My Strange Call with 'My Son Hunter' Director Robert Davi
A two-hour conversation about Hunter Biden, Frank Sinatra, and demon sheep
Depending whom you ask, Hunter Biden is either a tragic sore spot for his father; a victim of “Russian disinformation” or “an annihilation of digital privacy;” a drug-addled crook who has compromised his father’s agenda; or a vaguely charming, unendingly chaotic joke. But most would agree that, if the GOP takes back one or both chambers of Congress on Tuesday, he will be a target of some kind of investigation. Republican leadership has been saying as much for the past year. The investigation may or may not have merit; it will certainly be hypocritical and held in bad faith. But it’s clear that Hunter’s omnipresence in the Republican imagination has been fueled by a liberal effort to deny, squash, or avoid the subject for years.
That was more or less the argument I made in an essay from last month for The Drift magazine (where I’ve edited since 2020 in addition to my Gawker duties). The piece was mostly about Hunter’s career and lengthy list of scandals, how the Democrats fumbled their messaging over his laptop leaks, and how a high-profile investigation might play out. But the first two paragraphs referenced My Son Hunter — the Breitbart-distributed biopic directed by ex-Bond villain Robert Davi that came out in September. I described Davi as an “occasional CPAC speaker” and “supporting actor in Die Hard who went on to narrate losing campaign ads on topics like ‘demonic sheep.’” It was a pretty rude but cursory mention. Still, the next day, Davi messaged me on Twitter:
You seem like a sincere person but why minimise a career of 45 years Tarplay - I know you need to feed red meat to your readers but you need not denigrate - your guilty of the very thing your accusing of - next time you need to research those you write about to more honestly represent who they are…All kidding aside let’s do an interview about the film.
Along with the message, Davi sent some supporting materials, including links to a YouTube video about his music career; three videos of him covering Frank Sinatra songs (“The House I Live In,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Old Man River”); five screenshots of reviews and awards for his 2007 directorial debut, The Dukes; a trailer for The Dukes; and a three-page document outlining his policy proposal for a national draft to enlist America’s youth in climate change defense program called “The Earth Force.” We talked on the phone for about two hours, much of which, due to a mutual tendency to veer off-topic, was not about My Son Hunter at all. This transcript has been edited for clarity, length, and subject relevancy.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank you, it's courageous of you.
I wanted to start off by asking why you reached out.
Well, you wrote an article on the film, which was quite in depth. I didn't agree with everything. But I've done that often over my years as an actor, or as a singer. You obviously were concerned about what you were writing about and did the research on that.
Thank you. In your message, you said, "I know you need to feed red meat to your readers, but you need not denigrate. You're guilty of the very thing you're accusing." What did you mean by that?
Oh yes, I know what I was referring to. It was how you positioned me in the story. How did you describe me? I can't pull up the article.
It said: “This feature length drama was directed by occasional CPAC speaker Robert Davi, a supporting actor in Diehard who went on to narrate losing campaign ads on topics like ‘demonic sheep.’” [Ed. note: the latter refers to a 2010 political ad put out by then-California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, in which she characterizes her Republican opponent Tom Campbell as a kind of “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” only the sheep are also possessed.]
Here's how I looked at it: I'm a 45-year veteran. I did my first film with Frank Sinatra. I'm considered one of the top Bond villains of all time. Goonies is a cult classic [Ed note: Davi played Jake Fratelli, a counterfeiter, escaped convict, and the second-favorite son of Fratelli crime family matriarch Mama Fratelli, who antagonizes the Goonies by setting boobytraps with his brother, Francis.] Showgirls is a cult classic. [Ed note: Davi played Big Al Torres, strip club proprietor and general sleaze known for his famous line, “It must be weird not havin' anybody cum on ya' anymore.”] I starred in a television series for four years that was groundbreaking called Profiler [Ed. note: Profiler was an NBC cop drama that ran from 1996 to 2000, following a forensic psychologist named Sam Waters, and her mentor, Bailey Malone, played by Davi.] And you minimize me by bringing up — it was called Demon Sheep, not demonic sheep — that I narrated something.
