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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Jerry Haleva

Aired May 4, 2003 - 11:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Saddam impersonators have grabbed big acts in the past. On the big screen there was the scene from the movie "Hot Shots." There you go, that scene. Ouch. He gets a missile in the old lap, there. Then in the sequel to that movie, "Hot Shots Part Deux," we see a Saddam with some interesting tan lines.
ROBIN MEADE, CNN ANCHOR: Wait, there's more. Here's another Saddam role. This is from HBO's "Live From Baghdad." Now, the actor in all three of these roles is Jerry Haleva. Now, he's in Sacramento, California, this morning, to talk about life as a Saddam Hussein impersonator. Jerry, good morning to you. I want to point out that you say this is not what you do for a living, it's kind of just something that you do on the side. How did it come to be?

JERRY HALEVA, SADDAM HUSSEIN IMPERSONATOR: That's correct, Robin. Good morning.

It came to be because I was working at the California State Senate in 1989, and the chief sergeant of arms saw a picture of Saddam waving to his troops in the "L.A. Times." At the time, Saddam was not a big player in the Middle East picture, but he clipped the photo and distributed it on the floor of the state senate with the caption that said "Now we know what Haleva does on his weekends." And that started the whole look-alike role.

MEADE: You know, I really like the story that you tell, regarding a bunch of cab drivers that you came across, and they said, you look like somebody not very nice.

HALEVA: Right. I was on my way to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. I do part of my lobbying in D.C., and I like to go to the Lincoln Memorial at night. The cab driver happened to be a Russian immigrant.

When I came back he and another cabby were laughing. And as I get in the cab, he said, very sorry for laughing, sir, but my friend and I agree you look a lot like somebody who is not very nice. I smiled, and I said, that's OK, because I actually play him in the movies. And his eyes got huge and he said, you play Joseph Stalin in the movies?

It's not strictly a Saddam, but if you kill millions of people and are cruel, I can do you in the movies.

COOPER: You made it through the first Gulf War OK. How was it this time compared to the last Gulf War for you? HALEVA: Well, clearly during wartime, the satirical or parody becomes less funny. And I was asked to do a lot of interviews during the war and refused them. Primarily because we had brave young men and women who were paying the ultimate sacrifice. Thank God the war concluded quickly. I think it's OK to try and have some fun with it again. I prefer the parody role, as opposed to a serious portrayal.

MEADE: You know, rumors abound about the fate of Saddam Hussein. Some speculate whether he's had some work done, and does that worry you?

HALEVA: Actually, no, because, again, the more he doesn't look like him, the more I do, the more commercial opportunities there are.

COOPER: Does it worry you? His whereabouts are unknown. Obviously a good thing in the geopolitical sense, but does it worry you in terms of your availability? Have the requests stopped, or gone down at all?

HALEVA: Anderson, there haven't been many commercial opportunities. A lot of media interest right now. But fortunately I don't have to make a living at this. I'm a full time lobbyist and work in Sacramento and in Washington. I think it would be easier to make a dying at it than a living at it, actually.

MEADE: You play, we'll call it a serious role of Saddam Hussein in "Live From Baghdad," and then some sillier roles. How do you play them differently?

HALEVA: Clearly the "Live From Baghdad" role was a more demanding part in the sense that it really required me to try and convey as much evil as possible. I don't think of myself in that way, so trying to convey somebody as evil as Saddam was more challenging. But I had a great deal of fun in the Jim Abrams' movies, where I did the parody of him. That was a great deal of fun. It came more naturally to my personality.

COOPER: Jerry Haleva, it's been a pleasure talking to you. It's a fascinating sideline of yours, and appreciate you joining us to tell us about it.

HALEVA: Good to be with both of you.

COOPER: Have a good day.

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