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Feature: Actor-politicians face many pitfalls
( 2003-10-10 14:40) (Agencies)

From Bollywood stars to a deposed Philippine president, actors-turned-politicians warned Arnold Schwarzenegger that if he doesn't get his lines right as governor of California, he may be booed out by a fickle public.

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada's action hero past helped win votes.  [AP]
"The pitfall is if you do not perform in the movies, it's just acting. But in politics, it's real life," said Joseph Estrada, who should know -- he was ousted as president of the Philippines in massive protests and is now standing trial on corruption charges.

Speaking from a detention facility in Manila, Estrada advised Schwarzenegger to work at bringing his on-screen heroics to the tangled reality of politics.

"The so-called learned people, with all their master's degrees, have no monopoly on leadership," Estrada said Wednesday in a telephone interview, citing actor-turned-California governor-turned-president Ronald Reagan as his own inspiration.

"That's how I got the cue," he said.

A long list of Hollywood actors have made the transition to politics. Action stars have fared particularly well: Former professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who acted with Schwarzenegger in the films "Predator" and "The Running Man" was elected governor of Minnesota after serving as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry" fame was elected mayor of the California coastal town of Carmel in 1986, although he served only two years before returning to acting and directing.

Schwarzenegger is seen during campaign appearance in San Bernardino, California, October 6, 2003. [Reuters]
In Bollywood, India's Bombay-based movie mecca, which churns out 800 films a year, many actors have crossed from film to politics -- but the going can be tough.

India's most popular star, Amitabh Bachchan, won a seat in Parliament in the 1980s, but did not finish his five-year term, resigning in the wake of corruption allegations.

"There was too much mudslinging," said Komal Nata, editor of the Bombay movie trade guide Film Information. "He realized he was not cut out for it and he'd rather face the cameras and act."


Some Bollywood actors have stuck it out -- and found their on-screen personas and built-in fan bases to be major assets, especially for those who play Hindu gods and goddesses, whose supernatural powers appeal to voters.

Nandamoori Taraka Ramarao, known for his portrayals of Hindu gods, was twice elected by huge margins as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state in the 1960s. Actress Jayalithaa, who frequently plays goddesses in Tamil-language films, is serving her second term as the top elected official in Tamil Nadu state -- winning re-election even while appealing a corruption conviction stemming from her first term.

Action star Shatrughan "Shotgun" Sinha is one of two Bollywood actors in India's federal Cabinet. He was demoted from the Health Ministry this year after prolonged criticism that he didn't show up for work and was seldom seen in Parliament.

Around the globe, actors and actresses have traded one form of limelight for another, with mixed success.

Hard times: Booed out of office, Estrada now awaits trial on corruption charges. [AP] 
Actress Eva Peron was the virtual co-ruler of Argentina when her husband, Juan Peron, took power in 1946 -- a role chronicled in the popular musical and film, "Evita." Her husband's third wife, Isabel, a former cabaret dancer, became Argentina's president in 1974 but was ousted two years later in a coup.

Italy's most attention-grabbing actress-turned-politician was former porn star Ilona Staller, known as "Cicciolina," who was elected to Parliament in 1987. She failed in a political comeback last year, winning only 1.5 percent of the vote in the mayoral race in Monza, outside Milan.

Film director Franco Zeffirelli won election to Italy's Senate in 1996, with the party of current Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Many Italian stars have failed in political bids, among them Gina Lollobrigida, who lost a European Parliament election in 1999.

In Egypt, singer Fayda Kamel won a Parliament seat in 1971 and has been re-elected ever since. Fatma Girik, a Turkish film star in the 1960s and 1970s, was elected mayor of a key Istanbul district, and Ediz Hun, a 1970s screen heartthrob, was elected to Parliament.

Danish comedian Jacob Haugaard was elected to Parliament in 1994, promising to support the rights of impotent men, put God back in churches and improve the weather. After four years in office, he accomplished little and did not seek another term. Now, he's back in the comedy business.

The pitfalls for actors-turned-politicians are that voters mistakenly believe the screen image is real, said actor Amin Hajee, who played a mute temple caretaker in the Indian film "Lagaan," nominated for a best foreign film Oscar last year.

While that may win votes, it can backfire.

"An action actor could be a mouse in real life," said Hajee. "What he portrays is not what he is. A film star can be a successful politician. So can a janitor. They just need to be responsive to the people."

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