive-in nurtured Bottoms' desire to act. "The screen was so massive, you got swept up in the story -- I wanted to be in that world. ... You could drift off to sleep right after it was over, so it was like a dream."

His films in the early 1970s were good -- "The Last Picture Show," "Johnny Got His Gun," "Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" and "The Paper Chase."

His list of credits since is long, but not as stellar.

Bottoms is fairly happy with his role as "a journeyman actor," though it hasn't been as profitable as he would have liked. When the roles don't come, he makes "grocery money" as a surveyor's assistant, tends to the horses on his ranch farther up the coast and tries to be "a good dad."