Comedian Jamie Kennedy on How He Ended Up in an Anti-Abortion Propaganda Film
The star of “Scream” and “Malibu’s Most Wanted” opens up about how he wound up in the deeply awful anti-abortion movie “Roe v. Wade.”
There are a number of names you might expect in Roe v. Wade, a new anti-abortion film that walks the line between melodrama and propaganda. Jon Voight, Stacey Dash, Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Tomi Lahren all make appearances. MyPillow conspiracist Mike Lindell pops up in a bizarre cameo. It is co-directed by and stars Nick Loeb, best known for waging legal war against ex-fiancée Sofia Vergara in order to gain control over their embryos. And then there is Jamie Kennedy, the stand-up comic and star of films like Scream and Malibu’s Most Wanted.
Kennedy plays Larry Lader, an abortion-rights champion who founded NARAL. In the film, which is packed with conspiracy theories and lies (though claims to be “based on a true story”), Lader is depicted as part of a behind-the-scenes cabal of rapacious activists pushing abortion to make money (there is no evidence that Lader conducted himself in this way). And Kennedy, a 50-year-old “centrist” who supports a woman’s right to choose, seems both intrigued by the controversy that the film has stoked and worried about the ramifications it may have for his career. After all, as I reported during filming, a number of crew members—including the director, first assistant director, costume designer, and location manager—all quit during the production after learning of the film’s extreme anti-abortion bent.
“People would walk mid fuckin’ stream and say, ‘I didn’t know it was going to be this,’ and that’s not good,” recalls Kennedy. “And maybe you’re saying, ‘Hey Jamie, why didn’t you follow suit?’ and I guess because I just rode it out and wanted to see what the final product was.”
He adds, “I’m not some crazy right-winger, but I’m also not some crazy left-winger. I’m a guy who needs to be educated some more about politics. I’m not some guy in Hollywood who acts like they’re an expert about politics, and you can print that. I’m sick of that.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Daily Beast, Kennedy discusses how he wound up in one of the most appalling movies of the year.
OK, so with Roe v. Wade, I’m curious what attracted you to the film.
Well, you know, here’s what it is: In Hollywood, a lot of people were talking about this movie, and first and foremost, I’m an actor. I act. I’ve worked with Jon Voight twice before, and he’s one of the greatest actors ever. I thought it was an important story, and to be honest, I got offered the role. It was a more dramatic part and a real offer, and so I did some research. I knew there was a lot of stuff we were walking into but in other parts in Hollywood, I have to read, read, read, and this was a nice offer.
This is obviously a controversial subject, so what about the story itself attracted you to it?
It’s such a controversial subject. It’s so hard to comment on it as a man, you know, because we don’t conceive the baby. We help. Look, Cathy [Allyn] and Nick [Loeb], the directors, producers, and writers, they were like, “This is a movie, it’s gonna be about Roe v. Wade.” They showed me all of these books. I was reading the script and like, “Did this happen?” and they were like, “Here’s the quote.” They introduced me to a lot of the history of Margaret Sanger, Larry Lader, and Planned Parenthood. I knew it was going to be a hot-button issue going in, but I saw what they were quoting from, and I was like, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.” They said everything in this movie was taken from books. Whether they took some liberties, I don’t know. I didn’t fact-check everything.
There were a lot of liberties taken. I did try to fact-check the film before speaking with you about it. Your character Larry Lader, for instance, is depicted as a shady figure pulling strings from behind the scenes who treats abortions as a money-making operation.
Um… OK… So, you’ll have to educate me. So… what I was told is that Larry was a student of Margaret Sanger. I don’t know enough about Margaret Sanger, but one thing I know is that she was a women’s activist, right? And they say that she also may have done some stuff with eugenics. In the movie, Larry hooks up with Betty Friedan, who’s obviously a huge feminist icon, and it looks like he’s saying that with Planned Parenthood, there’s some money to be made there. For sure, the character says that. It looks like he’s in there for some profit, for sure. But is that true? Is there money being made? That is the question.
