Front Runner, The: Biopic of Politician Gary Hart, Starring Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman, Oscar nominee, stars in the new biopic of controversial politician and presidential candidate Gary Hart, The Front Runner.


Remembering Gary Hart

Hugh Jackman: I was on a gap year in Europe living on 10 Pounds a day, probably drunk most of that of 1987 if I could afford it so I don’t remember very much about it.   When people said Monkey Business Donna Rice, I kind of understood that a little bit but I don’t think I’m alone in that fact.  I have spoken to a lot of people, even people who did Political Science at college here in America and they kind of remember oh, yeah, didn’t he ask the press to follow him around but they don’t know very much about it.I think that’s what attracted me to it.  It’s a seemingly very small part of history, political history, but actually has a lot to say about how we’ve got where we are today.

Meeting Gary Hart

HJ: I made the decision to go and see him and he was gracious enough to allow me to stay with him in his home.  I had done a lot of research, spoken to many, many people from his campaign who were very open to me and I’m still in touch with them today and the #1 thing everyone says about Gary is he’s incredibly smart, one of the best politicians of the last 50 years and unbelievably enigmatic which is very intriguing for an actor playing him.

I’ve never played anyone alive before, so I was pretty nervous about it.  I do believe our stories in life are valuable to every single person.  Our legacy is important.  If I was playing any of you here today, or if you were playing me, I hope you would treat it as seriously as I treated it and I wanted Gary to know that I had respect for him and for his legacy, for his family, for his story and I took it very seriously so he was incredibly gracious and true to what everyone said very enigmatic.

Story with no Heroes or Villains

HJ: I think what Jason has done brilliantly is try not to tie things up in a bow.  The story has no real heroes or villains.  It asks many questions.  It tries very hard not to give answers.  I think that’s what people want now more and more, you know, there’s no villain.  The press is not the villain, the politician is not the villain, it’s just a point in history that illuminates what’s happening today.


Movie’s Relevancy

HJ: I think the movie is very relevant.  It certainly illuminates like my character talks about the process, the sanctity of the process and protecting the process and what that process has meant.  Now I’m an Australian.  Many of us here are outsiders so I would never presume to comment on American politics nor would I Hungarian politics or anything else.  I’m Australian.  I’ll comment on Australian politics but it certainly is – I think it illuminates the democratic process, how it’s not perfect.  It’s still a process I believe in.  It’s one I grew up in.


Donna Rice

HJ: Donna was the first person to see the movie actually and Jason was incredibly a class act in how he treated everybody involved.  Everybody.  Every campaign member so he showed it just last week to the entire campaign team in Denver.  They all flew in to be with Lee and Gary Hart who watched it together, Lee and Gary Hart and he went out for hot chocolate with them afterwards.  He took the entire campaign team out for dinner the night before.  He showed it to Donna.  I didn’t speak to Donna.  I didn’t necessarily think it was important for me and I didn’t want to put her in a position to have to say no or to feel uncomfortable saying no to me.  I have heard various things about what happened to her.  I do know and you haven’t interviewed Jason yet, have you?  No.  You should ask him that.  Oh, he well not probably since he’s shown it to Donna but the first conversation he had about the movie was with Donna after seeing it and he spoke with her for a long time and she was very relieved, I believe.  I mean, that’s a woman whose life was stolen from her.  It’s of course incredibly relevant.  This movie was in fact written before the whole Me Too Movement or any of that but I think it’s become very relevant.