So what? It's basically saying this loser directed My Son Hunter. It’s not giving respect to me as an artist, as a singer who charted No. 6 on Billboard Jazz [Ed. Note: in 2011, Davi put out an album of Frank Sinatra covers called Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance, which spent a week at No. 6 on the “Billboard Traditional Jazz Album” charts. The official year-end 6th spot on the regular “Billboard Jazz” chart went to Esmerelda Spalding’s Chamber Music.] and [who] Quincy Jones calls, "the best doing it" [Ed note. I couldn’t find this quote online, but Davi clarified that he had paraphrased from this graphic posted to Jones’ Facebook page:
You could have said, Human Events called him the "Godfather of Pop Culture Voice." [Ed. Note: Human Events is a right-wing news site run by Jeff Webb, the conservative founder of the “world governing body” of professional cheerleading, the International Cheer Union. This particular quote refers to a September post from HE contributor Lisa De Pasquale which called Davi the “Godfather of Pop Culture Warriors,” presumably referring to the name of De Pasquale’s interview column, “Pop Culture Warriors.”] That's what I took umbrage with. Because right away, it says, “This is not a serious film, not a serious person that directed it — it's demonic sheep.” You understand how that could be offensive to me?
I totally do, I was being a jerk. That part was mostly about conservative filmmaking — you made this movie with Breitbart, you're coming at it from this very partisan vantage point. I don't think you'd disagree. How did you get involved in this project?
The Unreported Story [Society] people, Phelim McElhinney and Ann McElhinney, reached out to me [Ed note: My Son Hunter was funded and produced by Irish right-wing filmmakers Phelim McElhinney and Ann McElhinney, best known for their climate change denial project, Frack Nation and anti-abortion drama Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. The Unreported Story Society, is the non-profit they started in 2017, through which they produced two podcasts and a play based on the leaked texts between FBI agents Peter Strozyk and Lisa Page criticizing Donald Trump called FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers, which debuted at CPAC in 2020.]
They saw a film I directed called The Dukes that won nine awards, which was quite good [Ed. note: A poster for Davi’s 2007 directorial debut “The Dukes” lists prizes at four festivals — the l’Alpe d’Huez and Monte Carlo Comedy Film Festivals, Houston Worldfest (which gives out over 200 prizes per year), and the Queens International Film Festival, which has been defunct since 2010. It also lists ‘Official Selection’ from the Cinema Rome and Newport Beach Film Festivals.] That was on the world stage along with Redford and Sidney Lumet and Gavin Hood and Sean Penn and Francis Ford Coppola. I was already a qualified director, although I hadn't been directing a lot. But what I did direct had a nice pedigree about it. They liked it. They wanted to do something that wasn't just a conservative film.
I just wanted to tell his story, like American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street, that vibe of a story. I took out all the really deep red-meat stuff, and made it more of a father-son story. I knew I wanted it to be satirical. I wanted to be emotional, and not just bashing a guy that had an addiction problem, which many people suffer from in this country. I had an ex that had a bad addiction problem and a kid that did, so I'm very sensitive to addiction.
I was going to bring that up. I did think the movie was pretty surprisingly sympathetic to Hunter. You had a personal connection to drug addiction?
Yes, I think every family has suffered from addiction. My good friend Scott Newman (he was Paul Newman's son) died because of drugs. I have many friends in Hollywood and in life that have lost children or spouses to addiction. So I was very sensitive to that issue.
The original script was tougher on Hunter?
It had empathy. But there were other things that were more pointed, let's say. I didn't want to demonize the dementia that people accused Biden of either. If you look at the film, there are moments of lapse, but not where it's cartoonish, or out of touch, because I don't find that engaging. Again, people have issues. Elderly people have these lapses.
I think the cast is partly what signals to the viewer that this is a conservative movie. You've got Gina Carano and Laurence Fox and John James. Why’d you choose those guys?
I'm anti-blacklisting anyone. I let everyone have their say, and I don't think people should be blacklisted for what they say — unless it's totally outrageous, and, of course damaging. But if you have a different ideology, or who you're voting for should not blacklist you. Gina Carano, I think, was unduly canceled [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to Carano’s public criticism after Carano declined to support the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, then changed her Twitter pronouns to “boop/bop/beep” in an apparent dunk on trans people, then joined the Mercer-funded social media platform Parler, where she made fun of masks during COVID and boosted Trump’s plainly false election fraud theory, only to turn around and claim the online backlash against her was similar to when “Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews.” The latter post got her fired from The Mandalorian.]