Let’s unpack that. At the film’s end, it presents a “fact” that “Planned Parenthood made $1.6 billion last year.” So, I pulled their most recent annual report, as they’re a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status, which reveals that while Planned Parenthood pulled in $1.64 billion in revenue, they had $1.57 billion in operating and other expenses, and only have $22 million in total assets. So, they’re not making a ton of money. That is a blatant misrepresentation at the end of the film. Also, the idea that they’re making all this money off of abortions is strange as well. Abortion is only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. Fifty-two percent of it is STI treatment and testing, 25 percent is contraception, and 6 percent is cancer screenings. The idea that Planned Parenthood is raking in money due to abortions is a lie.
Yeah, I’ll have to look at the facts again. Like I said, I’m just an actor. You do hear one thing in the media, and then you hear another thing when we’re on set. A woman and a man made this movie together—they’re co-directors—and whatever people write about Nick, he’s done nothing but treat me with the utmost respect. And Cathy is a level-headed, intelligent person.
Were you wearing prosthetics in this?
[Laughs] Yo, that’s fucked up! My hair, we thinned it out a little bit and combed it over, and I put a little weight on. I wanted to look different. For me, it’s cool to get a cool role. It’s controversial, but that’s what good TV and movies should do. They should make you talk.
As a comic, I imagine you’re anti-censorship, and one thing that struck me as odd is that this film is co-produced by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which is a pro-censorship organization that attacks any media that pokes fun at the Catholic Church. This group has come after Dogma, Kathy Griffin, and a number of other films and comedians just for lightly mocking the Catholic Church.
I didn’t even know that, and to be real with you, there’s a lot of people that produced this, and… I didn’t even know that. I didn’t know the Catholic League did that. I believe in free speech, too. I just thought it was a very cool role. Did I know how controversial it was going to be? No. Did I know Nick’s background enough? No. Was it directed by a woman? Yes. But she left, and another woman came in. I’m in the middle as a human being. I’m a centrist.
You mentioned that the director left and was replaced by Cathy. But there were many crew members that left during production, right?
Tons! That is true. A ton of people left, from high up, like camera crew and editors, to PAs who were like, “Fuck this, I’m out!” mid-shot. I had never seen anything like that. People did leave.
Why did they leave? From my reporting, it seems like some members of the crew were misled as far as what the film would be about.
I mean, that’s a slippery slope if you say that, but I see what you’re saying. When I signed on to the movie, I knew I was walking into a potential ticking time bomb. But there was a lot of stuff in the thing that people just weren’t vibing with. There’s a part where a song happens and I remember that day a couple of people just said, “This is it,” and they left during that song.
The scene where characters sing, “There’s a fortune in abortion.”
Yes. And [Nick] said, “It’s in the book.” It’s taken from, I believe, Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s book, where they apparently sang this.
This is a good example of how the film distorts things. In Nathanson’s book, he claims that as an intern some people sang this song. So, it was never sung by Larry Lader or any other activists, and again, he claims it was widely sung among medical interns at the time yet Bernard Nathanson—in his book, after he became a die-hard anti-abortion activist—is the only person to ever mention its existence.
Yes. So, therein lies the rub.
Well, it’s taking a single dubious source’s claim as fact. And again, Nathanson claimed it was sung when he was an intern, so having Larry Lader and members of NARAL sing it in the film is at best a wild distortion. The film has this song being sung by leading pro-choice activists of the time, which never happened.
You know, I don’t know how to answer that.
Nick Loeb’s character says in the film, “We can’t turn a woman’s body into a business negotiation.” That struck me as pretty ironic, given that it’s pretty much what he did in real life with Sofia Vergara?
Now, I don’t know enough about that. So, you’ll have to educate me. I know he’s in some battle over her embryos.
A curious thing about this film is that it was filmed in Louisiana, the same place where he had initiated legal proceedings against Sofia Vergara to try to claim full ownership over their embryos. So, he was essentially shooting an anti-abortion propaganda film in the very state that he had pursued this case, and at the same time. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. But they broke up, they had frozen embryos, and he wanted to unilaterally, without her consent, assume control over the embryos.
