Did Gary Hart waste his shot at the presidency — or did America waste its chance of electing a wise but flawed man?
This is the question at the center of The Frontrunner, a new drama from director Jason Reitman that will star Hugh Jackman as former presidential candidate Gary Hart — the Democratic frontrunner in 1987 before news of an extramarital affair demolished his candidacy … and potentially denied the country of a leader known for his compassion, intellect, and charisma.
Hart foresaw the rising threat of Mideast terrorism and the diminishing of the Cold War, but he was blindsided by the incursion of tabloid TV journalism in the previously staid political media, which had typically looked the other way when it came to politicians’ personal lives.
The film is based on the book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai, who co-wrote the script with the Up in the Air and Young Adult filmmaker, and former Hillary Clinton spokesman Jay Carson, who is also a producer on House of Cards (and one of the inspirations for Ryan Gosling’s character in the 2011 political thriller Ides of March, based on a play by House of Cards creator Beau Willimon.) Jackman’s casting was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Reitman tells EW the movie will explore the impact Hart’s candidacy “had on the evolving relationship between politics and the media.”
“Like anyone, I look at the political landscape right now and just wonder how we got here. There isn’t any one answer, but Matt Bai’s book about the Hart candidacy raised interesting questions and offered a thread I wanted to pull,” Reitman says.
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Hart was a Colorado senator who had a strong lead in the polls and an easy way with everyday voters when news reports broke about his affair with model Donna Rice. A notorious photo of the two of them at a yacht party, with her sitting on his lap and him wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Monkey Business” (which was the name of the boat), annihilated any talk of policy or vision for the country.
In his 1987 speech announcing the end of his candidacy, Hart foresaw a time when good politicians who were imperfect declined to run, and awful people who were good at creating skepticism and activating the worst in people rose to the fore.
“We’re all going to have to seriously question the system for selecting our national leaders, for it reduces the press of this nation to hunters and Presidential candidates to being hunted,” Hart said. “Too much of it is just a mockery, and if it continues to destroy people’s integrity and honor, then that system will eventually destroy itself.”
The Frontrunner is still casting other major roles, with plans to begin shooting in September.
It’s being produced independently by Aaron Gilbert (Fences), Helen Estabrook (Whiplash), and Reitman through Gilbert’s production company Bron Studios.
They previously worked together on Reitman’s upcoming motherhood drama Tully, out next April, which reteams him with Young Adult duo Charlize Theron and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody.