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THE FRONT RUNNER

About The Production
"Politics in this country - take it from me - is on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match." -- Presidential Candidate Gary Hart's Withdrawal Speech, May 8, 1987

In the spring of 1987, a clear and undeniable front runner emerged in the race for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination: Colorado Senator Gary Hart-whose smarts, charismatic idealism and sheer excitement factor seemed all but destined for the White House and the making of a new chapter in American history. By April, Hart had opened up a gaping lead in the polls. Three weeks later, in a spectacularly public fall from grace, he was out of the race and Presidential politics forever.

Jason Reitman's The Front Runner explores the moment of Hart's sudden downfall as a watershed for the nation. In this singular moment, privacy and publicity, politics and celebrity, journalism and gossip, new power structures and old power imbalances, high ideals and the most human flaws all seemed to merge and recombine-carving out a roiling new landscape with which we're still reckoning today.

Though Hart's future was undone by rumors of a marital affair, The Front Runner doesn't ask did he or didn't he. Rather, it takes a panoramic view of the myriad charged reactions to what it meant for America. With the pace of a crime thriller, the film becomes a kind of political procedural, in which a restlessly mobile but even-handed camera captures the wide-ranging impact of the rumored affair on Hart's marriage, on the young idealists on his campaign staff, on journalism and on society at large.

Drawn from Matt Bai's book, All The Truth Is Out, the film zeroes in on those very last few days in which Hart's promise was upended. Hart (Hugh Jackman) is laser-focused on his ideas for remaking American leadership, while the press increasingly clamors to break open his personal side. When The Miami Herald receives an anonymous tip that Hart is having an affair, things get more than personal. An all-night stakeout of Hart's Washington D.C. townhouse leads to photographs of an unidentified young woman coming and going. Hart, who has always decried the role of personal trivia in politics, tries to push on. But when the woman is named as Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), a Miami-based model Hart partied with on a boat named Monkey Business, frenzy spreads through the media. As Hart's campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) scrambles to stem the damage and Hart's wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) grapples with her own complex response, Hart tries to stay above the fray, until that fray begins to swallow him.

Reitman saw the film as a chance to chronicle, in the most detailed and alive way, the full tapestry of what was going on in that electric social moment-the last before the internet changed all, before the lines between politics, media and entertainment blurred beyond distinction. Like a mirror to 2018, the story reflects back the origins of our restive questioning over whose truth counts, whose power should be protected, which stories should be reported and what flaws we will or won't accept in our leaders.

Says Reitman, "This was a moment when the ground shifted underneath everybody-it shifted quickly and afterwards, the world was different. In 1987, you had A Current Affair, the first gossip news show, you had the emergence of the satellite news truck, you had CNN giving their reporters satellite phones for the first time, you had the first generation of reporters who grew up on Woodward and Bernstein as celebrities and you had a new force of women changing the workplace. All of these things were happening at the same time and together, they created conditions Hart failed to foresee." He continues: "This was also a moment that informs the moment we're living in right now-a moment when we are asking really big questions about where media should focus its attention, what is appropriate behavior for people in power, what happens when you're a whistleblower and how much we have a right to know about each other's private lives."

Reitman was inspired to try to tell that story in a vibrant, kinetic way that would connect the present to the past without stamping any judgment on it. The form of the film became part of its function, with the film's use of multiple POVs, hyperrealism and overlapping conversations amplifying its central theme. "I wanted the style of the film to ask the audience to constantly decide what is most important to look at," he explains. "The point isn't to say we should never talk about personal flaws in politics, but rather to ask: what are we not talking about when that's taking up all the focus? What questions are we giving up? There is so much going on, that the movie is regularly giving the audience the choice: do you want to look at a or b? The movie does that right up until the last shot where you get to ask: where do your eyes want to go? What matters most to these characters and to you and are they the same?"

