Hillary Clinton Biopic Director James Ponsoldt on the Pressure to Get ‘Rodham’ Right

"You can't afford to get it wrong," Ponsoldt tells TheWrap

Last Updated: July 24, 2014 @ 11:40 AM

Director James Ponsoldt has made three movies, including the Indie Spirit Awards nominee "Smashed" and this year's Sundance sensation "The Spectacular Now," which opens on Friday. But he has never drawn the kind of attention as he did when he got involved with the "Rodham" project about Hillary Clinton.

Speculation about who would play Clinton (Carey Mulligan? Amanda Seyfried?? Scarlett Johansson???) and the accuracy of the script quickly reached a feverish pitch on political blogs on both sides of the political spectrum.

Also read: 6 Actresses Who Should Play Hillary Clinton in 'Rodham'

"I'll never know what it's like to be a famous actor, not to have any privacy, to have people care about tiny things," he said in an interview with TheWrap this week. "But the bit that I can glean from this — from the scrutiny that it received from the industry, the political blogs both left-leaning and right-leaning," he said, is that media reports can have "no bearing on reality. None whatsoever."

Ponsoldt considers speculation about Young Il Kim's script especially premature at this stage in development — and readily conceded there's a lot of pressure to get "Rodham" right.

"More than any film I've ever been involved with, you can't afford to get it wrong," he said. "It's going to be so scrutinized for all the things that 'Spectacular Now' was: Is it emotionally honest? Do we care? Those are all relevant – but also, every political loose thread will be tugged at, and you have to bring a rigor to every single choice you make and every liberty you take. So we're just getting that script right."

In the meantime, other Hillary movies are entering the race: NBC announced plans for a four-hour TV movie at this week's Television Critics press tour, while CNN said it was going to produce its own documentary on the former First Lady and Secretary of State who is expected to run for president in 2016.

Also read: Will Hollywood's Hillary Clinton Obsession Hurt Her With Voters?

But Ponsoldt insists that he's not concerned about her presidential ambitions, pointing out that "Rodham" focuses on the choices she made early in her career.

"It's not a cradle-to-the-grave biopic, it's not 'Here's 13 years in her life when she was most humiliated in front of America.' It's about a very specific time, when she was in her mid-20s. A couple of years out of Yale Law, she was part of a group of lawyers who put together a bipartisan group who were trying to create a legal precedent with which they could impeach the president [Richard Nixon].

"And oh, by the way, she was one of the best and brightest, and her boyfriend was in Arkansas, and she had to choose between her brilliant political career and the love of her life."

The key for him, Ponsoldt said, is that "Rodham" focuses not on what Hillary Clinton may do in 2016, but on what Hillary Rodham gave up to marry Bill Clinton in 1975. "It is about someone choosing between love and ambition, about sacrifice, and about gender and equality," he said. 

"For the very cynical people who are going to say whatever about the Clintons, or anything that happened from him becoming president onward, this isn't a movie that concerns itself with that.

See photos: 13 Unforgettable Hillary Rodham Clinton Moments

"All I can say that is that when Nixon stepped down, she had a golden ticket to name her job in D.C., and she moved to Arkansas, to the political hinterlands, to be with her husband. Actions do speak louder than words. You don't do that unless you love someone.  It was very moving, and I connected with it on a very personal level: My wife moved to Los Angeles from her great job in Virginia to be with me."

The bottom line, he said: "For the majority of her life, Hillary has been the smartest person in every room she walked into, and the most driven. And she happened to meet the one person who, that was his life, too. He was the smartest and the most charismatic.

"And one of them was going to have to step back. In a game of life chicken, who's going to blink? Usually it's the woman. That will change in time, but that's what compelled me to it. It was an amazing character and an incredibly moving story."


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