Movie’s Issues and Questions

HJ:  You know, I’m so glad you got that out of it and it was the same for me as an actor going through it.  Philosophically the film is definitely not trying to give you any answers for what it poses that question actually through my character who says in public life some things are interesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re important but what is important to you and what’s important to me is very different and neither is right or wrong so he’s also trying to answer that question filmically.  Even the sound design you’ll notice it chops and changes.  You feel there are 3 or 4 conversations going on at once.  He has this ’70s kind of style where even you get to choose as a viewer where your eye goes like actually I’m interested over here and some other character may be interested here.  Some are very interested in the Gary Hart character, others more the Donna character.  Maybe young people are interested in the campaign, you know, volunteers like it’s very even handed and I think that’s a deliberate choice.  It’s a great question.  What is important and what is interesting and I go back to that thing about the process.  In essence a candidate has to give their positions how they would lead the country and that’s obviously of importance and then I think a voter needs to feel that they can follow through.  Now for some people what that follow through means is very different, you know, and that comes down to character so I think it’s for me meeting Gary was nerve wracking.  Part of me I was very nervous to play him.  I understand that this was a very difficult time in his life, had to have been one of the worst weeks of his life and it was all going to come back up again.  He’s 82 years old.  He’s just celebrated his 60th anniversary to his wife.  He lives in Colorado.  What’s it going to be like for him with all this coming up.  We of course take license with scenes Vera and I.  We have no access to what those private conversations were.  We’re just taking a guess.  I found there was a certain period where I was excited for people to see the other side of Gary Hart, that it’s not just a small footnote in history.  He’s a really great intellect and a great man who should be listened to.  I was nervous for him as a man having to now publicly probably relive it so, yeah, I went through all the emotions  you did and what pleased me more than anything was hearing in Telluride after we did a screening that in the parking lot a couple were very loudly arguing about what we shouldn’t have…  I think we should have to do this and I thought that’s just perfect.  That’s hopefully what we bring up.  Conflicting emotions and different points of view.


Reporters Catching Gary Hart in Alleyway?

HJ: Politicians are under the microscope.  It’s a completely different lens from where I stand.  I’m sure there are some actors who find it suffocating and unbearable.  I don’t.  I get nervous for my family.  I’m fully aware I was 30 when I did “X-Men” so I really any kind of real profile didn’t happen ’til I was 30 so hopefully by 30 you kind of know who you are, what you stand for, what’s important to you.  I went in with my eyes wide open.  My kids are born into it, they have no choice and that I protect for them and I try my hardest to protect it for them and that’s where some of the difficulty has occurred for me but a politician and what came out of Matt’s book and I think you see in the movie from this point on actually probably from Watergate every candidate is seen as a fraud.  You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent so it’s the press’s duty to uncover that probably, you know, on behalf of the voters and that was I think that break of trust that happened with Watergate and thank God Watergate happened, you know, so now you go in under a very different lens in the microscope as a politician.  It’s a way more important job too.  I mean, if you’re President of the United States every single person probably on the planet their lives are affected by your work.  I would like to think I have some effect with it.  Obviously nowhere near so the importance of the job I think intensifies it, you know, and I was chatting with someone the other day like for me fame is a weird thing.  I never wanted, I never sought it, I didn’t ask for it but if someone, Ruben, was to say to you here’s a Lamborghini.  I’m going to give you the keys to a Lamborghini occasionally in your life there’s going to be traffic.  You still want the keys?  You’re going to say yeah, and that’s kind of how fame is for me (laughter).


Association with Mont Blanc

HJ: I have been with Mont Blanc for about 4 or 5 years.  I’ve loved it.  I finally have some status with my French aunt who finally thinks I’m doing some work that matters, finally something classy she said to me and yeah, the watches are very beautiful.  I love the craftsmanship.  I love their commitment to really bringing back the art of watch-making.  They’re not the only ones but they do it very, very well.  Everything you wear is a choice ultimately, you know, and it’s whatever that means to you.


Turning 50

HJ: Time is precious.  I’m turning 50 in a month so a lot of people are talking to me about time and don’t worry I’m not having a midlife crisis that I know of yet but, of course, of course it’s precious and I am, you know, I watch my kids grow up very, very quickly.  My son just turned 18 which he reminds me of every time I ask him to do something I’m an adult now.  I do what I want (laughter) but I think, you know, life is a beautiful, magical thing and the only thing we can really control is our attitude to it.  Different events happen to all of us, good, bad, indifferent and time is no different.  I see time like money.  I see it as energy.  I see you can choose to spend it any way you like.  That’s my attitude towards time.