"I've never met a man more talented at untangling the bull of politics into something anyone can understand. It's a gift-that he wants to share. And all people want is for him to pose for a photo. He'll never understand that." --Dixon

Sometimes dubbed "The Great American President Who Never Was," Gary Hart was born Gary Warren Hartpence in Ottawa, Kansas. After graduating from Yale Law School, he began practicing law in Denver, drawn to the wide-open West and what he called "the future of America." Possessing by all accounts a brilliant mind for policy-making, Hart became a rising star of the Democratic Party. He managed George McGovern's 1972 run for President. Then, he won a seat in the Senate, where he distinguished himself by serving on the seminal Church Committee, which aimed to reform the CIA, FBI, NSA and IRS, and led the Senate investigation of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

After an exploratory run for President in 1984 at age 46, which established him as a hot commodity, Hart's appeal in 1988 seemed almost inviolable. He was a new kind of candidate, not raised on the more cautious America of the Depression but on the social change, hope for inclusivity and freethinking of the 1960s. Embracing the ethos of the New West, with its fascinations with technology, the environment and the classic pioneer spirit, Hart even announced his run on the sandstone slabs of Colorado's Red Rocks Park. Then there was the glamour. Hart was close friends with Hollywood legend Warren Beatty, and evinced a cowboy casualness that would influence Presidential personas to come. Above all, Hart spoke to crowds as if virtue, decency and compassion could still be bedrock American values even as the nation tackled how to move forward technologically and socially in a dangerous world. The flip side of Hart's magnetism was that reports of infidelity swirled around him, yet at the time, there was also a perhaps blinded belief that any such secrets might remain shielded. After all, for much of American political history, U.S. Presidents had been given wide latitude in matters relating to sex, health, marriage and family. And for decades, these powerful men assumed their extramarital affairs would be protected, as they had always been.

That, however, began to shift in the wake of Watergate. Compelled by a public urgency to know more about the motivations of people in power, the press began to examine public figures - and politicians especially - with greater scrutiny. At the same time, the advent of cable television and the sparking of the hyper-speed 24/7 news cycle were stoking a growing appetite for ever more outrageous news.

In the book All The Truth Is Out, Matt Bai-a former chief political correspondent for the New York Times Magazine and currently a national political columnist for Yahoo News-called Hart's "a story of the moment when the worlds of public service and tabloid entertainment, which had been gradually orbiting closer to one another, finally collided, and of the man who found himself improbably trapped in that collision." With close access to Hart and many of those who worked for, cared for and reported on him, Bai was able to tell the riveting story as no one had ever heard it: from the perspective of the world it foreshadowed.

Bai says now that part of what motivated him to write the book was the realization that just as Hart's story was fading into the background, it seemed more urgently relevant than ever, especially as scandal seemed to be outgunning substance daily. "Hart's run had been largely forgotten," he says. "But the story I felt that needed to be told-and the story we tell in the film-is that this was the moment we began down the path in our media coverage that has led to the politics we have today."

He continues: "We have an environment now in which candidates need to be entertainers, they need certain skills to evade scandals, they need to be outright dishonest to navigate the currents of the coverage. I wrote the book because I think many of us feel it's time right now to stop and ask what the distortion of the process is doing to our world."

"Look, if this was 20 years ago and party bosses were still picking the candidates in back rooms, that would be one thing. But things changed. Everyone forgets that." -- Fiedler

Even as Bai was doing traditional reportorial work for his book, he was pursuing what was then perceived as a diversion: attempting his first fiction screenplay, which originally had nothing to do with Hart. He'd partnered with his good friend Jay Carson-a former political consultant and veteran of the 2004 Dean and 2008 Clinton campaigns (also renown as the inspiration for Ryan Gosling's character in Ides of March)-who had embarked on a new career as a creative consultant on House of Cards. One day, when Bai mentioned his research on Hart, Carson suddenly said, "Why aren't we writing this story?"

