Emmys Flashback: Laura Dern Earned a Nom for Portraying Katherine Harris in 2008's 'Recount'

Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2008’s 'Recount.'

The actress, who stars in the HBO telefilm 'The Tale,' channeled Florida's former secretary of state for the story centering on the state's recount after the 2000 presidential election race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Laura Dern, who stars in the HBO TV film The Tale, which made a #MeToo splash at Sundance, had a big year in the Emmy movie race in 2008.

Recount won its category, and Dern received a nomination for supporting actress and won at the Golden Globes. The HBO drama focuses on the Florida recount after the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Sydney Pollock had been set to direct, but illness forced him to drop out. The film premiered the day before he died from cancer May 26, 2008. 

“After Sydney, we went in a completely different direction with Jay Roach,” says then-HBO Films president Colin Callender. “He comes from a more comedic background, and he brought a wryness and an irreverence to the screen.” 

Dern plays Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, who made many of the ballot-counting decisions. Apart from her pro-Bush rulings, Harris is probably best remembered for her cosmetic choices, including berry-red lipstick, extensive layers of makeup and Tammy Faye Bakker-style eyelashes. On Saturday Night Live, she was devastatingly played by Ana Gasteyer. 

“With Katherine, we were trying to get beyond what had been almost a cartoonish public persona,” says Roach. “When you cast a great actress like Laura, I think the audience gets the idea that you’re really trying to understand the soul of the character.” 

Recount shot on location in Florida, where it received a special state rebate for shooting during hurricane season. Roach says being in Florida was key to capturing the essence of the period between the election and the Supreme Court decision. 

“We were under a crazy time crunch and felt like we dropped in — much like the candidates’ legal staff did,” he says.

As for the film’s effect on the election process, Roach is unsure. “Many of the people involved, like Brad Blakeman and Roger Stone, are still around,” he says. “As a cautionary tale, I’m not sure it succeeded.” 

This story first appeared in a May stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.