Cover Story

Changing the Climate

How Al Gore tamed Hollywood. With his global warming doc ''An Inconvenient Truth'' rising at the box office, the ex-VP describes his life as a movie star

Image credit: Al Gore Photograph by Jeff Riedel

Al Gore has met the Dalai Lama. He's broken bread with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, rubbed elbows with Lech Walesa, even locked arms with Nelson Mandela. But right now — on a breezy June evening in Los Angeles, at a special star-studded screening of An Inconvenient Truth — he's about to step up to a whole other level. Tonight, the former Vice President of the United States will shake hands with Denise Richards.

History in the making.

Let's follow the ex-VP as he strolls down the red carpet — past some of the other celebrities here, like Jon Bon Jovi and Ray Wise (you know, the actor who merely plays a vice president on TV's 24), pausing to wave at the nearly 4,000 cheering fans who've gathered for the event, until he finally arrives at the row of reporters waiting to ask him some questions.

Actually, one question. The same question Gore's been getting over and over again lately, and to which he always gives the same reply. ''I have no plans to run for president'' is his answer. ''I'm involved in another sort of campaign these days. I have a different sort of job to do.'' Indeed he does. And it's a job that, to the surprise of many, he's doing extremely well.

Thanks to his labor both on and off the screen, An Inconvenient Truth has grossed $15 million in the U.S., and it is projected to earn another $10–15 million with its release overseas next month (along with nobody-knows-how-many-more-million when the DVD arrives this fall). No, these aren't Pirates-size (or even Penguins-size) figures. But they're pretty impressive for a documentary that cost just over a million dollars to make, based on a slide show about global warming that Gore has been presenting over the past two decades. The movie has sped by Hoop Dreams and Super Size Me at the box office, has just passed Madonna's Truth or Dare to become the fourth-highest-grossing non-IMAX, non-concert documentary of all time, and may even have a shot at snatching third place from Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.

''I was skeptical about the movie at first,'' Gore doesn't mind admitting. ''I couldn't understand what these Hollywood producers were thinking. I didn't see how the slide show could be a movie. But, you know, they were right. Almost 2 million people have seen An Inconvenient Truth in theaters. That's 2 million people whose minds may be changed by the film. That's not something you can do with a slide show.''

Minds are being changed, all right, and not just about global warming. Miraculously, over the past few months, An Inconvenient Truth has accomplished something many people once thought inconceivable: It's made Al Gore cool. The somber policy wonk who campaigned for president in 2000 with all those bland speeches about lockboxes is gone. He's now a hip and trendy (in a wonky sort of way) ecological activist. While promoting the movie this summer, Gore has been connecting with crowds more effortlessly and comfortably — even charismatically — than he ever did as a politician. He even found his sense of humor; turns out it's been hiding all this time inside daughter Kristin, a former comedy writer on Matt Groening's Futurama and the one responsible for Gore's gag on The Tonight Show last month about having a showbiz feud with Lindsay Lohan (''She knows what she did...''), along with most of his other recent zingers. (See the animated trailer her pals at Futurama whipped up for the film.) True, Gore's new gig doesn't come with perks like rides on Air Force One or a house with an oval-shaped home office, but in some ways it gives him even more clout than being Commander-in-Chief. After all, if you truly want to make a difference these days, if you really want to be taken seriously by the public and participate in the national dialogue, you don't run for president. The job title for you is Movie Star.

''That word — star — it hits my ear with a little too much irony,'' Gore is complaining. ''Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. Not me.''

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