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.’”
THE FRONT RUNNER IS IN CINEMAS FROM 11 JANUARY
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.