The more the two talked about it, the more it became clear that they could bring an uncommonly inside view, having each worked opposite the other in presidential campaigns: Bai on the media side, Carson on the campaign side (the pair first met in 1999, when Bai was covering Bill Bradley's campaign and Carson was an advance man for Bradley). They knew the language, the gallows humor, the incessant pressures, the intensity of the friendships and both had personally grappled with the questions about media and democracy that Bai's book was exploring.

"For both of us I think there was also a sense of writing to exorcise our personal demons from the campaign world," says Carson. "We both felt very troubled by what we had seen in our careers and we knew that the deeper problems hadn't really ever been fixed. The fundamentals are broken."

The research Bai shared with Carson, along with his own, highlighted to him to him how much Hart's ordeal anticipated a new era in politics. "Hart had a youthful, Kennedy-like appeal and he spoke to the promise of America as no other politician in that era," he says. "At the same time, there was a generational gap in how journalists saw him. Those over 40 accepted his feeling that he deserved a zone of privacy. But younger journalists, raised on Watergate, had an entirely different expectation of what was fair game."

Bai notes that the generational shift was also driven by sweeping social and technological changes. "Satellite technology meant suddenly the news could go live anywhere at any time," he explains. "And when you're live for 24 hours there is a real pressure to create a soap opera and keep the people in their seats. At the same time, you have changing attitudes towards adultery, marriage and women in the workplace, which made the story polarizing in a dramatic way."

Things have clearly only escalated, with scandals becoming more absurd, media doubling down on the outrage and the symbiosis between policy-making and showmanship now so thick it is impossible to untangle. As a journalist, Bai knows it only too well. "We're in a moment right now of taking stock, so we wanted to write this not to pass judgment on anyone's motivations, but to draw attention to the fact that actions have consequences, for both politicians and media. This is something I've said to my colleagues in journalism: we need to understand that what we do isn't a game. What we do can reverberate through the years and the decades, changing the course of history."

"Billy, if I do a photo-shoot, what's tomorrow? Talent show? Swimsuit competition?" --Hart

Bai and Carson were still in the early stages of writing in 2016 when Bai appeared on WNYC's innovative, big-idea-wrestling podcast Radiolab talking about the 1988 campaign. Unbeknownst to Bai, one of the listeners was Jason Reitman, a long-time fan of the show. Reitman was riveted. He recalls, "I didn't even really know who Gary Hart was, because I was 10 years-old when he ran for President, but when I heard this story, I instantly saw in it the seeds of how we got to the moment where we are now. I immediately ordered the book, loved it, loved the detail, and it just felt like it was a movie waiting to be made. That has only happened a few times for me in my life and I was just ready to jump in."

Reitman is known for engaging with the deeper fabric of modern life in fun and energetic ways, satirizing the world of spin in Thank You For Smoking, upending all the expectations of the teenage pregnancy drama with the Best Picture Oscar-nominated Juno and excavating the human costs of economic limbo and corporate layoffs in Up in the Air (nominated for six Academy Awards). Still, The Front Runner would be in many ways his most thematically and certainly stylistically ambitious work to date, which was part of the allure. When he met with Bai and Carson, it was kismet. Not only did they have a natural rapport, but Reitman brought in ideas that changed the whole tone and tenor of the script. The first thing Reitman did was invite Bai and Carson over to watch Michael Ritchie's 1972 film, The Candidate, often considered the seminal take, albeit now four decades old, on the selling of modern political candidates. Starring Robert Redford as a high-minded lawyer who makes once unthinkable compromises on the road to becoming a California Senator, the film is beloved for its frenzied, simulated realism and its skewering of how substantive promise can be transformed into sheer image.

"I said to Matt and Jay, 'this is what our movie should feel like,'" recalls Reitman. "I said let's create a hyper-real universe and do it the way you might do the world-building in a major fantasy film, with that kind of intense appreciation for detail and immersive texture. That started us down that path where there's a reason for every detail in this movie, right down to what liquor each character drinks."

