Tim Robbins is known both for his roles—a goofy ballplayer in Bull Durham; a pervy recluse in War of the Worlds—and for his outspoken political beliefs, which led him to write Embedded, a satirical play about the Iraq war. On August 21, a screen version, available on Netflix and through embeddedlive.com, will air on the Sundance Channel. Robbins spoke with Emma Rosenblum about distrusting the media, and why even the choir can benefit from a little preaching.
What’s been the reaction to this play so far?
It spoke to, and still speaks to, a lot of people that are frustrated. From the very first performance, there was this kind of strange, incendiary reaction to the play. The first laughs that I heard on the first night sounded sort of like barking—like angry laughter. These are people who know in their bones that the war was wrong, that the government was manipulating intelligence, but don’t hear that voice anywhere in the media.
Do you think the media’s failed in covering the war?
The media is this intense propaganda machine that has worked to marginalize people to the point where they won’t say a word. Especially if you’re in my profession. It’s like the person who came up to me at an awards show that year and whispered, “Thanks for speaking out against the war.” Like, where the fuck are you living, Russia?
But if the public hasn’t been privy to any of the “real” information from Iraq, how did you know what to include in your play?
What you see in my play is actually documented from overseas and alternative news sources. The New York Times theater critic said I made up this place that’s included in the play, called the Office of Special Plans. And if you Google “New York Times” and “Office of Special Plans,” you’ll realize they’ve only reported on it twice. So of course this guy’s not going to know about it!
Did you expect the play to be roughed up by critics?
I told the cast, “The good news is we’re going to New York. The bad news is that we’re not going to get one good review.” You don’t go into the backyard of the media and tell them they’re full of shit and expect them to be nice to you.
What about the charge that you’re simply preaching to the choir?
First of all, the choir was way out of tune. Because the choir in New York included a lot of liberals that supported this war.
Will you continue to do politically charged projects?
We’ll see. There are all kinds of stories to tell. I did a part in the Tenacious D movie, which is just going to be, hopefully, funny as hell. You know, just different things for different times. Sometimes you just gotta dance, and sometimes you just got to rock and roll and do the satire.