Hollywood on the Potomac: ‘The Congressman’ Comes to Washington

by Janet Donovan

Former New York Rep. Bob Mrazek pens a political dramedy drawing from his experiences on Capitol Hill.


Treat Williams stars as Maine Congressman Charlie Winship in “The Congressman.”

Retired Rep. Michael Andrews (D- Texas) was in the lobby of the Motion Picture Association of America waiting for his former colleague, Bob Mrazek (D- N.Y.), to arrive for a private screening of his movie “The Congressman.”

Andrews, who at one time served on the House Ways and Means Committee, remembers when trade associations like MPAA treated him and his wife to drinks and lavish dinners. He recalls being at the MPAA in 1986 for a screening of “Bull Durham” when, at the end of the movie, Rep. J. J. Pickle (D-Texas) got up and said, “Well, hell, if I had known baseball was like that I would’ve played more of it.” (If you’ve seen “Bull Durham,” you’ll catch the drift; if not, it’s a must-see. )

Prior to the screening, Mrazek, who wrote and directed “The Congressman,” discussed important themes in the political comedy and what he expects audiences will gain from them. He expressed hope that viewers would be prompted to think about what being American means in the current political landscape. “There’s a lot of flag waving and a lot of patriotism about silly things rather than the important issues of what our country is founded on, and that’s anidea,”Mrazeksaid,“Ifthereisamessage, that’s it.”

In the movie, Maine Congressman Charlie Winship (played by Treat Williams) gets caught on video failing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and faces public condemnation for disregarding one of America’s most beloved patriotic symbols.

Fed up with Washington and the corruption of special interest lobbyists, Winship retreats to a remote island to regain the idealism that drew him to Congress in the first place.

Beyond the thoughtful story arc, one of the film’s highlights is the cast that executes it. George Hamilton, who plays Laird Devereaux, an ultra-smarmy lobbyist, nails the role with uncanny precision. Mrazek had fun writing the role and personifying it in such an exaggerated way. Hamilton, he said, “brought the character to life very richly.” During certain outtakes the cast and crew burst into laughter when Hamilton delivered incredible punch lines. “George should have played a lobbyist long before now, …” Mrazek said. “As that smiling barracuda he was summing up a lot of the worst situations we’ve had. I just wish I had written more scenes for him because every time he’s on screen he just lights it up.”

Mrazek talks about filmmaking as if it’s second nature. He tells us that before entertaining the idea of going into politics, he was enrolled in film school, and it wasn’t until Robert Kennedy got assassinated in 1968 that he changed course to begin his 40-year political career. “Now I am doing what I wanted to do when I was a young man,” he says of his filmmaking endeavors. Mrazek’s penchant for storytelling came at an even earlier age.When he recently came across two books he wrote and bound as a 10-year-old, it struck him how important the role of storytelling was in his life. He goes on to explain that of the eight books he’s written since, five were fiction. That experience, he says, equipped him for script writing. The politico-turned-director also emphasized the effectiveness of writing about values that he so firmly believes in: “courage, honor, sacrifice and love.”Those themes and Mrazek’s undeniable patriotism influenced the filmmaking process, and “The Congressman” reflects his ideals in full. “I’m an optimist by nature,” he said. “I believe in our country and I believe in the values and the ideas on which it was founded, and I believe in the American people,” Mrazek said. “But sometimes out of fear about change and what’s happening in the world, people can change the things that aren’t necessarily part of the fabric of our Constitution.” After the screening, attended by former

Rep.Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) and other past and current members of Congress, guests participated in an fascinating Q & A.

One reporter asked: “As you reflect on your time in Congress, what piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting back all over again based on what you’ve learned?”

Mrazek’s repley:“Not to run.”

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