The mysterious US lawyer who helped Trump’s rise

Trump’s allies have a different take on Cohn’s character and tactics, although his name rarely surfaces. One exception comes from Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon, who wrote a foreword to a 2023 reissue of Nicholas von Hoffman’s 1988 biography, Citizen Cohn. In a preface as much about Trump as his supposed subject, Bannon writes that Cohn is “one of the most extraordinary, demonised, and misunderstood figures of 20th-Century politics”.

He then points to the Trump indictments, saying that “President Trump is fighting back”, just as he suggests Cohn would have done. “Is it any wonder that President Trump is asking ‘Where’s my Roy Cohn?'” Bannon writes. (He asserts that Von Hoffman is tough on Cohn, but a review in The New York Times was more accurate, calling Citizen Cohn  “balanced” and slight, a book of “gossip and a little psychobiography”.)

Gabriel Sherman, who wrote the screenplay for The Apprentice, has said in the press notes for the film that he wanted to set his dramatised Cohn apart from previous depictions. “Before this movie, Roy’s image in popular culture was of this flamboyant, larger-than-life loud brash character, and the Roy that I wanted to write was a reflection more of the version that I had developed from talking to people who knew him, which was much quieter and more menacing.” That interpretation is borne out by some of the archival footage in Where’s my Roy Cohn? and in the 2020 documentary, Bully. Coward. Victim: The Story of Roy Cohn, directed by Ivy Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ granddaughter. The real Cohn’s cold restraint, at least in public, makes him seem that much more sinister.

It will be interesting to see if Jeremy Strong’s Cohn has anything of the vampire about him. Kushner’s Cohn tells Ethel in Angels, “I have forced my way into history. I ain’t never gonna die.” She warns him, “History is about to crack wide open. Millennium approaches.” But the millennium has come and gone, and Cohn is still here.

The Apprentice premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on 20 May.

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