Bai and Carson were already big fans of Reitman, but now they saw him as a jolt of creative lightening. "Jason saw immediately how to refocus what we were doing," recalls Bai. "We'd previously been given advice to tell a more fictional story and then Jason came along and said, 'this an important moment in American politics and we need to tell the real story.' I can't tell you how gratifying it was for us to hear that. It was clear that he truly got it and it kicked off an incredible collaboration."

Adds Carson, "Jason gave us the courage to strip the Hollywoodness from the script. He focused us on moving between three key realms in the story: the campaign, the press and Hart's family. He was like a captain in rough seas who said trust me, we'll do the real thing and it will work. And he was right."

Bai and Carson had already developed their own writing method-one would write for a while then hand the draft to the other, who would start back from page one, rewriting before advancing the story again. This way the voice remained consistent even as both their ideas were integrated. Now Reitman was incorporated into that same organic flow. "It worked," says Bai, "because we all felt an ownership of the writing and yet now none of us can untangle who wrote what part."

Another key idea Reitman brought in from the start was to nix the expected first-person, singular POV. Rather than have Hart or even Donna Rice tell the story, Reitman thought: why not replace the central narrator with a neutral, panoramic view that gives each of the rich panoply of characters a voice without assigning anyone the role of hero or villain? Bai and Carson found it liberating. "Now the storytelling started to be complex in the way that reality is complex," says Bai. "It encourages the audience to decide on their own who was right, who was wrong and where it led."

The trio also shared an acute sense of humor that kept the screenplay light even at its most barbed. This, too, was a mirror of reality. "Campaign staffers and journalists are some of the funniest, most sharp-tongued and observant people I've ever met," notes Carson. "I laughed my ass off on every campaign I've worked on. And that became one of the most important things to Jason, that we use the real language and words you would really hear in the backrooms of campaigns."

Along the way, Reitman met with many of the real players in the film, including Gary Hart, Hart's daughter Andrea, Donna Rice, as well as many of the campaign staff from 1987. Perhaps more importantly, he sent each person a questionnaire that added layer upon layer of personal specifics to the characters. "I asked them each to describe a normal day in your life in 1987 and asked questions like: what were your hobbies? What was your favorite sports team? What did you drink and what were your favorite snacks? Whose photo did you have on your desk? We incorporated all of this."

As much as Reitman, Bai and Carson chased reality, there remained unknowns. "There are of course many moments where we didn't know exactly what was said behind closed doors and that were never documented so that's where some imagination came in," explains Carson.

Another vital element for all three was giving the women in the story their say, especially because women's voices have historically been muffled in these situations. Says Reitman: "It was really important to us have five different female characters to watch this story through: Donna Rice, Lee Hart, Andrea Hart, Irene Kelly and Ann Devroy at The Washington Post-and they each come at the situation from different POVs."

Bai had come to know Rice while researching his book. "So often, the women in these situations get cast aside or mischaracterized. But Donna is a far more complicated person than was depicted at the time, and we wanted to make sure that was in the writing. You have to keep in mind that there was no playbook for her in 1987-there was no one who'd gone through that in American politics before. So it was vital to us to tell her story with compassion and complexity, to show her dignity," says Bai. Carson elaborates, "We really wanted to pose the question: 'What would it have been like to be Donna in this moment?' I think you can't help but empathize with her as you watch this young woman descend into the jaws of the media in a way that can be incredibly destructive to your being."

When it came to Lee Hart, Carson had other personal experiences to draw on. "My most formative political experience was with the wife of a politician accused of an affair-it's just that she also happened to be candidate Hillary Clinton. So I knew there was this very human, painful side to someone who is in that position that isn't exposed to the world."

Ultimately, with no one character given predominance, each of the actors' deft portraits combined into a mosaic to become more than the sum of their parts. "That was the clarity of vision that Jason brought to it," sums up Bai.

