By Steinhardt, David L.
The Progressive , Vol. 67, No. 6
AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB on April 15, the actor Tim Robbins got a chance to speak his mind. He used his speech to address the climate of neo-McCarthyism that has resulted in, among other things, the Baseball Hall of Fame withdrawing an invitation to him and his partner, Susan Sarandon, to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of their movie on the minor leagues, Bull Durham. "In the nineteen months since 9/11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred," he said. "Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear." He mentioned that a teacher told his niece that he and Sarandon were not welcome to come see the school play.
"A chill wind is blowing in this nation," he said. "A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown: If you oppose this Administration, there can and will be ramifications."
Robbins understands that his involvement in an issue brings it some attention that it might not otherwise get, but he tells me he addresses a political issue directly only when he feels it has received insufficient press coverage. "There's always the reporter who asks, 'Why are you here?' And more often than not," he says, "if it's a fundraiser or protest, the answer is, 'Because you wouldn't be here if I wasn't!'"
And Robbins understands how the mainstream media intentionally serves up propaganda. He appeared on CNN's Connie Chung Tonight in March and, he says, "What was really amazing about that inter view was that the [pro-war Iraqi exile] woman on before me was a pre-tape. Connie Chung asked this woman the same question three times, and the woman, in between, was saying, 'I'm so nervous!' Connie kept assuring her, 'It's OK, we're on pre-tape and we can edit it down.' It was almost as if it was a prearranged, scripted propaganda piece that was supposed to look like an interview, because when Connie didn't get the answer that was--what I believe was--scripted, she asked the question again. And then she asked her one more time. Then when you saw it edited together later that night, there was only the last answer that she finally coaxed out of her."
Timothy Francis Robbins, who will turn forty-five in October, has never been afraid to speak out. He believes in truth, justice, and fairness, and--in the great tradition of satirists like Swift and Twain--he's enraged and disgusted by those in power who do not.
He has achieved critical, artistic and commercial success as a movie star in such films as Bull Durham, The Shawshank Redemption, and Jacob's Ladder. He's also an accomplished film director, with Bob Roberts, Cradle Will Rock, and Dead Man Walking to his credit. And he's the artistic director and co-founder of the Actors' Gang, his L.A. theater company.
Asked how he juggles so much, he shrugs: "I don't do that much, compared to some others. The most difficult is [film] directing. It's all-consuming. It takes two years out of your life, in a tremendously rewarding way. There's nothing better, leading troops up the hill, achieving a sense of community--factors and guild people, having to answer so many questions, deal with the pressure."
Looking at this baby-faced man, it's hard to realize his stage career goes back to Nixon's first term, when Tim followed his older sisters Adele and Gabrielle in working for Theatre for the New City, in Manhattan's East Village. During the summers, the company went to some of the city's toughest neighborhoods to do street theater--arriving by van, erecting a stage, parading through the streets to gather an audience, then performing. New City's co-founder, Crystal Feld, remembers Tim as a great talent, even at twelve.
"The beautiful thing about him was, he had a real social sense. You fell in love with him when you saw him act," she recalls. "He built sets, ran props, light board--everything--and was a good egg about it. …