The true story follows Hart, played by award-winning actor Hugh Jackman, from his start as the overwhelming presidential “front runner” in the 1988 election, to his exit from the race due to rumors of an extramarital affair. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to sit down with Reitman to discuss his inspiration for adapting the film, as well as artist influences and objectives of The Front Runner.
“You have a presidential candidate who was not only had ahead of every Democrat but was 10 points ahead of Bush, who was pressing about so many things, and his ideas were great. He’s a guy who in the mid 80s said we’re addicted to oil and that addiction is going to take us into the Middle East where we’ll encounter Islamic terrorism, and we won’t know what to do because we have a military that only knows how to bomb people, and his thoughts on computers, his thoughts on education, on the environment. All ahead of his time,” said Reitman on why he was drawn to the story of Gary Hart.
“At the same time [he] was a flawed human being who had made mistakes and did not think his private life mattered at a moment when private lives were beginning to matter. Somehow he was unbelievably pressing but had this huge blind spot. That is the test case that I suppose interested me because it felt like it had so much connective tissue with where we are now in 2018. The guy who is about to be president in the middle of the night in a dark alleyway is with three journalists, and no one knows what to do, and no one’s ever been there before. I mean, it sounds like a movie. It felt like a thriller, and it was a thriller with all these kind of complicated human ideas at the center of it and questions. Questions that we are asking more today than we even were asking in 1987. To a certain extent the story was the story, and Matt in his book had already outlined what made this so compelling. At that point it was our job to fill this story with kind of rich detail and characters that could put the audience into the moment.”
He asked, “We live in a moment now where if you’re someone who experiences shame, then you walk away, right? You followed the race, you walk away from politics, but if you’re someone who doesn’t experience shame, not only do you stay in the race, but you generally thrive and move upwards. We have a system now that somehow favors the shameless, and that for me is the kind of the most dangerous evolutionary upswing.”
Throughout the making of the film Reitman saw close ties to 2018, while also striving to maintain the authenticity of the 1980s. “I know that to this day we’re still asking ourselves, we look at whether it’s a president or a supreme court nominee, we’re asking ourselves, okay, who is this person really? Who are they as a human being and what is relevant about their past? These questions seem to shift and come to the forefront in 1987. This is a movie where usually on a movie with the extras they show up, you throw them in some clothes, you put them in the corner, you’re like, here, drink this coffee, or smoke this cigarette, or whatever. This is a movie where in advance of the shoot we brought in the entire, all the background actors, wardrobed with them for the entire film, taught them how to use their equipment whether they were going to be a camera operator, or a video cam guy, or a sound guy. If you were the sound guy you were the sound guy for the entire shoot. You weren’t going to shift from day to day. Every morning we would show them a supercut of footage from the 80s. If you’re shooting on a plane you’d see a supercut of reporters on planes in the 80s and then you would know how you were supposed to behave, or at a press conference.”
“I spoke to the people on his campaign,” said Reitman. “I spoke to Donna Rice. I spoke to Gary’s daughter, Andrea. They would share details. We would give them this questionnaire that had things like, who’s your favorite sports team? What’s your favorite drink? What do you always have in your pocket? What did you drive in 1987? What kind of place did you live in?”
While drawing from the era for inspiration, Reitman also looked to other films to help shape the narrative and tone of The Front Runner. “I mean, I’ve never made a movie about real people let alone a movie about a political campaign, which is one of those things that can either feel very real or absolutely ridiculous. It’s one of those arenas that where you as journalists, if you had seen and when that’s just not how it works, it would kind of ruin the film. Part of this movie is feeling like you just got dropped into the real thing. we were watching movies like The Candidate.That’s why we were watching The War Room, the Clinton documentary over and over.”
“I’m a fan of movies that don’t tell me what to think. I’ve always enjoyed films that encouraged me to think and asked me questions that I’m forced to answer. I like when the movie screen is a mirror, and I want each audience member to have a different experience. I want there to be kind of a healthy debate between the people who just saw the movie together. I don’t know the answer to those questions, that’s the truth.”