Was the Gary Hart scandal something that was on your radar prior to making this film?
A few years before I got the script, I was listening to the podcast Radiolab in my car. The episode was about Gary Hart and what had happened to him, and everything about it was really interesting; I couldn’t believe I didn’t already know about it, or that people weren’t talking more about the whole situation. A few years later, I got the script for The Front Runner and I was so excited because I already knew the story.
Donna Rice never really got a fair shake; she went from unknown to talk-show punchline almost overnight. What made you want to play her?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Jason’s films, and the opportunity to work with him was very exciting. I also loved his script and the way that he and his co-writers wrote Donna. It could have gone a couple of different ways, and I was so happy that she was written with respect and dignity. It felt like her side of the story was being told.
She is portrayed in a way that feels honest, but that’s not something that’s always been done before.
I was tentative at first, wondering what it would be like and which Donna we would be portraying; I get chills every time I think about it. Thirty years ago, she was seen as a caricature and a one-dimensional person, but in the script, from the very first version I read, she was a fully-fledged human with so much to her that was never previously talked about. It was intimidating; not only have I never played a living person before—someone who can watch the film or read this interview—but I was also portraying this woman in the darkest moment of her life, and I was so happy that everybody involved wanted that done with respect.
Did you spend any time with Rice prior to playing her? Was that even something that would be part of your process?
It was a question I asked myself when I got the role. I knew Hugh was meeting with Gary and they were spending time together, but in that moment, Jason and I agreed that because I wasn’t trying to mimic her in any way, it didn’t feel necessary. I haven’t met her, but I would love to. Jason called me and told me he showed the film to her and she told him she loved it. For me, that’s all that matters.
You started making the film before the 2016 election, which is the most recent example of the kind of intense scrutiny that began with Hart. What was it like to watch that unfold having made this film?
Being a part of this film, which is based off a book by Matt Bai, who co-wrote the movie, doesn’t leave me with any answers. I just have more questions. And the movie offers those same questions to the audience to debate and decide for themselves. One of the things people seem to ask themselves after seeing the movie is whether these big-deal events are actually happening more than ever before, or if it only feels that way because the news is delivered to us in ways that are getting faster.
Does playing this part give you a sense of sympathy for anyone under the glare of the political spotlight?
Of course. There’s just so much I didn’t know about things like how journalists would ride airplanes with a candidate and could just go up and talk to them. Today, everything’s rehearsed and practiced and there are thick walls you have to pass through to get to people. And what happens in this movie is the reason why.