The script's multifaceted approach-and its mix of raw humor and unvarnished humanity- spurred the dedication of two producers who saw it as an exciting leap for Reitman: Helen Estabrook, who works with Reitman at Right of Way Productions and produced the Oscar-winning Whiplash; and Aaron L. Gilbert, whose BRON Studios is a champion of bold storytelling and worked with Reitman on Tully. Both understood the risks. The film would be a challenge to shoot, with its emphasis on improvisatory cross-talk and parallel action, its roving, unpredictable camera and its insistence on not judging characters who without realizing it in the moment are seen changing the American trajectory, and their own lives, with their decisions. But they also felt Reitman had full control of it.

"I trust Jason implicitly. He's both a friend and a great creative partner," says Gilbert. "So when he walked me through how he wanted to do this story and why he wanted to do this story, honestly my response was let's get to it. What I loved most about the script is that the affair is really secondary to the main story. We never even know if the affair happened and the script doesn't go there. Instead, it's about a major sea-change in the tenor of politics and the way media covers it, and that is what got us all excited."

Estabrook notes that it's hard to look at the film's thematic swirl without seeing where we are in 2018. "The story touches on many things in our society that we are just now starting to untangle, from the complexities of how to report on political figures to the degree to which our society has been trained to protect men in power," she says. "It speaks to what our responsibilities are to each other, whether as private citizens or public figures. I think Jason was deeply inspired by the chance to do that in a way that also lets him play with classical 70s filmmaking and an of-the-moment approach."

With dozens of speaking roles, and call sheets for 20 or so characters to be on set every day, there was a need to put together not only a committed ensemble, but a cohesive one. An intensive casting process started as soon as the project was green-lit. "We were able to put together a phenomenal group of hyper-intelligent actors, each from very different backgrounds, who together become a compelling mix of voices," says Estabrook. Adds Gilbert, "I've always found casting is one of Jason's greatest skills because he just has phenomenal instincts. We circled people Helen knew, people I knew, people Jason worked with before and people he wanted to work with. Everyone responded saying the script was so strong."

Once on set, knowing that trust would be the foundation of the cast behaving freely, Reitman put a lot of effort into forging that ineffable environment that can cement a cast's bonds. He also started each shooting day by handing out news clippings covering events from the corresponding date in 1987-not just political events but sports, social and cultural news-to prime the conversations he was about to film. "The result of all that is that something kind of magical happened," says Bai. "As all these young actors started hanging out and talking about 1987 and they developed a really cool, natural rapport. They connected with the banter and with the period and a depth emerged that we could not have foreseen." "You know, this is why people don't want to be in public life. Because someone will dredge something up you said in a moment 15 years ago and act like it somehow encapsulates your life." -- Hart

The question of who might embody the breadth of Hart's persona-the fire and skill but also the prickliness and privateness-was answered early on. Reitman was convinced there was one person who could bring something understated yet revealing. Hugh Jackman certainly was not the most obvious choice. He might be an Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner as well as Oscar nominee, but he's also an Australian best known for the action-thriller Wolverine series and for his song-and-dance acumen on stage and in such films as Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman. Though he's dived into serious dramatic roles before, this would be something quite different from anything Jackman had done.

What convinced Reitman was Jackman's work ethic and wide-ranging intelligence, not coincidentally two of Hart's most salient qualities. "Hugh is known for being incredibly hard-working and this is one of the things that got me really excited," says the director. "Here's an example of how that worked. Early on, I saw that Hugh was walking around with 3-inch binder overflowing with info on Hart. I asked him 'are you planning to read all of that?' and he answered, 'oh, I've already read it and it's actually book one of five.' That was the level of his commitment. Hugh could recite speeches of Hart that weren't in the movie. Hugh discovered so much that he taught me about Gary Hart. He once said to me, 'I never want to feel as though I could have done more to get this right' and that sums up Hugh Jackman as an actor as well as anything. It's also the reason why he inspires great work from everyone around him."

