INTERVIEW: Penn Jillette on "Director's Cut," NSA, two parties, the Pope

How does a good guy like Penn Jillette turn into a psychopathic kidnapper? Photo: Penn Jillette/ AP

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2013 ― Penn Jillette — illusionist, bestselling author, outspoken libertarian and atheist — has a new project on his hands, and some new roles: screenwriter, director, and movie star. His revolutionary new film project is Director’s Cut.

Director’s Cut, a horror film written and directed by Jillette and his colleague Adam Rifkin, is about a psychopath, portrayed by Jillette, who stalks and kidnaps a young actress. What makes this film project unique is that it is not funded by a major motion picture studio. Instead, the film is being financed by individual contributors through the website

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Jillette’s project offers people an opportunity to be part of creating a film that will be seen by audiences across the country. Incentives are being offered for donations of certain dollar amounts: A $20 donation will allow you to see your name in the end credits of the movie; $150 entitles you to attend a red-carpet advanced screening. Other larger dollar donation incentives can be found on the website.

Asked why he wanted to portray the “bad guy” in Director’s Cut, “good guy” Jillette offers a “poetic point” (his words): “I love when violent, dangerous art is done by people who are not violent and dangerous. I love that when George Romero was making Dawn of the Dead, he was coaching his son’s little league team … I love the idea that horror and fear is a celebration of health and life … One of the rushes you get, whether you’re talking about Shakespeare or you’re talking about Dawn of the Dead is the feeling after the horror, of being alive.”  

Turning to national topics, libertarian Jillette sounds off on the curtailing of civil liberties and the ineffective dynamic of the two parties. He admonishes the NSA regarding the vast spying apparatus revealed by Edward Snowden. “The NSA is a pretty easy call for me … they shouldn’t be doing that. End of story.”

Concerning NSA accountability, Jillette says, “I don’t understand why the Director of the NSA is not brought up on perjury charges. We know that he lied under oath. There must be some like special ‘get out of jail free card’ when you’re the Director of the NSA, but I haven’t had anybody explain that to me. We now have proof that he lied under oath. Well, isn’t that a big deal?”

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The activities of the NSA and growing distrust of government policies naturally lead the discussion to the question of policy makers and the two-party system and its shortcomings. Post-government shutdown, polls indicate that Americans increasingly resent the two parties. Will we ever see the rise of an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats? Jillette says without hesitation, “I believe for the first time in a hundred years, more people are interested in a third party than ever before … the pure unadulterated disgust of Washington seems to me to be a really good thing.”

Jillette, who has been critical of both Presidents Bush and Obama, particularly on foreign policy, emphasizes the need for an alternative to the two parties. “So, I think that being able to say, we didn’t like Bush, we don’t like Obama, we should try someone else, that’s a really, really healthy thing.”

Our conversation ends on an unlikely subject, given Jillette’s atheism: Pope Francis I. Jillette says of the Pope, “I think from a humanitarian P.R. point of view, he seems really, really good … but I can’t dismiss the fact that I have a fundamental disagreement. I mean, there is no God … I always appreciate kindness, and this pope is kinder, and there are those who are looking for the downfall of religion who will say that having a more draconian pope is better because it will lead people away from the Church, but I refuse to engage in that cynical thinking. The kindness in and of itself is a good thing, but he is still wrong.”

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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew’s blog, The Washington Times,, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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