While his supporters (and even some of his detractors) love to think of Donald Trump the political candidate as a sort of anti-elite, grassroots movement that coalesced spontaneously out of dissatisfaction with the status quo, that ignores all the old school political insiders working for years to make it happen. Foremost among them is Roger Stone who, along with Roger Ailes, had been trying to get Trump to run for president for years. That was a laughable proposition basically up until now, when it still makes you laugh but also fills your mouth with blood.
And now that so many of his predictions have come true, the world must begrudgingly admit that Roger Stone may have been onto something. Netflix’s new documentary, Get Me Roger Stone, examines Stone’s past as a “dirty trickster,” from masterminding the “Brooks Brothers riot” during the 2000 recount, to helping create the Infowars/mainstream Republican coalition, his involvement with Paul Manafort doing PR for murderous dictatorships, and his present incarnation as a misshapen, supervillainous dandy. There’s also the interlude about his sex scandal over some swinger ads, somewhat ironic for a guy who’s so often seen palling around with people for whom “cuck” is their favorite insult.
Of course, when Dan DiMauro and his co-directors Dylan Bank and Morgan Pehme began shooting five and half years ago, Stone seemed more like a colorful crank than a kingmaker. That means they had to watch with increasing panic as their movie evolved from comedy to horror — even as those events turned their documentary into a must-see. I spoke to Get Me Roger Stone co-director Dan DiMauro about what this was like being on the frontlines of the shit-show, and whether it’s true what they say about dancing with the devil.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and when you started this project.
I’ve worked in documentary films for a long time. My friend Morgan, basically he met Roger Stone one day when he was hosting a political event. He just found his profile by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker. Just the idea that Roger is this unique person who embraces infamy and likes to be the villain and talks about all these dirty things he’s done in politics — I think we all agree that both sides of the aisle do a lot of dirty things but they generally try to pretend they’re virtuous and never own up to them. That’s what kind of made Roger a fascinating figure. We contacted him and figured since he’d let The New Yorker, a very liberal magazine do a profile of him, we thought he would let a bunch of liberal filmmakers make a film about him. It took some convincing, but he agreed. That was about five and a half years ago.
When we started, he was kind of at a low point in his career. He was this guy who was so transformative in the shaping of our politics and how they operate today, yet he was kind of down and out looking for his next big score on the fringe of politics. One of his schemes he had going was running Donald Trump for president. We thought it was absolutely ludicrous five and a half years ago, just like everyone else did. It kind of in the end proved his brilliance as a political operator, and he proved everyone wrong. I think a lot of us are still scratching our heads.
Is it hard to give someone like that credit when their main skill seems to be a lesser opinion of the general public’s intelligence?
Yeah, a lot of times you don’t want to ascribe brilliance to despicable people, but I think we can’t deny the brilliance of this guy, because over and over he just proved that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He said Trump was going to get the nomination and didn’t just say it, kind of laid out all the steps that would happen. He was right and we were wrong. We had to kind of go back and re-edit the film a couple of times because even just within the scope of Trump, it’s like, “Oh, you know, he’ll be like the down-and-out dirty trickster.” His journey to get back into being relevant and being a part of politics, because that’s what kind of drives him. Then it’s like, “Oh, he finally got his dream of 30 years of running Donald Trump for president in a real way. Then it will just fizzle out of course because Trump’s ridiculous.”
Then, Trump got the nomination. We’re like, “Okay, well then like maybe the film ends at the Republican convention.” It’s like, “Look how close he got to coming back to relevance.” Of course then, Trump won the presidency and we had to rethink it all over again. Luckily, kind of the story we were telling all along was [Stone] kind of transformed our politics. As it turns out, it in many ways tells the story of how the conditions were set for someone like Trump to rise to power.
So then were you kind of witness all this horrified, but then also happy for your documentary?
Yeah, Trump being elected was kind of lucky for us in a way. It made this film a lot more timely, but of course very unlucky for the country. We joke around in general that a lot of times what is bad for the country is good for documentary filmmakers. We’re just happy that we could add a little bit to the discourse and operate on this idea that sunlight is kind of the best disinfectant because Roger is only 64. He’s got a lot of years left in him to pull a lot more dirty tricks and do a lot more damage to our system.
Hopefully, by kind of exposing his tactics and kind of telling the story of the degradation of our politics, maybe we could get through to a couple of people and make them understand and kind of educate them about what’s going on, while at the same time doing it through this character who’s kind of accessible in a non-academic sense. He’s just a very charming, entertaining individual. That’s what drew us to him because he’s a pot-smoking, body-building dandy who looks like a cartoon character, a supervillain, if you will. We always kind of thought that it would be great, and people who aren’t even interested in politics could maybe learn a bit about where we were and how we got here.
Was it at all demoralizing hanging out with him and having to watch him continuously win?
Yeah. He’s very surreal. We didn’t even know how he was going to react to the film because he’s so unpredictable. He likes it. He thinks it’s the best political documentary of all time. The main character is really handsome and has great suits. Of course, we never made any bones about who we were. In the film he pokes fun at us many times for being pinko commie liberals and such. Yeah, I mean it was hard at times. We were in Alex Jones’ secret bunker on Election Day, still like everyone else just assuming Hillary was going to win. Then, we’re in the belly of the beast watching them revel in this unexpected victory that even shocked them. We had to keep our cool and be journalistic about it, but I mean one of our producers was literally in tears and she had to leave just because she was crying. It was a surreal moment.
We kind of wanted to get into his vibe as like this entertaining character, but we never were unaware of kind of the despicable, disgusting things he’s done to our politics. I think our film kind of tells that story especially if you’re paying attention, that he degraded our politics so much in our political discourse, and the way our electoral system kind of operates that it just kind of set the stage for a demagogue like Trump.