Gary Hart changed politics forever. Just not in the way he was hoping.
Hart’s ever so brief 1988 presidential campaign, which is depicted in “The Front Runner“ with Hugh Jackman as the U.S. Senator, was derailed after just a couple of weeks when The Miami Herald caught the married politician and a young woman entering his Washington townhouse.
This led to accusations that Hart was having an extramarital affair, and the subsequent reporting of the story and the merging of political reporting with gossip and entertainment was the start of a chain reaction that is still well and truly reverberating today.
“The film is a way to explore how the political process in our country got so messed up,” insists Jay Carson, “The Front Runner’s” co-writer with director Jason Reitman and Matt Bai, who wrote the original book.
But what exactly was the impact of the Gary Hart scandal?
“I think the impact is that after Hart, whether he would have won or not, we treat our politicians like celebrities. When you treat candidates like entertainers you’re going to get entertainers as candidates,” explains Bai.
“That’s basically what Hart was warning about when he got out of the race in 87. It is why that last oration that he gives in the film, which is word for word basically, lands so emotionally with audiences.”
But “The Front Runner” wasn’t written in response to Donald Trump’s presidency. The script was complete before he won the election. In fact, when Bai tried to sell the book in 2009 he found resistance because of the country’s newfound belief in politics.
“The whole country had turned the page and we were in the hopeful new era of Obama. He had a 70% approval rating and everyone was like, ‘Why in the world would you want to write a book on what is wrong with politics? It is great!’”
“Today everyone is like, ‘Oh my gosh! How can you write about 1987 when we are facing such a different thing today.’ This idea of entertainment and politics is just more relevant than we would have liked it to be in this moment.”
Carson believes that the world has only now finally started “catching up” to the story and the movie, and those that have already seen the film can’t believe just how true it is.
But while Hugh Jackman’s Gary Hart is front and centre in “The Front Runner,” Bai and Carson were keen to make sure that its female characters, from Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) to Hart’s wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), his daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever), and The Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor), were each handled with a nuance that has been absent in the subsequent retellings of the story.
“The script was done before the Me Too movement,” explains Bai. “The Harvey Weinstein story broke when we were on set. But we were so concerned with telling Lee Hart and Donna Rice’s stories, which hadn’t been done with any complexity before this, and the editor at the Post, who has to hold the weight for her entire gender.That was really important to us.”
“Helen Estabrook, our producer, was really active in those discussions, because we are all guys. She was really pushing us to get it right. Even that made the story, in terms of gender issues, more timely. We didn’t anticipate that, we were just trying to tell the story with all the complexity it deserved.”
“The Front Runner” is now in theaters.