HJ: Honestly, I probably have about 9 watches. I am not a very materialistic person to be honest.  I have a journal that it was one of the greatest gifts my wife ever got me.  When both of my children were born she gave me a journal with their name on it so I’ve been writing in that for both of them and I’ll give it to them when they’re 21 like, you know, just throughout the years, attitudes and I’ve written to them as though they were 21 years of age so and I was flying somewhere recently and my bag didn’t come out and it eventually did come out but I waited a long time and I was like whatever, fine and all of a sudden it dawned onto me that the 2 journals were in there and I went into a cold sweat so that’s probably a good example.  If those went I’d be very upset.


 Sex Derailing Political Careers

HJ: Yes, across the board what we see on TV, lyrics we hear on the radio, of course it’s changed and the clothes we wear, what’s acceptable now and, you know, would it really be an outrage if someone flashed a nipple at the Super Bowl now like I think things have changed dramatically across all areas of society and it’s what’s fascinating is and you see this in the movie at the time 64% of the public felt the press had gone too far so the majority felt this is outrageous, they shouldn’t do that but it’s still it was like a tidal wave.  It just kept going and at some point in the movie you see Gary going there is no way I can continue and get past this.

Talking to Gary Hart

I – yes, indirectly.  I tried not to probe too much about that horrible week.  I had read a lot about it.  I knew a lot about it.  He did tell me some things I didn’t know about it but one thing that he would say to me is if there’s anything I had in terms of an ability in politics was the ability to see 10 years in advance.  He’s on record in 1984 talking about the Cold War is already over, what we need to worry about is the power vacuum that that will cause which will lead to the rise of extremism in the Middle East.  Now this was 1984.  He actually wrote a report to the Clinton administration warning in 1998 warning that there would be an attack, thousands will die, we need to look at flight training centres.  He was an incredibly prescient man.  Having said that there was this blind spot to the press and what was coming and he staked not only him but what he believed was he sanctity of the process on not going down that road; not having to answer that;  that’s a private discussion that I should have with my wife, that is no-one else’s business and he got that wrong.  He got that wrong.  He couldn’t just sort of let that go and so it’s a very, very different world now.  I think that scene in the movie, one of the most powerful scenes is the scene where the press are down there near the end and they go is Gary going to come over like have a drink.  You’ve seen them all drinking the whole time.  10 O’clock they have a drink, they chat together and Billy Shaw, the aide, he says the Senate is busy right now and it’s like woo that’s the separation and that’s where it happened and so yeah, it’s all changed.  The rules of the game have changed and will change again.


Dancing Everyday

HJ:  I don’t know if you know this but I dance every day.  Well, 5 or 6 days a week I dance.  Yeah, I sing every day.  Again, 5, 6 days a week I sing every day, I dance every day.  I don’t know if you know the great author Oliver Sacks.  He’s one of my favorites, you know, he was famously played in “Awakenings.”  He takes a pair of flippers everywhere he goes.  Everywhere.  He says you never know when you’re going to be near water and I love being under the water so I need flippers (laughter).  Well, I have tap shoes in my bag and I dance every day because you just never know when that dance floor is coming.