Laurence Fox is quite an interesting character out of England, who started the Reclaim party [Ed. Note: Laurence Fox is a third-generation descendant of the Fox family, a British acting dynasty, and pivoted to political activism in 2020 by speaking out against pandemic lockdown protocols, criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, and tweeting a Pride flag with a swastika on it. The same year, he formed a new political party called Reclaim, and ran as its sole candidate for London mayor on a platform aimed at fighting “extreme political correctness.” He lost with less than two percent of the vote.]
John James was on Dynasty. I wanted somebody that was not frail or weak, because Joe Biden has been in politics for 45 years. He’s somebody that's been able to affect and win elections, that has a certain kind of charm.
You shot the movie in Serbia. Why that location?
We set it in Belgrade. It was absolutely spectacular. We worked to get the look exactly right. Of course, the Chateau Marmont didn't exist there. But the set looks like it could be the Chateau Marmont. The club, where Kitty strips in the beginning, was just an open storefront that I had them design in terms of that. Serbia was a great experience. Terrific technicians. Oddly enough, Hunter Biden was at that same hotel a month before I got there.
How do you know?
The hotel personnel told me. They were very they were fans of mine, of course, from Bond and other films. So it was a thing.
One of my problems with the movie is that there's so much information about Hunter and it doesn’t all relate. A lot of it is suspicious, but none of it is really a "gotcha." Your approach was to focus on the laptop as the centerpiece, and tell everything in flashbacks. But it felt like there were just a lot of flashbacks. Did you have trouble trying to tell what is ultimately a pretty disparate story?
Look, I have eight kids. If my kids were on a plane ride with me to China, and they were going to meet with some heads of state — you think I’d never have a conversation like “How'd it go? Who'd you talk to? It doesn't seem believable to me. Of course, you can't go that far into all of it. But it's touched on in terms of Burisma, in terms of the Communist Chinese party, the ring he got, and the money he got. I mean, any honest person has to say, “Wait a second.” So it does expose it. And then you have all the denials of all the mainstream media saying that it’s Russian collusion. I mean, if your generation is going to save this country, you've got to be brutally honest with yourselves, and with all politicians. To me, both parties have corruption.
Sure, I agree. But having done similar research, I didn't really find a smoking gun that suggested that Joe Biden had been involved in Hunter’s foreign deals.
Hunter says it. He says to his own daughter, "I won't be like Poppy and shake you down for 10 percent for the rest of your life." [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to a 2021 Daily Mail article that included screenshots of texts allegedly sent from Hunter to his daughter, Naomi Biden, one of which reads: “Don’t worry, unlike Pop I won’t make you give me half your salary.” The article connected this exchange to other emails allegedly linked to Hunter, which suggested he had paid for improvements to Joe Biden’s house in Wilmington. The article dates these alleged correspondences to 2010, long before Hunter joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and does not establish any connection between them and Hunter’s work abroad or its supposed influence on Biden’s political agenda.] There is actually a there there. I didn't put that in the film. But it’s there in Hunter's own words.
Of course, it just doesn't come from Joe. We know that Hunter thinks of himself as the provider. He says that himself in his autobiography. He says it in leaked texts and emails from the laptop. We know he thinks "Oh, my entire family went into the public sector, and I'm the rich guy who went into the private sector. And so I have to help pay for my relatives to buy their house and go to school." He complains about this. There's just no evidence, even with full access to his email server —
But you're ignoring Tony Bobulinski [Ed. Note: Tony Bobulinski is a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s, who has since become a regular on the conservative talk show circuit. Bobulinski had been working with Hunter on a failed partnership with Chinese oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy to invest in a liquified natural gas project in Louisiana. According to reporter Ben Schreckinger’s book, The Bidens, Bobulinski has claimed he met with Hunter and Joe in May of 2017, and was copied on a now-infamous email sketching out the project’s equity split, in which a partner wrote “10 held by H for the big guy?,” implying that Hunter would hold a 10 percent cut for Joe Biden. Both Bidens and James Gilliar, the partner who wrote that email, have denied that Joe Biden was ever involved in the deal]. He's got the emails. Bobulinsky met with Biden.
