It’s not uncommon to take a politician to task, but Treat Williams has been frank with one about the art of screenwriting. When Robert Mrazek, former member of the House of Representatives for Rhode Island, approached the acclaimed actor about starring in a film he’d written, called “The Congressman,” Williams didn’t mince words.
“It looked like what it was: A very good story written by a guy who had not written much dialogue,” Williams tells us. He liked Mrazek’s story, in which a pol named Charlie Winship, currently drowning in scandals, finds rejuvenation when he treks out to a remote part of the country. But it needed a good punch-up.
“I told him exactly where things were too drawn-out, too preachy. You can’t teach people about politics in a movie. You have to make it character-driven,” he recalls. “And everything I said he agreed with. He was very open to this being a collaborative effort. He had no ego about it. I have to give him credit for his lack of protectionism.”
Williams was particularly adamant about tweaking a scene where Charlie and his wife split. “Originally she was just berating me the entire time for what a s—head I am,” he explains. “I said, ‘I don’t see this as just an attack. I see this as a poignant goodbye between two people who at one time had something very special.’” So Williams and his co-star in the scene, Jayne Atkinson rewrote it. “It was really great teamwork on our parts to get the speeches and the scenes the way we wanted them.”
The end product, being released in a few dozen theaters across the nation before a VOD release later on, is very character-driven and deceptively light. It gets in a few political digs, including a subplot in which Charlie becomes a viral pariah after he refuses to stand for or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“What’s important to me is it’s a comedy. It’s not a political drama. I don’t think anybody needs a political drama. We have it 24-7 on TV,” Williams says. “This is the most bizarre political period in American politics.”
Mrazek co-directed “The Congressman” with Jared Martin, both of them first-timers. Williams, by contrast, has worked with scores of great directors: Sidney Lumet (“Prince of the City”), Milos Forman (“Hair”), Sergio Leone (“Once Upon a Time in America”) and Steven Spielberg (“1941”). He wound up helping Mrazek out a bit on the front, too.