Reitman was also struck by the idea of watching Jackman move into fresh territory. "The one thing I'd never seen Hugh play was an enigma," he says. "I've watched him play people who are very clearly heroic, broken, aspirational or talented, but the one thing I've not seen him play is this kind of smart, outwardly charismatic man who doesn't easily let you in. I knew it was going to be an exciting challenge for him to have this kind of veil over his inner life and he did it. What I love is that people who see the movie are not exactly sure how to feel about Hart and that's exactly what Hugh and I both wanted."

Despite growing up in Australia, Jackman knew peripherally of Hart. But the more he learned, the more he saw the richness of the role. "I had a passing knowledge of the scandal," Jackman says. "But what I didn't know before is what a force he was, how much he had to offer and how much this period of time meant to the future of American politics and media. I felt the script shed a really bright light on a turning point in history. It's not as known as JFK's assassination or the Civil Rights Movement or Watergate, but you can argue now that this moment was, in its own way, a significant juncture."

Jackman honed in on something subtle about Hart-the way his strength and Achilles heel were twined, the way his focus on the really big picture could block out everything else. That became an even stronger through-line once he met Hart in person. "Gary is remembered for this one small moment in his life instead of for the things he'd like to be remembered for," Jackman observes. "When I met him, he told me of some of the plans he had for the future and I was both in awe and keenly aware of the opportunity he lost-here was a man with one of the great political brains of our times, and yet he never realized the potential of his ideas."

For Jackman, what Hart did or didn't do with Donna Rice on the Bimini cruise is beside the point. "I think rather than asking 'did he or didn't he' the larger question we need to ask about Gary Hart is: why do we care so much? In his final speech Gary said that just because some things in life are interesting, that doesn't make them important. And I think a lot of things we focus on in the media are more interesting than important, which leaves us in danger of losing sight of what matters because it's not as exciting."

Indeed, now that people have become inured to daily tabloid shocks, the Hart accusations seem almost quaint. "The irony is that now Presidential candidates are accused of much worse and survive, but when Hart was running, our appetite for news was just beginning to grow the way it has," says Jackman. "People were starting to want more immediate, fast-breaking news and this scandal fed into that." Jackman thought of Hart in terms of his relationships, in terms of both the responsibility inherent in inspiring people and the anguish of letting those same people down. "One of the things I love most about this story is it doesn't just focus on what Hart is going through," says Jackman. "It looks at what his family goes through, at what Donna Rice is going through, what was changing among journalists."

The intensity of Jackman's devotion, and the degree to which he disappeared into the role without a trace, became an anchor for the production. "Hugh put so much into this role it was really moving for everyone. He was a true leader on set," says Estabrook. "He set a wonderful vibe for our huge ensemble with his professionalism, his friendliness and his humor. It was also a case of life imitating art, because just as Hart's staff would follow Gary anywhere, the cast felt that same way about Hugh."

Adds Gilbert; "This is an unusual role for a leading man because at times, he's just sitting in the background as an extra. It really speaks to Hugh's humility and belief in what Jason wanted to do that he let himself be so completely absorbed into the ensemble. He seemed to love and thrive on the experience."

Jackman credits Reitman for sparking his devotion. "Working with Jason has been not only one of the most fun but also most rewarding experiences I've had. He has this uncanny knack of giving you just the right amount of room to play and invent. What I also love about Jason is that he understands how to tell an entertaining story full of humor and visual style yet also depth."

The visceral energy of the film is what Jackman hopes will pull people into a story that resonates with questions. "It's so fast-moving and funny, but then it takes you right up to this incredible cross-roads and the question of how did we get to where we are today," he summarizes.

