When pol­i­tics went tabloid

Why Hugh Jack­man was born to play a real-life scan­dal-hit politi­cian in The Front Run­ner


MATT BAI HAS writ­ten the book on Gary Hart. Lit­er­ally. Pub­lished in 2014, ti­tled All The Truth Is Out: The Week Pol­i­tics Went Tabloid, it’s a grip­ping ac­count of how the one-time US se­na­tor Hart, a hand­some and pop­u­lar Demo­crat most ex­pected to end up in the White House, saw his ca­reer scup­pered when re­porters dis­cov­ered he was cheat­ing on his wife. The re­sult­ing frenzy fore­shad­owed the sex scan­dals that have rocked Wash­ing­ton in re­cent years. “To me,” says Bai, “this is the mo­ment where pol­i­tics and en­ter­tain­ment re­ally col­lided and be­came in­ter­twined. We be­gan to treat can­di­dates like celebri­ties.”

Pol­i­tics and en­ter­tain­ment are col­lid­ing again now, in the form of The Front Run­ner, Ja­son Reit­man’s big-screen retelling of the Hart story, star­ring Hugh Jack­man. Bai, the ex­pert who met and in­ter­viewed the real Hart in 2002 at the re­tired politi­cian’s Colorado home and who has co-writ­ten The Front Run­ner with Reit­man and Jay Car­son, ap­proves the cast­ing whole-heart­edly. “Jay and I talked about Hugh early on,” he says. “Then Ja­son came to the same con­clu­sion. Hart is a com­plex per­son, and Hugh is able to re­flect so many as­pects of his per­son­al­ity. Even with just a look.”

The film flits be­tween the per­spec­tives of jour­nal­ists, Hart’s staff, his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), his mistress Donna Rice (Sara Pax­ton) and oth­ers. Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent take. And that, says Bai, is the same of peo­ple walk­ing out of screen­ings of The Front Run­ner. “It’s fas­ci­nat­ing that some peo­ple come away feel­ing this sense of loss for a guy like Hart not hav­ing been able to take part in the po­lit­i­cal process. And some peo­ple see him as naive and ar­ro­gant and get­ting what he de­served. It’s grat­i­fy­ing, be­cause it means we’ve done some­thing com­pli­cated enough and trust­ing enough of the au­di­ence.”

With the film com­ing out in Amer­ica on the day of the US mid-term elec­tions, and shortly after the storm sur­round­ing newly ap­pointed Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh, it’s bound to get peo­ple talk­ing. Bai is pleased, but there is one down­side to the story. “They’re re-is­su­ing the book with the new ti­tle,” he says. “I said to my wife, ‘It’s like re­nam­ing one of our kids.’”


We spoke to Matt Bai on the phone from Wash­ing­ton DC on 5 Oc­to­ber, on a break from a new screen­play.

Main: Scan­dal: Hugh Jack­man stars as the dis­graced Se­na­tor Gary Hart.Above: Di­rec­tor Ja­son Reit­man on set with Jack­man and Mamoudou Athie who plays Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter A.J. Parker.Left: Se­na­tor Gary Hart.

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