Living Normal Life in Internet Age

HJ: My advise, don’t read all the comments on your Instagram like that’s key.  That’s key for me.  Don’t read them all.  I’m too thin skinned.  I’m being facetious.  It’s to some degree for me and for actors and it’s different for every actor, there’s a choice involved.  You all know Frances McDormand really well.  She just won the Oscar and she does hardly anything.  Am I right?  I’ve only heard that anecdotally.  She will do very little and she’s very honest with film-makers.  Listen, I’d love to be in your film or your play, I don’t do a lot of press.  I try and preserve my private life.  Last year she won the Oscar so if you’re a politician you cannot I believe take that approach.  You cannot say I’m closing off 97% of my life but I’m still going to run for office.  I just don’t think that works.  I can’t imagine that working so that’s a slightly different playing field if you know what I mean.  Now for me I’ve always loved the Socrates quote.  I tell it to my kids all the time because they’re on social media and I’m sure they think that what they’re doing is private and then I say look, remember what Socrates said.  Never say privately what you wouldn’t say publicly.  Now all of us do say things privately we wouldn’t say publicly but I kind of believe in that.  If you can sleep well at night with how you live, the choices you make, the things you say then on another level the thoughts you think, then you don’t have to worry too much, do you know what I mean?  So that’s my sort of approach to it.  As you guys have known me for years I am a fairly open book.  I’ve learned to be more closed on behalf of other members of my family.  Sometimes I’ve said things that have made them angry and now I’m more aware of that but in general it is not a burden for me.  Did I answer that well enough?

Greatest Luxury:

HJ: Freedom to me is the greatest luxury.  Freedom to do what you would like to do.  Freedom to some people in this world are not free to drink the water out of a tap or, you know, there’s freedom of all different types but freedom in general I would say is the greatest luxury.  In terms of materialistically, a pair of handmade shoes is pretty luxurious and I’ve got 2 pairs in my life and putting those on is fantastic.


HJ: I would say the #1 way for me that I’ve done for 25 years is meditation which you could also put under the heading of freedom as well.  For me it obviously works.  I wouldn’t have done it for 25 years but it certainly works for me.  In fact, it’s the most powerful tool I’ve ever, ever been given in terms of just unwinding but feeling centered and calm and happy.


Celebrating 50

HJ: I’m negotiating that as we speak.  My wife would want the whole city of Toronto to come to my birthday party and I’d probably like a dinner party for 10 so we’re going to meet somewhere in the middle.  We’ll do something but it’s, you know, it’s going to be fun.  No speeches.  No speeches.

Walking to Parties

HJ: Three blocks.  That’s the radius.  3 blocks.  I think one of the key things for parties you should be able to walk there or at least be driven.

Politicians Affairs

HJ: I think you’ve got to go back into history to work all that out and I don’t know enough about it but absolutely in Italy, France, many other countries it’s a very, very different thing and I think that’s what Jason is saying.  He’s not saying this should be important or this should not be important.  Gary Hart should have or should not have been elected.  That’s not what he’s saying.  He’s saying what is important to you and why is it important.  Don’t be told it’s important.  What do you think?  You know, so obviously if Gary Hart was running in France he probably would have been President, right (laughter).  Probably still be President.  Who knows, you know, so it’s – and I find that fascinating and it’s very, very interesting how and I honest to God don’t judge.  I have my view on it but I don’t judge it but that was the turning point even at the time and you say oh, America, America, but at the time 64% of Americans said it doesn’t matter.  It’s none of our business and yet it still toppled him so it’s a fascinating process.  Democracy is messy at times.  It is inconvenient and slow at times but I still think it’s a process worth fighting for.

Wife Claudine

HJ: Claudine is not in the business.  She is a cinephile.  She knows a lot and she’s very, very honest with me about my films.  She’s very politically motivated and I think she will enjoy this one a lot.  I feel like I’m leading the witness.  Claudine, I hope you like it.  But still nothing will be for her the fact that I’m an ambassador for Mont.


Working in America

HJ: I’m very aware that I’m an Australian on a visa in America and I am not saying that I’m nervous about it, what I’m saying is I do not take that lightly.  I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity for 15 years, 18 years to work in America.  It’s an incredible thing the generosity of this country and I’d be more than happy to talk about Australia but if an American or an Austrian or a New Zealander came into Australia and started commenting about politics in my country even if I agreed with them, I’d have a problem with that so I’m not going to.

