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Mike Judge reveals the sci-fi AI idea they ditched, and how President Camacho saved 'Idiocracy'
These days, 15 years after its 2006 release, Mike Judge's Idiocracy is a beloved cult classic that's a funny descent into dumbness for some, a scary bellwether for others — or perhaps both — depending on your mood.
The film arrived a decade and a half ago with little fanfare and was made on a very tight budget, but the home video market made sure it eventually found its audience and became one of those movies people passed around to each other for years to come. In the years since its release, it's become such an important film for some people that the phrase "It's like Idiocracy" has become comprehensible even to those who've never actually seen the movie. But if not for one key change early in the writing process, it might not have worked out that way.
In a new oral history of the film at Inverse, celebrating its 15th anniversary, Idiocracy writers Mike Judge and Etan Cohen recalled that early drafts of the film's screenplay did not feature its most unforgettable character: The flag-draped, long-haired hype man known as President Camacho (Terry Crews). These days, he's a character remembered as much for his prescient existence as he is for the laughs he brings, but according to Judge and Cohen, something very different was originally in his place.
"By the end of , we ended up getting a first draft and it was very different from what the movie is now," Judge recalled of the film, which was then called 3001. "There was no President Camacho; the country was run by just an operating system AI thing that was super-annoying. That version we snuck out to some actors and it wasn't getting the reaction I'd hoped."
Faced with a lackluster response to his and Cohen's initial idea, Judge went back to his script and tried to find the problem. What he concluded was that having a computer run the future United States was the big sticking point.
"A year later, I looked at it and I thought, having this AI president running the country is the problem; you've got to have a human," he recalled. "I was sort of imagining if the WWE had a Gaddafi-type guy. I rewrote that on my own, and then it started to get better. And Etan came back and did a rewrite with me."
So, the AI became a living, breathing, shouting, gun-toting, motorcycle-riding future president. Now, it's absolutely impossible to imagine Idiocracy without Terry Crews' larger than life presence in the film, which won Judge over during the casting process.
"When [Luke Wilson] agreed to do it, it kicked it up a notch. Terry Crews was different to how I imagined [President Camacho], but when he came in and read for it, it really clicked," Judge recalled.
In Idiocracy, as in most things, a second look and the addition of Terry Crews fixes just about anything.