Donald Trump vows to sue over explosive biopic

The most controversial scene is that of Trump raping his first wife, Ivana, after she belittles him for growing fat and bald

Updated - May 22, 2024 07:29 am IST

Published - May 22, 2024 06:36 am IST - Cannes

The Apprentice premiered while former U.S. president Donald Trump is on trial in Manhattan for a tawdry scandal involving a porn star.

The Apprentice premiered while former U.S. president Donald Trump is on trial in Manhattan for a tawdry scandal involving a porn star. | Photo Credit: AP

Donald Trump's team has vowed to sue over a biopic about his early years that includes rape, erectile dysfunction and ruthless betrayal, but the makers said on May 21 the film allowed viewers to feel "sympathy" with the ex-president.

The Apprentice, which premiered Monday at the Cannes Film Festival, traces Mr. Trump's origins as an ambitious young property developer in 1970s and 1980s New York.

Sebastian Stan, best known from Marvel superhero films, stars as Mr. Trump, while Jeremy Strong of Succession fame plays his ruthless mentor and attorney Roy Cohn.

Both received glowing reviews from critics.

The film offers a nuanced account of Mr. Trump, depicted as an ambitious but naive social climber in the first half, before his decency is eroded as he learns the dark arts of dealmaking and power.

"Donald's team should wait to watch the movie before they start suing us," director Ali Abbasi told reporters in Cannes.

"I don't necessary think this is a movie that he would dislike... I think he would be surprised," Mr. Abbasi said.

But Mr. Trump's campaign communications director Steven Cheung said a lawsuit would be filed "to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers".

"This garbage is pure fiction which sensationalises lies that have been long debunked," added Mr. Cheung in a statement to AFP.

‘Attack, attack, attack’

The most controversial scene is that of Mr. Trump raping his first wife, Ms. Ivana, after she belittles him for growing fat and bald.

In real life, Ms. Ivana accused Mr. Trump of raping her during divorce proceedings but later rescinded the allegation. She died in 2022.

Mr. Abbasi was unflustered in Cannes, saying: "Everybody talks about him suing a lot of people. They don't talk about his success rate."

The Apprentice premiered while Mr. Trump is on trial in Manhattan for a tawdry scandal involving a porn star.

It comes just months ahead of the U.S. presidential election in which Mr. Trump is expected to face Joe Biden.

"We have a promotional event coming up called the U.S. elections that is going to help us with the movie," joked Mr. Abbasi, suggesting it could be released around the second Biden-Trump debate in September.

The Apprentice begins with a young Trump, obsessed with joining the city's elite and dreaming of his own luxury hotel, even as he spends his days collecting rent from his father's tenants.

His life is transformed by an encounter with Cohn, whose nihilistic lessons such as "admit nothing, deny everything" and "attack, attack, attack" will become Mr. Trump's manifesto in later life.

Cohn made his name as a fearsome lawyer by hunting Communists for Senator Joseph McCarthy, and sending Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair.

Mr. Abbasi said the film aimed at "deconstructing the mythological image" of these characters and showing them as real human beings.

"With that comes understanding. With that comes sympathy. That doesn't necessarily mean you forgive everything they did."

"The most despicable monster you can think of, the most reprehensible person in history, also liked a dog or fell for somebody or was nice to somebody at some point."

‘Rock certain boats’

The screenplay was written by Gabriel Sherman, a journalist who covered real estate for the New York Observer and regularly spoke to Mr. Trump.

He said the film was blocked by top Hollywood executives, and it was ultimately funded by the Canadian, Irish and Danish governments.

"We couldn't make it in the American system," Mr. Sherman said.

"Hollywood in many ways doesn't want to rock certain boats."

The film is one of 22 in competition for the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or.

A jury headed by Barbie director Greta Gerwig will unveil its winner on Saturday.

Asked whether it was possible for an American woman to be objective in judging a film about Mr. Trump, Ms. Gerwig said she would come to the movie with "an open mind and an open heart, and willing to be surprised".

Among the current frontrunners is The Substance, an ultra-gory horror film about the pressures women face to maintain bodily perfection as they age.

Demi Moore has earned particular praise for her lead role.

Also earning rave reviews is Emilia Perez, a highly audacious musical about a Mexican narco boss undergoing a sex change.

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