Tim Robbins (Courtesy of Karlovy Vary/Film Servis Festival)
Tim Robbins thought he’d come up with a timely idea for a new comedy.
The subject of his new satire would be an unhinged billionaire-turned-president who uses the Oval Office to sow racism and division. Robbins’ film would focus on his struggles to maintain his grip on power during a tumultuous year in which he faces an uphill climb to re-election. Parallels to Donald J. Trump are obvious and intended, Robbins says.
“It’s definitely Trump,” he told Variety. “But it’s the Trump behind the scenes — the one from the unsourced reports of him belittling aides and behaving in an even more narcissistic fashion.”
Initially, Robbins reached out to “The Big Short” writer and director Adam McKay about lining up financing for the feature film. But the pandemic upended those plans, making it nearly impossible to secure backing and complete the film by Election Day on Nov. 4. That sent Robbins back to the drawing board. His creative solution has enabled him to deliver an October surprise of his own. “Bobbo Supreme,” his incisive look at power and politics, has been re-conceived as a five-episode podcast.
Robbins said he gradually became convinced that the best way to respond to Trump and the country’s rightward lurch was with humor.
“It’s what autocrats fear most,” said Robbins. “Satire and humor gives us a deeper understanding of what’s going on in our world. It’s also important as a great release for people who are trapped in a cycle of news that is despairing and hard to listen to. It’s a welcome relief from the reality we are dealing with every day.”
The actor also tapped his rolodex of friends and past co-stars to assemble an A-list cast. In addition to Robbins, who plays Bobbo, the voice cast includes Jack Black, Isla Fisher, Alfre Woodard, Ray Wise, Ted Levine, Patton Oswalt, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Tom Lennon, Rita Brent, Haley Joel Osment, Riki Lindhome, Maribeth Monroe and Sasheer Zamata. The group, most of whom were quarantining in their homes during the shutdown, assembled from 35 different locations for four days of recording. Robbins felt it was important that everyone record their parts at the same time in order to better capture comic timing and so the performers could feed off of each other.
“We were juggling a lot of different time zones, but we figured it out,” he said. “We had people recording from Utah, New York, Los Angeles, Georgia. They were in broom closets, living rooms, bathrooms — just wherever they could get a signal.
The project also went through prep, recording and post-production entirely remotely.
“Bobbo Supreme” shines a mirror on the chaos of the past few years — there are rightwing militias, Supreme Court appointments, CEO shakedowns. Much of it set to original music and songs that were written and performed by Robbins and his brother David Robbins. The two previously collaborated on “Bob Roberts” and “Dead Man Walking,” two of Tim Robbins’ previous directing efforts.
Robbins spoke with Variety a day after the presidential debate — a clash between Trump and Joe Biden that was described by one CNN commentator as a “s— show.” The Oscar winner said he believes that Trump will ultimately lose the election, but that headaches around counting ballots during the pandemic may lead to a chaotic transition.
“I think our podcast is going to remain relevant beyond the election,” said Robbins. “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a prolonged period of time when we don’t know who the next president is.”
“Bobbo Supreme,” which Robbins is calling an “aural immersive experience,” will be made available on Patreon, a podcasting network, on Oct. 8. Robbins is also working with the New York Film Festival to have an event tied to the podcast’s release.
Robbins serves as the writer, director and producer, and Lisa Rudin serves as producer. Starburns Audio is their production partner, with Brian Baldinger and Jason Smith as head producers. Brendan Lynch-Salamon is sound designer and associate producer, and Jessica Gutierrez is audio engineer for the project.
Robbins enjoyed the experience of making an audio movie of sorts and is actively looking to turn two or three other screenplays that he’s written into podcasts.
Variety's Brent Lang contributed to this post.