During the 1988 Presidential Campaign primary season, Gary Hart seemed like a lot for the Democratic Party nomination. Good-looking and charismatic – echoes of JFK – the Senator from Colorado was energizing the party’s voter base in a way that his nomination rivals weren’t, and he looked as if he would be the man on the ticket come November. That is until the Miami Herald got a n anonymous tip that Hart was carrying on an extra-marital affair. The resultant story and fall out over the ensuing weeks would ultimately lead to him temporarily dropping out of the race. By the time he re-entered, any momentum he had was gone and he soon dropped out for a second and final time.
In these days where a certain presidential candidate has been accused of multiple marital infidelities while bragging about his pen is size at campaign stops, the story of Gary Hart might seem positively quaint in comparison. But that didn’t stop Juno director Jason Reitman from wanting to explore it in his new film The Front Runner.
Speaking on the red carpet at the film’s screening at the Philadelphia Film Festival this week, Reitman explained “When I heard the Hart story a few years ago for the first time, I just couldn’t believe that in our recent history the presumed next president of the United States wound up in an alleyway in the middle of the night with these other journalists and no one knew what to do because no one had ever been in their shoes before.”
Reitman is referring to the moment when the Herald reporters confronted Hart about the allegations that he was cheating on his wife with a woman later identified as Donna Rice. Hart simply denied the rumor, stating “I’m not involved in any relationship.”
“In telling the story to people I knew, I found that the reaction was different with each person I spoke to,” he states. “And there’s all this connective tissue with 2018. We’re constantly trying to have conversation about gender politics, about the relationship between journalists and candidates, the line between public and private life. I’m like anyone else alive, I look around and I just wonder how the hell did we get here. I’m trying to figure my own way through it and in this story I saw threads that you could pull on, threads that led to today.”
For the film Reitman, and co-screenwriter Jay Carson, sourcedd with Matt Bai’s 2014 book All The Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. It was Reitman’s first film based on actual events and he found that the challenge was in depicting not just the events of what happened but how it impacted a number of those involved.
“It’s my first movie about real life events and in that way, writing it was very different,” he explained. “We tried to make a movie that wasn’t a biopic about Gary Hart but rather a story about the rest of us. Twenty main characters – journalists, people on the campaign team, his family, Donna Rice – and all of their perspectives as the world shifted under their feet.”
As to the final product, many of those who were involved in the story were pleased with how they were portrayed in the film.
“I met Gary, I met Donna, I met the campaign team,” Reitman says. “I’ve shown them all the movie and I think they all felt as though what we made has a lot of empathy for them.”
The Front Runner opens November 6, 2019.