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For Hillary Clinton, the timing was right. She was neither in office nor running for office, which meant for the first time in years she could speak candidly on so many subjects.
And candor is precisely what filmmaker Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture) captured for her four-part docuseries Hillary, which will roll out on Hulu March 6, International Women's Day, after making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. What was initially envisioned as a campaign doc became something far more sweeping in scope with Burstein at the helm.
"We had 1,600, 1,700 hours of behind-the-scenes footage really letting our hair down, talking to people, making fun of each other — high points, low points, that was the idea," Clinton tells THR. "But once we hired Nanette and gave her free rein to look at everything, she made the case that this was really a story about much more than the campaign, and that my life paralleled the women's movement and a lot of the changes in society."
With ample access to the former secretary of state — 35 hours over seven days — as well as to her husband, colleagues and longtime friends, Burstein was able to weave together Clinton's life story without it feeling like a rehash. And while Hillary ultimately amounts to a flattering portrayal, the four-hour entry doesn't shy away from the many scandals and controversies that have dogged its subject, including the infamous Monica chapter (which gets more than 30 minutes of air time).
In a first, both Hillary and Bill along with their friends and former staffers talk in detail about the affair he had with his then-intern Monica Lewinsky, opening up about the lies, the heartache and the fallout. Holding back tears at one point, Bill reflects on how and why it happened ("Nobody thinks, 'I'm taking a risk.' That's not why people do stupid things") and the pain it caused his wife and daughter.
"Counseling was one of the hardest things i've ever had to do, but it was necessary. [Hillary] deserved it, Chelsea deserved it and I needed it," he says of the healing process, adding of Lewinsky: "I feel terrible about the fact that Monica Lewinsky's life was defined by it, unfairly. Over the years, I've watched her try to get a normal life back, but you gotta decide how to define normal."
Per Burstein, neither Bill nor Hillary was resistant to recounting the challenging chapter. Instead, both recognized that it was necessary to the examination of Hillary's life, and came prepared to open up in ways neither had before. As for its appeal, the documentarian explains, "The reason why the Monica story was important to me was not just for the sake of it being salaciously interesting to people, but because she's always been judged by it."
Burstein pairs a Clinton classmate's rarely seen video footage with audio from her famed 1969 Wellesley commencement address, marking the first time people can see and hear the speech that thrust Clinton into the public eye. Prescient lines — think: "For too long, those who lead us have viewed politics as the art of the possible. The challenge that faces them, and us, now is to practice politics as the art of making possible what appears impossible" — quickly captured the attention of editors at Life magazine, who excerpted Clinton's words as part of a widely circulated roundup of voices of a generation.
Health Care Doubts
Asked if there were any mistakes she'd love to revisit, Clinton reveals she wishes she hadn't run point on health care reform during her husband's presidency. "I think that somebody else could have and should have led it; I could have been a passionate advocate," she reveals. "But to take on the responsibility of chairing it and all that that entailed and all the red flags that that put up? That was a mistake. I should not have done that. I just created too much static."
In one of many private 2016 campaign moments caught on camera, Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine speak in hushed tones. Kaine tells her that Obama called the night before and said, "Tim, remember, this is no time to be a purist. You've got to keep a fascist out of the White House." Clinton nods, replying: "I echo that sentiment. The weight of our responsibility is so huge. I don't say this lightly: His agenda is other people's agenda." She goes on, referencing Trump's then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, a "paid tool for Russian TV," and Putin.
Cameras catch Clinton and Sanders making awkward small talk backstage at a campaign event, before cutting to the present day, where Clinton unleashes on her former opponent. “Honestly, Bernie just drove me crazy,” she says. “He was in Congress for years — years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just boloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” When asked by THR if that assessment still holds, Clinton nods: "Yes," she says, "it does."
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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