Jackman's deep dive into Hart especially exhilarated the screenwriters. Says Bai, "Hugh can say things with his face that you couldn't write in words. Hugh could run for office-I've rarely met a politician with his political skill." Adds Carson, "To successfully play smart, you have to be smart and Hugh is both smart and a student of the world. Anything we wrote for him he'd want to know more and then he incorporated it all into his performance. I think we see him going to another level with this role." "You think I should feel humiliated. Feelings that simple are a privilege of being young. Our marriage is complicated. So is our love for each other." -- Lee

Much as the story of The Front Runner is about Gary Hart, at the heart of the script are two women entwined together in the fallout of his political crisis: his wife, Lee and the woman accused of having a secret affair with her husband, Donna Rice. When politicians are accused of infidelity, the person who often faces the most intense consequences is the spouse-putting up a front under the media spotlight while privately wrestling with loss of trust. It was essential to Reitman, Bai and Carson that Gary Hart's wife, Lee, be granted one of the strongest voices in the film. Bringing that voice movingly to life is Vera Farmiga, who was Oscar-nominated for her first foray with Reitman, playing opposite George Clooney in Up In The Air.

Farmiga's ability to express a panoply of emotions beyond dialogue made her invaluable in the role. Says Reitman: "Lee is a very tricky role because in many ways the audience is looking to her in order to know how to feel about her husband. Vera is able to do so much with a single look, with just her eyes and the timbre of her voice. In this film, the camera is in constant motion, but it stops for Vera."

Jackman was equally taken with Farmiga. "It was very important to us all that Lee never feel like a victim," he says. "Vera can do that because she is both incredibly grounded and an emotional force of nature."

Lee Hart famously stood by her husband when the Donna Rice rumors began to roil, telling the press that the story didn't bother her and that she still very much believed her husband should be President. The drive for Farmiga was to dig beyond Lee's function as Gary's rock (they had already been married for 28 years in 1987) to the toll that support took on her. "What attracted me to playing Lee is that I was curious about her unbending love. I'm always curious about how women define and execute love and I'm fascinated with women's thresholds for pain," Farmiga explains. "Lee is a woman hit with a psychological sledgehammer and she has to try to survive and protect her family, her love and herself."

She started with great respect for Lee and that never altered. "I believe it takes a kind of regal steadfastness and commitment to weather this kind of storm when your heart is broken," says Farmiga. "I found all that fascinating. I also found it interesting that 30 years later, Lee is still with Gary. It speaks to the complexity of marriage and the challenge of promising to love one person for life."

Farmiga saw at the core of Lee a self-assurance that could stand up to being battered by the press, by other women scrutinizing her choice to stay and by her own doubts. "If you stay and persevere in a marriage that weathers infidelity I think you've got to be one heck of a confident lady," she observes. "Or you at least have be so confident in the covenant of marriage and its sanctity that you won't break it even when it breaks your heart."

Farmiga was also keen to reunite with Reitman. "Jason seems to always ask me to explore infidelity with him," she laughs. "But this time I'm on the other side. Honestly, I think we both have an interest in heartbreak and repair. And I just trust him-his vision is so precise and he so deeply understands character. But Jason also wanted a lot of turbulence on the screen, so he encouraged us to go with what we felt if we were inspired. That was really great. Usually you're reprimanded on a set for talking over other actors but this was set was all fire and brimstone and he gave us a lot of freedom."

It was a first chance to work with Jackman, whose rapport with Farmiga was so organic from day one, she felt they could dance candidly through all the unspoken emotions that surround marital betrayal. "Hugh comes with this reputation for being the best guy ever. But actually...he surpasses that," she muses. "He is full of lightness and charm. But also has an openness about him that was the key to us establishing immediately that our characters have this deep bond built over years of struggles together." The questions raised by Farmiga's portrait of Lee-of what spouses do and should bear in political campaigns-come up in physical ways, in the body, in delicate expressions and gestures that say more than words could in a world where words are easily manipulated. Observes co-star Steve Zissis: "Vera's emotional content is just searing. Gravitas is the word with Vera and she just brings it."

Lee Hart's counterpart in the scandal is a woman she will never meet: Donna Rice, a Miami local who was then pursuing a modeling and acting career, only to find herself at the center of one of the most intense media frenzies in history to that date.

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