It was inevitable that conversation at the New York premiere of “The Front Runner” would turn to politics. “I think I’m like anyone alive today,” director Jason Reitman told the audience at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday evening. “I wake up, I pull out my phone, and I go, ‘F—!’”
On the red carpet, he explained how that feeling had brought him to “The Front Runner,” a drama about Sen. Gary Hart’s (Hugh Jackman) alleged extramarital affair that ended his campaign for the presidency in 1987. “I look around me and go, ‘How the hell did we get here?’ And in this story, I found a thread that I wanted to pull on — this story about the line between our public and private life, about how journalists and candidates get along, and that touched on gender politics,” he told Variety. His hope for the film, co-written by Matt Bai and Jay Carson, is that “1987 acts as a prism through which you can have a calm conversation about tricky topics.”
While “The Front Runner” doesn’t provide any easy answers, Reitman was clear about his own values and the issues he’s watching ahead of the midterms. “I’m pro-the environment, I’m pro-gay rights, I’m pro-trans rights — there’s a lot of things that, in my opinion, are going in the wrong direction right now,” he said. But more than anything else, he hopes people voice their opinions at the polls.
Sara Paxton was just as passionate. “So much is at stake: the environment, healthcare, women’s rights, women’s issues, gerrymandering — I’m really concerned with a lot of things,” she told Variety.
Dixon was born the year after the Hart scandal broke, but she was interested in it long before she saw the screenplay. She first encountered the story in a Radiolab episode and came away fascinated by the woman she would go on to play in “The Front Runner” — Hart’s alleged mistress Donna Rice. “I didn’t know what version of her was going to show up in the script — she could’ve been the villain from 30 years ago, this caricature, this one-dimensional person — and when I read the script, I was so happy she was written with respect and dignity,” she said.
That opportunity, exciting as it was, came with the pressure to do Rice justice. “When I got the role, I was jumping up and down, and then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m playing a real person, a woman who is alive and who can watch the performance and hear what I’m saying!’ It was very intimidating; it felt like a really big responsibility to portray the darkest moment of her life,” Dixon admitted. “But Jason [Reitman] told me that she saw the film and loved it, and that is the most gratifying thing to hear, that she was happy with my performance, because she was the critic that I was most concerned about.”
Jackman also managed to impress his subject. “I did a lot of research. I talked to all the people who worked with him, and then I spent time with him,” Jackman told Variety. “When you’re entrusted with someone’s legacy, someone’s story, the worst three weeks of their life — that’s a responsibility I took very seriously.” The work paid off: Hart, like Rice, has already seen the film, and “he was very positive to me.”
Though Jackman had less to say about the upcoming elections than his American castmates, he made it clear that his friendship with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner is not a reflection of his values. Jackman’s recent birthday party made headlines because Trump and Kushner were among the guests. “I’ve known those guys for 15 years,” he said, “and we don’t talk politics at birthday parties.”
Asked whether he did have a political message to share, Jackman’s answer was simple: “Vote! I’m an Ozzie, so I don’t get to vote, but if you can, you should vote.”
That call to action recurred throughout the night — Tommy Dewey even sported an “I’M A VOTER” pin. “I don’t think we get the people we deserve unless we all vote,” he said. “It doesn’t work right unless people turn up — we have no right to complain if we don’t show up and do it.”
Ari Graynor, who plays legendary White House correspondent Ann Devroy, voted just before her arrival on the red carpet. “Just taking that one action alleviated some of the anxiety that I’ve been carrying around,” she said. “It’s hard to get out there and keep fighting with the world that we’re living in, but that’s the most important thing to do.”