I don’t know enough about that case, but I’ve been hearing and reading some stuff about it. I guess… I don’t know enough about it, but there’s definitely something going on there, and people can assume what they assume.
The film features Milo Yiannopoulos as an abortionist. Were you aware that that was going to be happening?
Certain people came on the movie that I didn’t know, really. All these other players came in the day before [shooting] and stuff. I don’t know about Milo yet, but I know he’s a highly controversial figure. I think he’s called a right-wing person, but I see him on a lot of left-wing stuff.
Well, he’s defended hebephilia and he launched a racist campaign against Leslie Jones over the Ghostbusters movie. He once penned an article with the headline, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” so it’s frankly ironic that he’s in this movie.
I don’t know enough about him.
Is it unfair to you and the cast for the filmmakers to insert incendiary far-right figures into the film after the fact? Because now you’re going to be associated with these characters.
I mean… yeah. That’s not fair to me, but it’s also not fair for people to think that because I’m in a project with them that I’m like that, or that I believe in this stuff. That’s not fair.
If someone popped up in Triumph of the Will, I would probably assume that they don’t like Jews very much.
Yeah, that’s a good point. I didn’t know all these people, and I didn’t know their histories. I didn’t do enough research on every single person in the movie.
Are you worried that you got roped into a right-wing anti-abortion film? Essentially a propaganda film?
I mean, yes and no. Films should make us think. This is making a loud noise about a subject that’s very polarizing, and this subject needs to always be at the forefront, because it’s a very important subject. Did I know it was going to be this controversial? Probably not. It’s going to be looked upon as a certain way, but I’m not that way.
You’re not anti-abortion?
I’m going to be as open as I can with you: My personal beliefs shouldn’t matter because I just did this as a role, but I’m not anti-abortion. When I started this movie, I was pro-choice. As I did this movie, I am still pro-choice, but I got educated on certain things that I have questions about, and I believe that, ultimately, it’s a woman’s right to choose. But I do have questions.
What are those questions?
How can I say this, dude? It’s all gonna blow up in my face, but I’ll just go for it. Let’s try to have responsible sex. The guy should come with a condom. If he doesn’t have a condom, men have to work on that. So, that’s number one. There are lots of ways to prevent pregnancy in a normal situation.
It’s not that hard. When you’re about to climax, keep your condom on. Boom. And if something happens, there’s something called the morning-after pill. But late-term abortion? Come on, man. I don’t know anybody who really understands late-term abortion that can talk about that easily.
Late-term abortions are rarely practiced, and really only usually done if the health of the mother or fetus are at risk.
The people on this film will tell you different.
I’m going to be transparent with you and say that I believe in a woman’s right to choose. And the issue I have with some conservatives—and a lot of the people who are going to watch this film—is that you can’t crack down on contraception and also be anti-abortion. What is the solution then? If you do both those things, you really just want women to have the baby and be tethered to the guy.
I one thousand percent agree with you. That’s a conflicting message. I believe it’s a woman’s right to choose, and it’s a woman and a man’s right to be responsible. But yes, everybody has a right to have contraception.
One scene that I really took issue with in the film involves a secret abortion that’s taking place at a five-star hotel in Chicago, with mafioso-type gangsters overseeing it, and police conduct a sting operation and find buckets of baby parts in the room. I’ve done a lot of research and can’t find any evidence of an incident that comes close to this one. And the scene implies that the rich were getting abortions from doctors at five-star hotels and Chicago gangland-types were in on it in some sort of criminal conspiracy.
I’ve only seen the movie once. I do remember this scene. It was a very disturbing scene, dude, and when I saw it, I was sick to my stomach. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I guess they’re alluding to how people were getting abortions any way they could. Probably, if you talked to people back then, there were some horrific abortions. I don’t know how the mob were connected to doctors. I don’t know. I’m an actor in it, and I don’t know what liberties were taken there.
Abortion is a very emotional and difficult thing for women to deal with, and in this film, all of the women having abortion procedures performed on them, we often don’t even see their faces. Not only are they given nothing to say, but they’re treated as disposable and interchangeable. In every scene in the film where the woman is getting this procedure done, she’s not a character. What does that say?
I agree with you, and maybe that wasn’t a part of this movie—and it should be—and obviously, it’s a very, very difficult choice. But, you know, you’ve definitely talked with women and they’re like, “Yeah, I got an abortion.” There are some women that are like, “Eh, I did it very quickly.”
Every woman I’ve talked to who has gotten an abortion has been pretty affected by it. I don’t think there’s a single woman who isn’t affected by it.
I agree with you, but I think there are some. I agree that it is the most important decision that a woman can make in her life. You know, people are saying this movie is “Jamie and a slew of right-wingers.” You can look this up: I only voted once in my life, and it was for Obama in 2008. I haven’t voted before, and I haven’t voted since, and you can judge me, and that’s a whole other article. To say it’s a slew of right-wingers is not true. There are people who are super right-wingers and people on the left. Jon Voight is a beautiful guy, and one of the most talented actors. When you go out with him, he’s the most courteous guy. He’s the first on set, he’s the last to leave. To think that Jon is a wild right-winger… I don’t know all of his beliefs.
I mean, he called Joe Biden Satan.
[Laughs] What can I say? Touché? I don’t know everything that he’s said.
I was frankly surprised to see you in this. A lot of the other names didn’t surprise me, but yours did, so I wanted to talk with you about it.
Like I said, I didn’t know what type of movie it was totally going to be. It was a great role, it was a respectful offer, and it was a great group of people. They took care of me as good—if not better—than any movie set I’ve ever been on. Some of the messaging in the movie is going to ruin people’s opinion of me, and I apologize for that. I’m an actor. Certain parts in Hollywood make me read nineteen times for the tenth season of a TNT show, and here comes along this detailed character. I’m an actor. I apologize if I’ve pissed people off. I’m willing to talk. You can look at the history of my career, and I’ve done a lot of stuff—some good, some bad—but the other stuff hasn’t been pro-right. Maybe the next thing I can do will be pro-left to even it out. But I’m going to get judged to the high heavens, and I have to deal with it.
I think you have been sold a false bill of goods here.
This seems to be a pretty insidious right-wing propaganda film that you’ve found yourself in.
And I didn’t realize that. And now I gotta deal with it. My agent was like, “Oh, you’ve gotta do this,” and I kind of got put in it. I don’t know… I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Do you stand by the final product?
I have to watch it again. I haven’t seen it in a long time. I like my performance in it. I have to see if there are real facts in it.
There’s an end-credit sequence in the film that features Norma McCorvey, or Jane Roe. The voiceover says that she became pro-life, and it features her giving an anti-abortion spiel. But the documentary AKA Jane Roe came out last year featuring McCorvey where she gave a confessional interview saying that her anti-abortion shtick was all a lie—that she was always pro-choice, that she was a lesbian, and that she’d received bribes from anti-abortion Catholic organizations. McCorvey and the documentary even provide documentation of the “benevolent gifts” she received from these organizations to the tune of $456,911. She says in the film, “I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money, and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say.” So, presenting McCorvey as an anti-abortion crusader at the end of the film when we know what we know now…
…That’s misleading. I agree, that’s misleading. I never knew any of that. I just was told that she was Jane Roe, and this and that, and I saw a bit of the Nightline stuff. Now, if what you’re saying is a hundred percent true, then there’s some duplicity going on.
You should watch AKA Jane Roe. It’s her deathbed confession.
I didn’t know that, and that’s crazy if that’s true. Here’s my thing: people are gonna say what they’re gonna say. I went into the movie as an actor with a very cool part that Hollywood doesn’t normally offer me. Do I have to be aware of what I’m getting into? Of course. Do these things change and turn as they go? Yes. Did this movie change like no other movie I’ve done? A hundred percent. But I knew what I was getting involved in, so I’m not totally innocent, but there were some things that were beyond my control. Do I have to be aware of the things I’m involved in? A hundred percent, and I have to be aware of the messages they put out. So, at the end of the day, I gotta see what the message is, because I hear one thing from those people, and I hear one thing from The Daily Beast side, and I gotta make my own assessments.