Celebs to voice ‘A People’s History’
By Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The Inside Track
Josh Brolin will do Mark Twain; Marisa Tomei will read the words of George Bush stalker-mom Cindy Sheehan; and Viggo Mortensen will channel Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs when the cameras roll Tuesday on “The People Speak” at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
The event, which will be filmed for a four-part TV miniseries, features a galaxy of politically active Hollywood heavies reading “documents of resistance” by many famous and influential - and some obscure and unknown - historical figures from 1492 to the present.
The performance is based on BU professor emeritus Howard Zinn’s famous 1980 dissident tome, “A People’s History of the United States” and will center on themes of war, class, race and the struggle of women.
“There have been a number of attempts over the the years to make a TV miniseries out of my book,” Zinn told the Track. “Matt Damon and I had been working on it for a couple of years with Fox and HBO but nothing happened.”
Producer Chris Moore, Damon and Ben Affleck’s partner in “Project Greenlight,” had been involved for a few years and finally decided, “It had to be done,” Zinn said.
So Zinn, his co-producer Anthony Arnove, Damon and Moore rounded up a posse of political pals and put together a series of 85 readings that will trace the history of the United States from Columbus to the present through the voices of people who are rarely heard.
“All of our documents are documents of the people. There’s one from a farmer in western Mass. explaining why he joined Shays’ Rebellion, there’s a mill girl in Lowell, Mass., in the 1830s,” Zinn said.
“Some of these documents are speeches or writings from famous people like Mark Twain and Helen Keller, but these particular words aren’t well-known to the American public, who know Mark Twain from ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huck Finn’ but not as a rabid anti-imperialist or Helen Keller as a socialist radical anti-war orator.”
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder will be contributing a song to the show, Zinn said - perhaps Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and Bruce Springsteen also is on board.
“He might do his own song, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ which would fit into our section on class in the ’30s.”
Damon - one of Zinn’s biggest and earliest celeb fans (in “Good Will Hunting” Damon recommends Zinn’s “A People’s History” to the Southie shrink played by Robin Williams) - also will do a reading, but Damon, Vedder and Springsteen are being filmed later because of scheduling conflicts.
Other bold-facers in the cast who will be in Boston next week include David Strathairn of “Good Night, and Good Luck” fame; Q’Orianka Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in “The New World”; TV veteran Jasmine Guy; Michael Ealy of “Sleeper Cell”; Kerry Washington of “The Last King of Scotland”; singer John Legend and many more.
“I say this in all modesty that a number of these people did this because they were fans of my book,” the prof said.
The project hasn’t been sold to a network yet but Zinn isn’t too concerned.
“There’s a certain amount of risk involved but we’re pretty confident that it will be good enough to make a network want to show it.”
Shooting will be from 2 to 7 p.m.Tuesday and Wednesday at Cutler Majestic and they need a live audience. So free tickets are available to the public, just call the theater.