Showtime’s The Comey Rule Hopes to Join ‘National Conversation’ Ahead of Election

Brendan Gleeson, who plays President Trump, originally turned down the role

an actor dressed like donald trump
After turning down the chance to play President Donald Trump, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson changed his mind a month later. Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS Television Studios/Showtime
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Showtime’s anticipated two-night limited series The Comey Rule will revisit some of the most contentious events leading up to the 2016 presidential election, just weeks before the 2020 election is held.

The project, which writer and director Billy Ray partially adapted from former FBI director James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, almost didn’t get its first choice for the actor to portray President Donald Trump. In fact, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, whom Ray had in mind for the role from the beginning, turned the role down upon first approach.

“Brendan said no the first time that we offered him the part, and Jeff and I had a lot of consternation about that because we thought he’d be so right for it. But, happily, a month later, he changed his mind,” Ray said today during a virtual press panel for Showtime’s fall lineup.

The Comey Rule, which has been in the works since last year, had originally been slated to premiere after the Nov. 3 election. This initially disappointed some of the cast, which also stars Jennifer Ehle, Michael Kelly, Oona Chaplin and Steven Pasquale. But the miniseries was later rescheduled to premiere on the premium cable network in September, meaning it may end up weighing more heavily in 2020 election discourse and draw ire from those depicted in the series.

“I don’t think any writer, any director has ever been given the opportunity that I have right now to tell a story as its unfolding, to be a part of a national conversation right before a national election,” Ray said. “That brings with it enormous responsibility and enormous obligation, but as long as we’re being truthful in our storytelling, I believe we’re the match for that.”

The miniseries is intended to offer a close and critical look at the FBI’s response to Russian interference in the 2016 election and on Trump’s relationship with Comey following his presidential win. While A Higher Loyalty served as the jumping-off-point for the series, Ray traveled to Washington, D.C., to interview dozens of sources to get a sense of how he could depict other perspectives.

“By the time I sat down to write the script, I had had input from lots of voices that were not Jim Comey and lots of voices who were critical of Jim Comey,” Ray said. “And I think the film reflects that.”

The cast is hopeful that the series will be resonant in the lead up to the election, especially amid continued reports that foreign interference attempts in the 2020 presidential election continue. But they are also bracing themselves for any response from the commander in chief himself.

“I am very, very glad [Gleeson] is in Ireland right now away from all of this craziness,” Ray said. “I wouldn’t want to expose any actor to the flack that I imagine Brendan is about to get from our current president.”

Actor Jeff Daniels, who portrays Comey in the series, had his first performance with Gleeson during a pivotal dinner scene where Trump now-infamously demanded loyalty from Comey.

“No rehearsal—just a ‘Nice to meet you’ in the makeup trailer, and the first time we did it was when they rolled camera,” said Daniels, who wore two-inch lifts in his shoes for his portrayal of the six-foot-eight former FBI director. “I loved that.”  

It wasn’t just the first time Daniels and Gleeson worked together—it was also the only day that Comey was on set for the miniseries, watching the performance from a nearby monitor.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.