Our picks: the best actors who could lead our nation

Daniel Day-Lewis? Gene Hackman? Geena Davis? James Cromwell?

slinn@thetribunenews.com and ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 31, 2012 

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Sure, a president needs to be able to understand economic forecasts, cajole Congress and negotiate with world leaders. But shouldn’t the commander-in-chief also be able to kick royal alien butt?

When Daniel Day-Lewis appears in “Lincoln” next week, he’ll be the latest in a long line of actors to portray an American president. That got us wondering: If an election were held today, which actor would be best qualified to lead our nation based on his past presidential experience on the silver screen?

With the election just days away, here are our top 12 picks for 2012, ranked from worst to first.

Gene Hackman

Okay, so he tried to strangle a woman – there’s that. But the thing is, Gene Hackman’s character in “Absolute Power” just looked so darn . . . presidential.

Of course, Hackman has always played the authority figure well, excelling in roles as an FBI agent, high-ranking military officer and U.S. Secretary of Defense. His stern gaze might help twist arms in Congress, but that sadistic temper is going to be his downfall when it comes to sensitive diplomatic relations.

Jack Nicholson

There’s nothing wrong with being diplomatic, but when bulbous-headed aliens surround Earth with flying saucers, it’s time to go Rambo on them.

Unfortunately, Jack Nicholson’s bubble-headed President Jimmy Dale in “Mars Attacks!” is a clueless namby pamby who wants to negotiate with the terrorists. As a result, we lose Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and Mount Rushmore. If he hadn’t been assassinated by a Martian, we’re pretty sure Dale would have plummeted at least 10 points in the polls.

Robin Williams

Talk about dealing with volatile situations. Robin Williams’ Theodore Roosevelt character in the “Night at the Museum” movies has to help restore order in a world where T-Rex skeletons, a Roman general and an evil pharaoh don’t necessarily share the same world view.

Granted, Williams’ Teddy could have done more to foster peace – instead, he delegates authority to a security guard -- but give the guy credit for being able to ride a horse in a museum. This old timer is sure to get the history buff vote.

Kevin Kline

In the charming political comedy “Dave,” Kevin Kline plays two characters: President Bill Mitchell and Dave Kovic, the ordinary Joe who makes extra money impersonating him. When the cranky commander-in-chief falls ill, Dave steps in and discovers that he’s a perfect fit for the job. Kline makes a great fake president – so great, in fact , that we’d love to see loveable Dave run the country in real life.

Michael Douglas

A single president? Not in this lifetime.

But Douglas, who portrayed romantic President Andrew Shepherd in “The American President,” showed a sensitive side that might woo women voters who look like Annette Bening. On the other hand, men might respect him for thumbing his nose at the polls and pursuing what he truly believes in: Annette Bening.

Morgan Freeman

A recipient of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s King Vidor Career Achievement Award, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman has played a U.S. president in only one film: the disaster flick “Deep Impact.”

However, his past experience as God in “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty” suggests that he’s the perfect person to lead the American people through any crisis: wise, powerful and a little playful. Who wouldn’t want to hear that deep, dignified voice utter the words “My fellow Americans?”

Geena Davis

Isn’t it time we had a woman in the Oval Office? That question inspired the short-lived TV series “Commander in Chief,” starring Davis as the embattled first female president of the United States.

As she soon discovers, life at the top means juggling work, family and national security while holding her own against a host of political foes. Davis is no Hillary Rodham Clinton, but “Commander in Chief” brings up an important issue: Why aren’t there more actresses playing presidents on screen?

Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda’s performance as Abraham Lincoln in “Young Mr. Lincoln” set the standard for on-screen political leaders who command our respect. His Lincoln, a lowly Illinois lawyer for most of the film, is the very picture of decency and dignity.

Watching him confront the angry mob eager to lynch his clients, we get a glimpse of the future president who would shepherd the country through one of history’s most harrowing chapters.

Bill Pullman

Upon hearing that an enormous alien ship had just entered the Earth’s orbit and deployed 36 smaller ships, many lesser presidents might have cowered in a bunker.

But Bill Pullman’s President Thomas Whitmore in “Independence Day” doesn’t just enlist in others to do all the fighting. This former fighter pilot suits up and offers to take it to the illegal aliens before they take over the world.

He easily gets the military vote.

Martin Sheen

Here’s a guy who can take cues from his predecessors.

His character from “The West Wing” television series, Josiah Bartlet, is a New England Catholic, like John F. Kennedy. He once got shot, like Ronald Reagan. An illness relegates him to a wheelchair, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he has to deal with a possible government shutdown, like Bill Clinton.

Plus, like Barack Obama, he’s a Nobel Prize winner. No wonder this guy earned a second term. Having never lost an election, Bartlet is familiar with – as another guy named Sheen might suggest – “winning!”

Harrison Ford

Every American president should be able to kick some ass. Take Harrison Ford in “Air Force One.” When a group of Russian terrorists hijack the titular jumbo-jet, Ford’s fierce President James Marshall must risk life and limb to rescue his fellow passengers, including his wife and daughter.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Marshall is a pilot, a Vietnam War veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient to boot. Ford might be able to fly, but it’s questionable whether all his on-screen awesomeness would help in a real-life hostage situation.

James Cromwell

No doubt about it, James Cromwell has more executive experience than any other actor on our list. The tall, lanky actor with the patrician features has played presidents in a handful of movies and television shows, including George H.W. Bush in “W.” and Lyndon B. Johnson in the TV movie “RFK.”

His past credits include priests, police officers and other authority figures – even a pope and a prince! Plus, as a past King Vidor honoree, he’s sure to get plenty of votes on the Central Coast.


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