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Actors-Turned-Politicians Offer Schwarzenegger Advice

The governor-elect's journey has precedence from India to Manila, Egypt to Argentina.

October 12, 2003|Ramola Talwar Badam | Associated Press Writer

BOMBAY — From Bollywood stars to a deposed Philippine president, actors-turned-politicians warn Arnold Schwarzenegger if he doesn't get his lines right as governor of California, he could be booed out by a fickle public.

"The pitfall is if you do not perform in the movies, it's just acting. But in politics, it's real life," said Joseph Estrada, who should know -- he was ousted as president of the Philippines in massive protests and is now serving time on corruption charges.

Speaking from a detention facility in Manila, Estrada advised Schwarzenegger to work at bringing his on-screen heroics to the tangled reality of politics.

"The so-called learned people, with all their master's degrees, have no monopoly on leadership," Estrada said in a telephone interview, citing actor-turned-California-governor-turned-president Ronald Reagan as his own inspiration.

"That's how I got the cue," he said.

A long list of Hollywood actors has made the transition to politics. Action stars have fared particularly well, at least in getting elected: Former professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who acted with Schwarzenegger in the films "Predator" and "The Running Man" was elected governor of Minnesota after serving as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn. Governing the state proved fractious, however, and he did not run for reelection.

Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry" fame was elected mayor of Carmel, Calif., in 1986. He served only two years before returning to acting and directing.

In Bollywood, India's Bombay-based movie mecca, which churns out 800 films a year, many actors have crossed over from film to politics -- but the going can be tough.

India's most popular star, Amitabh Bachchan, won a seat in Parliament in the 1980s. He did not finish his five-year term; he resigned in the wake of corruption allegations.

"There was too much mudslinging," said Komal Nata, editor of the Bombay movie trade guide Film Information. "He realized he was not cut out for it and he'd rather face the cameras and act."

Some Bollywood actors have stuck it out, and found their on-screen personas and built-in fan bases to be major assets. That's especially true for those who play Hindu gods and goddesses; their supernatural powers appeal to voters.

Nandamoori Taraka Rama Rao, known for his portrayals of Hindu gods, was twice elected by huge margins as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state in the 1960s.

Actress Jayalithaa, who plays goddesses in Tamil-language films, is serving her second term as the top elected official in Tamil Nadu state -- winning reelection even while appealing a corruption conviction stemming from her first term.

Around the globe, actors and actresses have traded one form of limelight for another, with mixed success.

Actress Eva Peron was the virtual co-ruler of Argentina when her husband, Juan Peron, took power in 1946 -- a role chronicled in the popular musical and film, "Evita." Her husband's third wife, Isabel, a former cabaret dancer, became Argentina's president in 1974 but was ousted two years later in a coup.

Italy's most attention-grabbing actress-turned-politician was former porn star Ilona Staller, who was elected to Parliament in 1987. She failed in an attempt at a political comeback last year.

In Egypt, singer Fayda Kamel won a Parliament seat in 1971 and has been reelected ever since.

In Turkey, 1960s and '70s film star Fatma Girik was elected mayor of a key Istanbul district, and Ediz Hun, a '70s screen star, was elected to Parliament.

The pitfall for actors-turned-politicians is that voters mistakenly believe the screen image is real, said actor Amin Hajee, who played a mute temple caretaker in the Indian film "Lagaan," nominated for a best foreign film Oscar last year.

Although that may win votes, it can backfire. "An action actor could be a mouse in real life," Hajee said. "What he portrays is not what he is. A film star can be a successful politician. So can a janitor. They just need to be responsive to the people."

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Jim Gomez contributed to this report from Manila.

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