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Votes for Jimmy Smits as president, Brian Regan as top stand-up

PASADENA, Calif. -- Notes and quotes from La La Land, without musical accompaniment.

When the new version of “24” arrives after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, Jimmy Smits will be in a familiar role. He is running for president, just as he did on “The West Wing” years earlier when he played Matt Santos.

“This is totally different,” said Smits, comparing “Legacy” to “West Wing.” It is a genre-type piece. We’re not having huge political discussions or debates. ... It travels in a different lane so I am comfortable with that."

Smits gets cast as president because he comes across in whatever role he is in as a bright, likable and sympathetic character.

Since Smits has been cast as a president (he eventually succeeded Martin Sheen's character in “West Wing” as Santos) and now is running for president in “24: Legacy,” it made me wonder if he would ever consider running in real life since actors and celebrities seem to have an advantage these days. I was only slightly kidding.

“No, I need a script in front of me,” said Smits. “Though it seems like these people have scripts in front of them.”

Miranda Otto, who plays the wife of Smits’ character who also used to run the counter-terrorism unit in "24," sees the actor as presidential material.

“When I heard they were casting Jimmy, I was so excited, because I think it’s really hard to cast somebody as a presidential candidate,” said Otto. “I’ve seen people in the past in films, and sometimes I believe it and sometimes I don’t. But as soon as they said Jimmy to me, I thought that’s perfect. He has the weight and presence and the gravitas that you need for this role. So I think he’s a wonderful choice."

Famed documentary producer Ken Burns was on hand to show some footage of “Vietnam,” a 10-episode, 18-hour history of America’s involvement in the war in Southeast Asia that divided the country in the 1960s and 1970s. The brief clip that Burns showed was powerful and anxiety-inducing to watch in what surely will be must-see TV. The series airs next fall.

I asked Burns if the media’s longtime general support of the war before CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, the “most-trusted man in America,” famously came out against it, is addressed. As usual, Burns gave a long answer that was tough to summarize and ended up with him suggesting the coverage was the “original fake news.”

“Yes, very much,” said Burns of whether the media's support is addressed. “And almost from the very beginning, I mean, this could also be called, ‘Secrets and Lies.’  For so much of the Vietnam story, this is about our government not telling us the full effect. I’m talking about Harry Truman’s administration and Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. And then we could start a conversation where many of you perhaps have some conventional or superficial understanding of a Kennedy administration and Johnson administration, and Nixon administration. These are stripped-down layers upon layers.

“And, of course, part of understanding it is understanding how it was reported itself, and whether that is a leak of the Pentagon Papers or a gung ho Neil Sheehan, in 1962, not wanting to miss the Vietnam War and our victory over communism and wanting to see the United States triumph in this … struggle that’s going on in the world, and coming and finding that the reports what he has seen on the battlefield, and what the officers on the battlefield, the advisers, then, and the South Vietnam people that he’s talking to are different from what’s being reported in the headquarters in Saigon and in Washington. So you begin to see that this is a story of many fault lines and many tensions within families, of course. That’s almost cliche. But also between the forces of our government.

“So I believe in the free press so we can begin to understand where so much of our recent place that we’re in right now was born. And maybe, as a result of being able to see a little bit more than that, understand and reinvest ourselves in the institutions that actually serve us, because this is about maybe the original fake news.

"But all war is about lies. The second fighting begins. The truth is the first consequence in any war. And Vietnam, of course, because it lacks the redeeming outcomes of, say, the Civil War, the liberating 4 million American citizens and, most importantly, their descendants from bondage, or liberating the world from the tyranny of fascism and militarism, it becomes even more a part of the fabric of our film to go at that and many other themes. So I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And it was our intention to do this from the bottom up.”

Standup comedian Brian Regan, a frequent visitor to Western New York, got a huge shout-out here from comedian Pete Holmes, the star of the upcoming HBO comedy about the stand-up life, “Crashing.” It premieres Feb. 5.

Asked who is the greatest living comic today who nails it every time in any situation in front of any audience, Holmes didn’t bat an eye.

“It’s Brian Regan, I think for sure,” said Holmes. “And the funny thing about Brian Regan is he’s not that famous. A lot of comedians are aware of him, but I’m happy if you put that in your stories because anybody who looks up Brian, he’s also very, very clean. Again, kind of coming from the Christian world, he was a hero of mine. But he’s one of those clean comics who you don’t notice he’s being clean.

“The other comedian that I love is I love Bill Burr, but because he can be a little bit divisive, that’s why I gave it to Regan, because you said ‘any situation.' There’s a couple Disney cruises where Bill would be thrown overboard."

The best comedy team here consisted of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys of FX's “The Americans,” who appeared via satellite to discuss the upcoming fifth season of the program. The couple, who are together in real-life, play Russian spies living in America. They didn’t always hear the questions very clearly, which led to some laughter. But they also had some good lines. The best line came after they were asked if there was any character or disguise that they wished their characters would do before the show ends.

“A clown?” answered Rhys. “I really opened the juggler, then … I think it’s a very fine balance on our show that we do have to remain within the realms of this reality that whereby they are in these precarious situations, and the disguises have to stand up in very close quarters with people. So they can’t be too extravagant. We’re not ‘Mission Impossible’ with these prosthetic faces being ripped off. And I think we have what we call the look book, the disguise book, which is this thick, and it still amazes me.

"When you look back over five years of what the incredible departments have achieved, the variation, given that we remain within the kind of parameters of not going … over the top, I think it’s incredible what we’ve achieved. So a clown seems natural progression for me.”

He was clowning around, of course.

email: apergament@buffnews.com

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