He did. But Ben Schreckinger in his book, The Bidens, talks to Bobulinsky. He reads over everything that Bobulinsky has, and Schreckinger is very hard on Hunter, but there's just no good evidence. Even Chuck Grassley — who wrote the Senate report looking into the Ukraine stuff — couldn’t figure out if Biden was involved in or influenced by Hunter’s business. And those are Republicans.
Again, that's what we know. We know what we know. And we know that we don't know a lot. That's why it's "alleged." But I mean, you have mom and dad, right. You have parents?
Yeah, of course.
All right. And as a daughter, do you not tell them what you're doing?
You know, on the day to day, not consistently.
Not day to day. But if you're on an Air Force 2 going to China, making deals with the Communist Chinese spy chief, who then winds up missing — remember when Biden said, "China's not that bad, folks!" Why would he say that? I mean, you have to read between the lines on some of this stuff. I mean, Biden is not a sacred figure.
I certainly don't think so. There's lots of things I would critique about Biden. It just makes more sense to criticize Biden for what he does in public than to imagine some other things that he's been doing in private that even a Republican-led Senate committee could not prove.
Well, it remains to be seen whether it's proven or not. Don't forget that at one time, this whole story was denied by the mainstream media. Denied!
I think that's the real villain of your story.
At the end of the day, yeah.
It's not necessarily that there was a huge story there. It's that the story was squashed.
Absolutely, that's part of it. As you see, it culminates in the media narrative in the last act. And the idea of Hunter leaving these laptops. You know, there was another laptop —
Two other laptops!
When I was casting for this out of Hollywood, a friend had an Airbnb. She told me that Hunter left a backpack with drugs and another laptop at the Airbnb. [Ed. Note: We could not corroborate this specific anecdote, but it’s true that Hunter has been accused of losing other laptops. According to Shreckinger, Biden also left a laptop with psychiatrist and occasional Fox commentator Keith Ablow, whom he had been seeing for ketamine therapy in 2018. When the DEA raided Ablow’s office in Feb. 2020, they retrieved the laptop in the sweep, but later returned it to Hunter, as it was unrelated in the case. And in September, New York magazine contributor Andrew Rice told CNN that some close to Hunter speculated that yet another laptop was still in circulation.] So, we don't know everything that's on those laptops yet. The FBI has not investigated it.
You have to laugh a little bit. Don't you feel like there's a huge glaring tension in the middle of Hunter Biden conspiracies? The man is clearly high, basically all the time during those years. So the idea that he could be carrying out these complex plots — so complex that we can't even figure out what they are — is a little funny.
Have you ever dealt with an addict?
They're brilliant. He was hitting that crack pipe with some drug every 15 minutes when he was doing meetings with people. And still, the father says, "You're the smartest guy I know." I'm not denying the veracity of what you're saying. But I can't, in my head, rectify the absolute cluelessness of Joe Biden of what was happening. Why were the trade deals stopped that Trump did with China? [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to the “U.S.-China Phrase One Trade Agreement” that Trump signed in early 2020, in which China agreed to buy $200 billion of additional US exports by the end of the following year. It’s been called a “failure” and a “flop” mostly because China did not buy that much in additional exports. The failure has been attributed partly to the global pandemic and partly to Trump having set “unrealistic targets that China predictably never came close to meeting.”] I used to be an innocent when I was a kid. I dealt with the Kennedy assassination, and Martin Luther King assassination and the questions around all of that. You used to think that our governmental people were there for us.
Were you always conservative?
We had an uncle who was a William Buckley conservative, and we were Kennedy Democrats, my family. My godfather was the head of the Democratic Party in Long Island. I met Jack Kennedy at the post office when he was running for office. There was always discussion around the family table about politics. I left it for a long time, because I just wanted to concentrate on the art. During the Reagan time, I was more interested.