Iconic Image: Donna Rice on Gary Hart’s Lap

HJ: That actually appeared 3 months after the scandal.  I don’t know if you remember that but it appeared a long time after so it actually had nothing to do with the story historically as we portrayed it which was that period of time up to him exiting politics.  That picture had never appeared.  A lot of people ask me and interestingly about that photograph which many of you may remember that photograph is actually cropped.  There are 70 people in that photograph.  It’s a big party on a deck on and those two are in the middle of it.  It’s a very different context when you see it in its entirety and then it was and it just is a girl sitting on a guy’s lap interestingly but that’s why it wasn’t in there.  It wasn’t actually historically right.


Balancing Work and Marriage

HJ: Deb and I when we got married we made a pact we would look at each other at every turning point, we would ask ourselves is this good or bad for our family.  Seems a simple question.  The family is 4 of us so it may be great for my career but terrible for the family or actually it may be a bit of a sacrifice for the family but really good for me and important for the kids to see their parents doing the thing I love so it’s not necessarily an easy answer but I would never have found the balance that I found if it wasn’t for Deb because I can tell you at least 7 or 8 times in the last 25 years where my eyes have lit up with oh, this opportunity, that opportunity and I just look over at Deb and she would just give me a look like no, this is not the time and she’s just unbelievable with that.  She’s, you know her really well, no-one has their feet further on the ground, no-one that she’s been in the business, she understands it, she understands opportunity when it’s time for everyone to make a…  like okay, no, you should go.  There’s a time no-one knows about which when I was offered “Oklahoma” in London she was offered a spot at the very prestigious directing school of Victorian College of the Arts and that’s impossible to get into.  There’s 2 or 3 taken a year, very prestigious and I said well, we’ll stay and she said no.  Now you need to go.  We need to go to London and you need to do “Oklahoma,” I’m telling you that is going to be the point and I never forget her selflessness in saying that because I know she always wanted to direct and that was a big moment for her.  At the same point of her saying that, there’d be times I’ll say Omigod, there’s this film and it’s such and such and it’s this and that and very rarely but when she looks at me she’s like no, now is not the time and she is just the best barometer of that.


Stretching (New Genres)

HJ: Yes, horror movie. More stage, yes.  There’s so much I want to do.  I’ve always loved the variety in this business.  I think it’s a really exciting time to be an actor.  There’s unbelievable amount of stuff being green lit.  It’s an incredible time.  There’s many, many, many new female directors coming into the business.  I’m really excited.  I’m enjoying acting more than ever so, yes, there’s loads of stuff I’d like to do but I’d better look at my wife first to see if I do that.


Movie Stars Endorsing Politicians

HJ: Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty. Beatty still is one of his best friends to today. If you look at what Jason – if you look at that cast list it has to be 25 and because he deliberately took a yes, Gary’s the lead but not in a traditional sense.  You see it from the volunteers, from the press, from the campaign, from the family, from the daughter, from so many different perspectives.  From Donna’s perspective, so many competing characters in the storylines.  I think it was just simply a matter of I need to get to the cauldron of a political campaign and I need to see it from all its angles and that’s, you know, that was the reason why.

Private Life as Issue?

HJ: I was brought up with peoples’ private lives are their private lives, right?  That’s the way I was brought up and I believe in it firmly and I think our French friend would agree, you know, but when you’re running for office and you’re running for the office that is the leader of the free world it is important.  That job is important.  What constitutes for different people, what’s important is very different so for some people a sign of infidelity for example may be linked to well, what’s their character like as a man in terms of what’s their relationship with me as a voter, are they going to sort of show infidelity to me, are they going to go on their promises, are they going to go back.  Some people make that link; other people don’t and that the film it’s not my job to decide that for anybody.  It’s not your job.  It’s not the press’s job.  It’s everybody’s job when they go into vote of what matters to them and how they calculate people.  Some people go in on a gut distinct, right, and others go oh, no, my gut says this person and someone else how could you do that.  How can you just go on a gut.  Don’t you want to read and listen?  I’ll just go on my gut.  I can just feel it like it’s different for everybody so but I understand.