New York politicians and the actors who played them

Michael Imperioli as Andrew Cuomo
Michael Imperioli as Andrew Cuomo
Showtime screenshot; Darren McGee/Office of the Governor
Michael Imperioli (left) portrays Gov. Andrew Cuomo (right) touring Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

New York politicians and the actors who played them

Whether on TV or the silver screen, state politics has fostered drama.
February 22, 2019

New York state and local politics have had their fair share of characters – tragic, comedic or otherwise. While many of them are confined to the obscurity of history, a select few have their stories told in blockbuster films, critically-acclaimed television series or a "Saturday Night Live" sketch or two.

Sometimes the difference between a memorable performance and a mediocre one comes down to the casting. Larry David sounds like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Brooklyn native. Robin Williams bears a passing resemblance to President Teddy Roosevelt, a former New York governor. But not every politician is necessarily so lucky.

Here is a rundown of the most memorable portrayals of New York political figures and the actors who played them in recent years.

"Escape at Dannemora" (2018)

Michael Imperioli as Andrew Cuomo

The former Sopranos actor took a turn as Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Ben Stiller’s Showtime miniseries about the 2015 escape of two prisoners from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Imperioli might not be a spitting image of Cuomo, but his backslapping of a guard and ability to look at things shows that he can channel the three-term governor.

"Saturday Night Live" (2016-present)

Larry David as Bernie Sanders, Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump

Starting with the 2016 campaign, America got a sense of how little two presidential candidates change when they are portrayed by famous actors. Larry David has the same booming voice and tendencies for digression as the famous democratic socialist. Trump, meanwhile, as played by Baldin, shows the same … charm, and disregard for reality that has come to define Trump as president. With the 2020 campaign coming up, both actors appear ready for additional performances.

"Show Me A Hero" (2015)

Oscar Isaac as Nick Wasicsko

Former Yonkers Mayor Nick Wasicsko is not well-known compared to many high-profile political leaders, but when he took office in 1987 there quickly were the makings of a stellar TV miniseries. There is segregation to be dealt with, but anytime a mayor tries to act, opposition quickly forms. Sound familiar?

"Hyde Park on the Hudson" (2012)

Bill Murray as FDR

The private affairs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt were not widely known by the public during his time in office, but they did keep him busy. With the British king coming for a visit to his country estate, it falls to Murray to show how three women – only one his mother – were fighting for the president’s attention as the world got ready for war.

"Saturday Night Live" (2008)

Bill Hader as Eliot Spitzer, Fred Armisen as David Paterson

A newly-elected governor gets ready to take on special interests and install accountability in state government. The only problem is that he has a secret and everybody is about to find out, but only after the governor alienates the lawmakers who might save him. The sketch wrote itself and Hader milks it for all it is worth. Armisen did himself a favor months later by leaving his skin color alone in his still controversial lampoon of Paterson, who is African-American.

"Night at the Museum" (2006)

Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt

The late comedic genius put on his Rough Rider hat to portray a museum-bound version of Roosevelt, who served as New York governor for less than two years. He even managed to save the Museum of Natural History from a band of criminals in his hometown more than a century later.

"Gangs of New York" (2002)

Jim Broadbent as William "Boss" Tweed

There may be no one quiet as notorious yet relatively unknown now as William “Boss” Tweed, the longtime boss of the Tammany Hall Democratic Party Machine. When he was not building a monumentally expensive courthouse in lower Manhattan while pocketing money on the side, Tweed was cutting deals with the street gang leaders like William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting. With a cast including Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Liam Neeson, Cameron Diaz and John C. Reilly, it would be hard for any other actor to get much attention, but Jim Broadbent does his best to find a way.

"Primary Colors" (1998)

Emma Thompson as Hillary Clinton

Technically, Thompson was playing Arkansas first lady Susan Stanton, but there was little doubt who the inspiration was for the character. The Roman à clef story of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign showed that he was only one half of a political couple planning to do big things. That is the type of ambition that came in hand when the real-life wife of an Arkansas governor set her sights on a U.S. Senate seat in New York a little over a year after the film came out.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State and its sister publication, New York Nonprofit Media.
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