Trump’s mentoring by mob lawyer Roy Cohn at centre of new biopic to be shown at Cannes

A new film based on Donald Trump’s life in the 1970s and 1980s will premier at the Cannes film festival this year

Martha McHardy
Thursday 11 April 2024 19:45 BST
Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn and Sebastian Stan as Donald Trump in ‘The Apprentice’
Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn and Sebastian Stan as Donald Trump in ‘The Apprentice’ (APPRENTICE PRODUCTIONS ONTARIO INC. / PROFILE PRODUCTIONS 2 APS / TAILORED FILMS LTD. 2023)

Donald Trump and his mentor Roy Cohn — or at least fictionalised versions of them — are heading to Cannes.

A new film based on the former president’s life in the 1970s and 1980s will premier at the French film festival this year, with Sebastian Stan starring as Mr Trump, while Succession’s Jeremy Strong will play lawyer and prosecutor Roy Cohn.

The film, named The Apprentice, will explore Mr Trump’s career as an aspiring real estate tycoon in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s and will delve into his relationship with Roy Cohn, the New York City prosecutor who is thought to have had a considerable influence on his presidency.

The movie’s official logline reads: “The Apprentice is a dive into the underbelly of the American empire. It charts a young Donald Trump’s ascent to power through a Faustian deal with the influential right-wing lawyer and political fixer Roy Cohn.”

Mr Trump and Mr Cohn first met at Le Club, a members-only nightspot in Manhattan’s East 50s in the 1970s, according to the former president, and soon became friends and colleagues after Mr Trump sought out Mr Cohn’s legal expertise to represent him in various business dealings and legal matters.

However, Mr Cohn became more than just Trump’s lawyer; he became a mentor and a close confidant, introducing the former president to various powerful figures in New York City’s business and political circles.

According to filmmaker Ivy Meeropol, Mr Cohn “paved the way for Trump and set him up with the right people” before he ran for president, including Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, she told Vanity Fair in 2020, adding that they were the people who “helped him get to the White House.”

Meanwhile, film director Matt Tyrnauer told Esquire in 2020 that Mr Cohn “created a president from beyond the grave.”

But the relationship between the two men was not without its controversies. Mr Cohn’s reputation as a ruthless operator - having prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were sentenced to death in the 1950s for spying for the Soviet Union - and his involvement in various scandals, including his disbarment for ethical violations, cast a shadow over his association with Mr Trump.

Despite this, the former president remained fiercely loyal to his mentor, even standing by him during his final years as he battled AIDS.

The movie, which is described as a mentor-protégé narrative, will explore the relationship between the two men and will tackle themes including power, corruption and deception, according to the movie’s creators.

Maria Bakalova, who starred in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, will star as Mr Trump’s late ex-wife Ivana Trump, while veteran character actor Martin Donovan will play Donald’s father Fred Trump.

The movie’s producers released a still giving a first look at the film Thursday, following the Cannes announcement. The image shows an intense Strong, starring as Roy Cohn, staring at a spooked-looking young Trump.

The Apprentice was directed by Ali Abbasi, who last attended Cannes in 2022 with MUBI’s Holy Spider.

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