But I was still just focusing on my career, on acting. I did my first film with Sinatra [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to Contract on Cherry Street, a 1977 TV movie starring Sinatra as NYPD Detective Inspector Frank Hovannes, who takes on the mob against the advice of his superiors. Davi played Mickey Sinardos, a supporting role described as “Greek underworld figure.”] You got to realize Sinatra — to an Italian American growing up, there were two figures: the Pope and Sinatra, and not necessarily in that order. He was a towering figure because of his stance against racial bigotry. For Italians, you are subject to a certain kind of prejudice, being darker skin. So that injustice was bred in me, and Sinatra was a huge figure for us. I had many discussions with him in the 80s when Reagan was president, and further on, because he made the transition from being a Democrat to more of a conservative as he got older.
What you said about Italian immigrants is interesting, because reading your columns, you say some pretty explosive anti-immigrant things.
Illegal immigrants. I'm for closed borders. Make no mistake about that. I am not a globalist. I hate illegal immigration.
You've also said some pretty insane things about Muslims. In your endorsement of Donald Trump, you defended what he said about Muslims celebrating on 9/11. [Ed. Note: he wrote that, based on watching the 1994 PBS Frontline documentary “Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America,” it was clear that “all is not peace and ice cream inside some of the mosques in America.”]
I witnessed that happen. I saw it with my own eyes. I've been to the Muslim countries. I was in Jordan. I spoke to King Hussein in 1992-94 [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to Hussein bin Talal, the king of Jordan from 1952 until 1999. Around that time, Jordan was in talks with America while negotiating the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994, but Davi, obviously, was not involved in any of that. We could not find any record of the two meeting, but he said the meeting was private and took place while he was shooting in Jordan for Son of the Pink Panther (1993).] Not the current king, the old king of Jordan. He said, “Would you come and teach an acting class? I said, “I would like to start a school. Put $50 million aside. I'll bring other actors, directors, cinematographers — the money wouldn't go for them. It’d go to a fund to make films, so you can tell your stories.” Because I think the arts can give us much more communication. But I did see what I said. I was frustrated that people were trying to deny it all of a sudden. My friends saw it. But they were afraid to say anything. People were afraid of getting canceled and being labeled.
What do you think being canceled is?
What do I think it is?
All of a sudden, there’s articles being written about things. Your name gets taken off on certain things. You're perhaps not getting jobs you want, or would have gotten. There's a variety of different cancellations that can happen to someone.
I only ask because you've used it a lot. I guess my problem with the word is that it applies to so many different things. But it’s always about people who get into some sort of cultural conflict, like saying something offensive about Muslims.
There's an absolute reality to what you're saying. At that particular time, people were frightened. There's a documentary about a gentleman and I forget his name. Steve something or other. The footage that was given to me in the mid 1990s, by the sheriff's department in Los Angeles. They went inside the mosques in different parts of the nation, and they were talking about jihad. They were training terrorists in America. This was based on real-time information. I got the FBI Man of the Year award in 2001 [Ed. Note: We could not find any record that FBI gives out a “Man of the Year” award, and Davi could only provide references to the award from his own professional bios. The FBI Director has given out “Director’s Community Leadership Awards” to “individuals and organizations for their efforts in combating crime, terrorism, drugs, and violence in America” since 1990. But their records only go back to 2008, so I could not confirm whether Davi got one in 2001.] I did a TV series in the mid ’90s, called Profiler, where I worked with the FBI. I was put on the Homeland Security Policy Institute in 2002, at George Washington University [Ed. Note: Davi is referring to his time serving on a 27-person task force organized by the HSPI at George Washington University to develop strategies for countering, somewhat ironically, “internet-facilitated radicalization.”] I was privy to a lot of information that normal people, but most people would not get. So based on what I had seen, that's where I made that assessment.
One of the things I thought we agreed on from the movie was that the intelligence agencies are often up to no good.
We're finding that out more than ever before. There may have been some duping before, when we now look back on the idea of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We bought into it. I'm not going to deny it. I was a bit of an idealist at that time.
Well, to wrap up, can you tell me about Demon Sheep? Did you think it was going to be a good ad?
I just knew it was a funny ad. I got paid well for it, and that’s just for narration. I liked Carly Fiorina, and I didn't know it was gonna be brought up decades later.
It's one of the funniest ads I’ve ever seen. But thank you for taking the time.
It was nice talking to you. It's interesting, isn't it?
Is it what you expected?
I had no idea. I just thought it would be interesting. Take care.