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Stone's "W" Easier On Bush Than Expected

The life of a president is usually portrayed on film years after he leaves office.

But with his new movie, "W," opening Friday, Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Oliver Stone explores the presidency of George W. Bush while he's still in the White House.

On The Early Show Tuesday, co-anchor Harry Smith noted that someone who attended a screening of "W" with Smith left remarking that the film seemed "so sympathetic."

"I think there's confusion between sympathy and empathy," Stone said. "Empathy means understanding and, as a dramatist, it's my job to understand, to walk in the shoes of George W. Bush as best as I can.

"Sympathize, no. I do think he's hurt this country. I'm a Vietnam veteran. We should not have gone into the Iraq war. We were in three wars, not only Afghanistan and Iraq but, really, the war on terror is a major war. We've had an economic meltdown because of it, partly because of the overreach. And this country is in a very dire place, and I'm not happy about it. But, you know, people voted for him."

Stone pointed out, "I'm not the judge. I'm the dramatist. I'm putting out this story. It's one of the most incredible stories of the last 20 years. This guy, who is an improbable president, he came from very strange roots. And he's shaped and changed the world in these last eight years in ways that were inconceivable. He spoke for himself, the administration.

"It's not for me to -- you see the movie, you walk out and think about where we are now as a country, where we were eight years ago, and I think you come to your own conclusion."

Stone praised Josh Brolin, who played Mr. Bush, saying Brolin wasn't doing an imitation. "Josh is a wonderful actor," Stone observed. "He comes from theater. He's 40 years old. He's been through a tremendous life, much failure, like George Bush -- at the age of 40, he turned it around, George Bush. I think Josh is mature. I think he lived the role. He went into the role and he became... "

But Brolin displayed mannerisms similar to Mr. Bush, Smith asserted.

"Some," Stone replied, "but he didn't overdo it. It's easy to make fun of George Bush, and he's been an object of comedy -- for eight years, we've made fun of him. The truth is, you don't really know much about the man. People think they know him. The have opinions about him, but they haven't really walked in his steps.

"Those first three, four years of the presidency were very veiled, manufactured. Karl Rove... they kept everything... only in the last -- from about 2004, the book started to come, little by little -- (author Ron) Suskind, (Bob) woodward. They broke the ice."

Smith says, "This really is about who this person is. How he was formed, where he was formed. The Yale days. The relationship with his father. The relationship with his mother. The relaitonship with his wife."

"Yes," Stone agreed. "(All that is) crucial. It's a character study, because you wouldn't understand what happened on the march to Iraq, which is the climax of the movie. That's the third act. The first act is the recklessness of his youth and the wild times. And the second act is that governorship of Texas, owning the baseball team (the Texas rangers). You see the seeds of the man, how he develops. When he becomes president, for me, that's where the tension really pays off."