6:30am PT by Lacey Rose
'Hillary': Regrets, Denials and 8 Other Secrets From Hulu's Hillary Clinton Doc
With heavy hype and globs of press, Hulu is set to premiere its Hillary Clinton documentary series March 6.
The four-part series, directed by Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture), is an examination of her life, both public and private, dating back to her childhood. Over the course of more than four hours, Clinton along with several dozen friends, colleagues, journalists and family members explore a range of subjects, from her marital woes to her two failed presidential attempts.
On the eve of its release, here are 10 things to know about the making of Hillary.
1. Burstein was approached by producer Howard Owens about making a Clinton doc in late 2017, but it wasn’t the first time the filmmaker had given thought to the idea. In fact, Burstein says she reached out to Clinton’s camp about trailing her during the 2016 presidential campaign, and though she “made some inroads,” she was denied. At that time, she says she was interested in the story of a female candidate who could run for the second time and very likely win.
2. Burstein was one of a several filmmakers considered for the project, per sources, with names like Barbara Kopple (American Dream) and Dustin Lance Black (Milk) floated early on. Very quickly, it was decided having a female storyteller was key — “Because authorship matters,” says Hulu’s head of docs Belisa Balaban — and ultimately Burstein was Clinton's pick.
3. When Burstein first sat down to pitch herself to Clinton, however, she didn’t have a clear take. What she did know: her film would be bigger than a traditional campaign doc, which was her camp's initial idea. “I was like, ‘It could be about Russia, it could be about gender, it could be about your life story,’” she recalls saying.
4. Clinton spent 35 hours over seven days on camera for the docuseries. “I don't know that I really understood what I was getting into,” she says now. In truth, before those cameras began rolling, nobody involved knew what length or form it would take.
5. Burstein was clear from the start that they’d need to delve into the Clinton marriage, dating back to the messy Monica Lewinsky chapter. “I told [Hillary,] ‘We got to do it,’ and she said, ‘okay,’" says Burstein. “The reason why that 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. Why did she stay in her marriage? Was it just a business deal or a real marriage?” Over the course of production, Burstein concluded that it was very much the latter. “The more I talked to both her and her husband, I realized, ‘Okay, this is very much a real marriage … And the more that we can humanize this, the more we can understand this woman and what she went through, as opposed to just judging her.”
6. Bill Clinton required no convincing. “I kind of think he knew [his marital woes] was on the agenda. And then we did have discussions beforehand. ‘This is going to come up. This is going to be talked about. This is why.’ And he sat down and did it,” says Burstein.
7. As for Lewinsky, she was never contacted to be in the doc. Nor, for that matter, was Hillary ever asked explicitly about her, though she talks plenty about the experience. “[Hillary] didn’t know her,” Burstein explains. “I didn’t ask her because I felt that would be a bridge too far and not fair. Obviously [Bill] felt that he should or could comment on it, so he did.”
8. Though Trump himself was never approached (“I didn’t want to go too deep into the election” says Burstein), the producers insist they were surprised by the series of “nos” they received from the right. In fact, the only conservative voice in the doc was Bill Frist, and landing him was a struggle. Burstein did, at one point, track down her top choice talking head, Newt Gingrich, by cell phone, only to be told, he’d “rather stick needles in [his] eye then [sic] do this interview."
9. There was a lot of internal discussion about Hillary's launch date. At one point, there was talk of holding the doc until after the election so as not to get lost in the political noise. “It sucks up all the oxygen,” says Burstein, But, according to Owens, they ultimately concluded it was a very timely story and there would never be a perfect time. “These days, there's incredibly outrageous news every time you blink,” he says. “If you think you're going to get an ideal time, you're kidding yourself.”
10. Clinton saw an almost finished product for the first time in October. Per Owens, her initial reaction to the docuseries, which clocks in at four-plus hours: “I hope it's not too long and people aren't going to get sick of me.” As for her regrets, they were almost entirely personal. "I regretted that my mother wasn't still alive and that my brother was dying while we were doing it," says Clinton. "My best friend from sixth grade is in there and she died in the summer and I'd recommended another good friend and they never got to her before she died. So I was watching it through the lens of what wasn't there and couldn't be there."