Swing Vote: Political Comedy Starring Kevin Costner

Swing Vote is a comedy where politics is anything but usual–it’s the ordinary citizens who decide the Presidential race.

Kevin Costner plays Bud Johnson, an apathetic, beer-slinging, lovable loser coasting through a life that has nearly passed him by. The one bright spot is his precocious teenage daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), who takes care of both of them. Then on one mischievous moment on Election Day, Molly accidentally sets off a chain of events which culminates in the election coming down to one vote–her dads. Swing Vote is a comical look at the journey of a father and daughter who discover that everyone has the power to change the world.

Joining the cast are Kelsey Grammer as Republican incumbent President Andrew Boone, and Dennis Hopper as Democratic hopeful Donald Greenleaf. Nathan Lane portrays Art Crumb, Greenleafs Democratic campaign manager who has lost seven elections, and Stanley Tucci plays Martin Fox, the slick campaign manager to the Republican President.

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern and produced by Jim Wilson and Costner, the film is executive produced by Robin Jonas, Ted Field, Terry Dougas and Paris Kasidokostas Latsis . The screenplay is written by Jason Richman & Joshua Michael Stern.

Story Comes First

Long-time friends, writer/director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Jason Richman had always wanted to work together, but it wasnt until Richman threw out an idea that they were both passionate about that they decided to dive in. Its hard to write with somebody, says Stern. But it really worked. It was a dream-writing scenario.

The idea was a comedic look at this countrys political process, seen through the eyes of a small-town girl and her apathetic dad. We felt it was important to write something that had some meaning beyond just the entertainment factor of the comedy, says Stern. Our goal was to write a movie about a father and a daughter. The political craziness and chaos was almost a secondary story.

The idea caught the attention of Kevin Costner, both as producer and actor, for its comic elements and believable characters. It felt cinematic and I liked it immediately, recalls Costner. I didnt really dance around. Theyve done a brilliant job with this comedy and I think you could put this in the same category as Tin Cup or Bull Durham. It doesnt stay a pure comedy. There are moments that have an emotional bottom and it adds to the experience. Its fun and funny but there are moments where, you know, your heart can break a little bit.

Oscar-winning producer Jim Wilson, Costners producing partner since Dances with Wolves, agrees. The first few pages absolutely grabbed me because it wasnt about politics at all, recalls Wilson. It was about a single father raising a 12-year-old daughter and their relationship. And the dialogue, the banter between these two is great. Its very much a Paper Moon story, says Stern. We follow the relationship between a father and daughter and how they deal with the chaos that surrounds them.

Comedy is always part of everything I do because its a natural human reaction, adds Richman about the tone of the script. But I think the most important thing in this movie and the most difficult is truth. The writers felt strongly that if they were going to write about politics, that the story had to be based in reality. The 2000 election was quite a snafu, notes Richman about the initial inspiration for the story. It really drove home the simple idea that every vote counts because it was so incredibly close.

Adds Stern, We thought that if an entire election could come down to a district in Florida–some 500 votes–and a gubernatorial race in Oregon could come down to 30 votes we could create a believable election that came down to one vote. Stern says the filmmakers didnt want to take sides in the films political story. If theres a message to this film beyond the comedy and the relationships, he says, its that every vote counts.

Costner concludes, I saw a billboard about eight years ago and it really stuck with me. It said, 92 million people in last years election made a difference. They didnt vote. It was so profound it was devastating.

Starring Kevin Costner

I thought it would be great to just take Kevin and kind of deconstruct his persona–his iconic movie-star persona–and just let him be a guy.
says director Joshua Michael Stern.

With more than 100 roles to fill, the process of casting might have been a bit arduous, but the pieces fell into place rather quickly, beginning with the films protagonist, Bud Johnson. Bud Johnson represents a lot of people out there, notes Richman. Hes a person who just hears white noise coming from the political system–hes heard a lot of promises over the years, and hes sort of given up on the system. Thats what was so fun about putting a character like that in the center of the storm.

Stern knew from the beginning who he wanted for the role. I always thought Kevin Costner would be great. Hes so good at playing the everyman the guy that everyone relates to, says Stern. I thought it would be great to just take Kevin and kind of deconstruct his persona–his iconic movie-star persona–and just let him be a guy.

Costner was intrigued with the everyman role. Bud is a classic American character, says Costner. Hes kind of a neer-do-well–a likeable rascal but flawed. Hes also a careless human being in the sense that hes drifted in his life, moves from job to job, was married at one point and now has a fifth grader hes raising who kind of runs the house.

Kelsey Grammer

As Swing Vote unfolds, Bud is courted by heavyweight politicos and their right-hand men, who add to the comedy and are key to making the story work. But who would be President–Costner was quick to suggest Kelsey Grammer. I had this really strong feeling about Kelsey–he has a presidential air about him and hes such a good actor, he says. Stern agrees, adding that he could easily envision Grammer in the White House. Hes got that vibe. He could run for President, says Stern, who describes Grammers character as a bit dim. But he brought something completely different to it, something very sincere.

Grammer, a multiple Emmy Award winner best known as the beloved character Frasier on the series Cheers and Frasier, signed on immediately. I really enjoyed the way it sort of lampooned the whole political process, and paid equal shrift to Republican and Democratic candidates, says Grammer. It points out the foibles in both and actually does encourage us to believe in the political process based upon the fact that a man might actually see the light from time to time.

As for his character Andrew Boone, Grammer sees him as quite a complex man who is a dedicated public servant and an optimist with a belief in the American people. But he also is a man of political expediency and ambition, adds Grammer. Theres something hopeful and wonderful about him–and theres something formidable about him as well because he understands that he has power, he understands that he has a responsibility to do good with power.

But Grammer still finds a way to bring out the comedy in the role. In this case, one mans vote is going to decide the Presidency, says Grammer, and that actually is a great engine to drive a lot of foolish behavior.

Stern particularly liked the surprise Dennis Hopper promised. Casting him as the Democratic contender was amazing. He looks so istinguished, but he mixes it up a little bit. Hes unexpected and I think thats always fun for an audience. Its fun to see people youve liked in the past up there doing something new.