I recently caught up with John Sidney McCain III on the set of Peter Jackson's film "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." In what some are calling "the role of a lifetime," the part-time actor, part-time Arizona senator, portrays a small surly hobbit named Jaundice Mick Baggins. I found the tiny 76-year-old in his trailer being prepped for the day's shoot by a team of makeup artists.
I asked him if it's true what they say - that the great John McCain has lost his stature. "When I was first elected I was 5 feet 7 inches tall. These days I'm 3 feet 6 inches. You tell me. Jackson was thrilled to cast me in the role of a hobbit because CGI special effects won't be necessary."
McCain's bare feet dangled over the edge of his seat, barely touching the step stool he used to climb into the makeup chair. With his trademark pained smile he said, "I'm perfect for the part, my friend. Add the hairy feet and the pointy ears and I'm a hobbit."
He watched a make-up girl fuss with his snow-white comb-over. "My friend, being a senator is fun, but I always loved acting. And with me it's hard to to separate the two. It all began when I was asked to perform with the Muppets. Remember the two grumpy hecklers in the theater balcony who would heckle Kermit and Fozzie Bear? I was the grumpy one who looked like Ed Asner. Next thing I know it's '87 and I'm starring in 'The Maverick.'"
He adjusted his green velvet breeches and sighed. "Did I mention I was 5 feet 7 inches then? I miss those days."
On his makeup table was a bouquet of roses from Sen. Jon Kyl and a faded publicity still autographed by Sen. Russ Feingold. McCain pointed up at the picture. "At one time McCain-Feingold was the greatest team in show business. Our Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was a runaway hit... until the Supreme Court brought down the curtain." He tugged at his red velvet vest.
He grunted as he bent over to slip on his giant hobbit feet. "By then I had lost 7 inches and I was doing cameos. After I was in 'Wedding Crashers' with Owen Wilson I needed work and the only game in town was the wing-nut circuit, so I changed my act. That's when I perfected my 'monkey on a leash' bit and my 'straight face express' routine. Crowds were dazzled by my ability to say the most amazing things and keep a straight face.
"I did 'Saturday Night Live' a few times. Did you see me in 'Parks and Recreation' with Amy Poehler? She's friends with Tina Fey. I hate that woman. Hate her. Hate her!" He pounded the armrest with his tiny fist. The makeup girl pleaded with him to sit still as she powdered his bright-red face.
I asked him about his breakthrough performance in "Game Change," HBO's political drama. "Oh, yeah. In that film I portrayed an Arizona senator running for president of the United States in 2008. The sap wants to win so badly he sells his soul to the devil. It was like a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road picture, only I was Bob Hope and they cast a ditzy Alaskan as Bing. My friend, I thought it was going to be a political thriller, but it turned out to be a low-budget slapstick comedy."
"I am pretty excited about getting the lead in 'Benghazi-gate'. It's a Fox Studios production and I'm giving it my all. Audiences aren't buying it. It could be because I'm so small you can't see me when I stand behind a podium these days." McCain muttered something about podiums under his breath as he struggled to hop down from the chair.
As an assistant lifted him up so he could reach the doorknob, he turned to me and said his prize possession is a pair of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater's shoes.
"I love 'em. It's amazing how they've grown larger through the years. They're huge now. I can stand in the center and not see over the shoelaces."
Email Star cartoonist David Fitzsimmons: firstname.lastname@example.org