Have you been following the casting misadventures of Rodham, the upcoming film that follows Hillary Clinton’s early days as a staffer for the House Judiciary Committee? If so, you’re not the only one. Last week, Hollywood.com asked “Why Doesn’t Anybody Want to Play Hillary Clinton?” It’s a terrific question, although it’s a shame they didn’t bother to answer it. I think I can help.
First of all, here’s the recap. Months ago, word leaked that several Hollywood A-listers were being considered for the role, including Jessica Chastain and Scarlett Johansson. Neither seemed to be interested. Then last week, multiple sources reported that Carey Mulligan was the producers’ top choice for the role. The news was met with a collective shrug from the internet, and Mulligan supposedly has turned down the role.
I’m glad Mulligan bowed out. I’m a fan of her acting, but she’s wrong for the role. She’s far too fragile to play Hillary. But the question remains: why doesn’t anyone want this role? It’s an iconic part in what is said to be a very good script. If the film ends up being even slightly better than okay, it seems a lock for major acting awards or at least nominations. Look at how well Meryl Streep did with the not-so-good The Iron Lady.
But there is another angle to this story. Rodham will be the first instance I can think of when a film about a potential presidential candidate is released before their campaign. Most presidential candidates have not accomplished enough prior to their campaign to warrant a biopic; Hillary is the sole exception. The film has the potential to dramatically impact public opinion of her at a time when her handlers will likely be managing her every appearance and scripting every word she utters.
So why doesn’t anyone want to play Hillary Clinton? Maybe it’s because this movie will piss off the person who might just be the next leader of the free world. From the snippets of the script that have leaked, there is definite potential for damage to her image.
According to accounts from The Daily Beast, she is described early in the script as having an “awful haircut” and wearing a “hideous pair of Coke-bottle glasses.” Her overall look is “the valedictorian of the ‘look-like-shit school of feminism.” While some actresses would surely balk at playing ugly, most understand that playing ugly is a direct line to an Academy Award. See Theron, Charlize for a recent example.
So it’s not the physical ugliness that has got A-listers running away from Rodham. But it might have something to do with her character. The script’s version of Hillary begins with a character who is quite different than the glass-ceiling-breaker we know today. The character is initially emotionally and sexually submissive to her partner, a womanizing law professor named Bill. He flirts and – it is insinuated – fools around with girls behind Hillary’s back. In response to this, she engages in a serious flirtation with a colleague, although it’s not clear if they ever consummate the relationship. Overall, she is depicted as highly sexualized and is given to crude language. In one scene, Hillary tells Bill, “I fuckin’ love you. I mean that. I love you, and I want to fuck you.” She uses the word “motherfucking” quite a few times, as well.
This is all quite obviously going to be a problem for Hillary. If they start filming later this year, Rodham will likely be released in the fall of 2014, just when she is starting to raise money for a 2016 presidential run. It won’t turn off her staunch supporters, but if the film is successful, it could influence public opinion and permanently alter Hillary’s image, which could end up scaring off potential big-money fundraisers. Political consultants spend millions, doing extensive poll testing, to craft the image of their clients. Rodham could undo it all in a heartbeat.
The would-be candidate herself would obviously be non-too-pleased about all this. And if the film incurs Hillary’s wrath, then so will the actress chosen to depict her. Is a good role worth pissing off the next leader of the free world? Maybe it is for an unknown, but definitely not for an already-successful actress. I wouldn’t suggest that President Hillary would ever launch some kind of vengeful campaign of terror against whomever decides to take the role, but why take the chance? Do you really want a Clinton mad at you?
This situation is especially awkward because things are so good between Hollywood and national Democrats right now. Obama fostered an intimate relationship with power players in Hollywood that should pay dividends for future Democrats. Hillary will certainly rely on those connections to maximize her war chest, and if that’s the case, it would be an easy path to vengeance for Hillary. She would only need to call in a few favors with studio execs to make sure that whoever plays her never works in this town again.
It puts the producers in a tough spot. They can tone down the script to portray Hillary in a more positive light, but that would probably make for a less interesting movie. Or they could cast an unknown who is desperate for the spotlight in any form, but that will hurt the grosses. Either way, I’m sure that Hillary’s team is monitoring this situation quite closely. Because let’s face it: this could be the first movie that makes or breaks a presidential election.