1:57am PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Hillary Rodham Clinton ('Hillary')
"I will tell you, it's frustrating to be on the sidelines in a pandemic," Hillary Rodham Clinton tells me via teleconference from the home in Chappaqua, New York, that she shares with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. "But I'm trying — through speaking out, and raising money for groups and candidates, and doing everything I can — to stay as involved as possible, even at a distance."
Clinton, of course, is far more accustomed to being centrally involved in solving major problems facing Americans, having served as First Lady (1993-2001), United States Senator (2001-2009), Secretary of State (2009-2013), and been a candidate for president (2008 and 2016). But since her shocking loss to Donald Trump in 2016, she has largely stepped away from the spotlight — except to attend Trump’s inauguration (she says his speech was "dreadful"), to release a memoir entitled What Happened, to endorse the 2020 candidacy of Joe Biden and to appear in a four-part docuseries about her life and times that was directed by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nanette Burstein and entitled Hillary.
Hillary began streaming on Hulu on March 6, has been very well received and on Monday was named the year’s best limited documentary series by the Critics’ Choice Real TV Awards. With Emmy voting getting underway on Thursday, Hillary, now 72, agreed to an hourlong conversation with The Hollywood Reporter about the docuseries, as well as the rollercoaster life and tumultuous times that it chronicles. You can hear the entire conversation — and read key excerpts — below.
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Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.
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How did the docuseries come about? "After 2016, I was approached about doing a kind of retrospective documentary about the campaign. We had about 2,000 hours of behind-the-scenes footage that this very dedicated team of young videographers and filmmakers had put together — they followed me around, and it was really like the fly on the wall, you forgot they were there, so they got a lot of really interesting stories that they captured. And I thought, 'Well, okay, we'll do that.' What was originally envisioned as a campaign doc — not unlike The War Room, the 1993 doc about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign — instead became something broader after Burstein was hired. "She came back after looking at all that footage and said, 'Look, there's a much bigger story here. There is the story of your life, but it's also the story of women's lives, it's the story of American politics over the last 50-plus years, and that's the story I want to tell. Would you cooperate with that?' And, for the first time in decades, I wasn't running for something, I wasn't in public office and I said, 'Okay, I will.' And I think my answer, Scott, to be honest, surprised me a little bit when it came out of my mouth.'"
What was it like being interviewed by Burstein for 35 hours over seven days, with all subjects — including Monica Lewinsky — on the table? "I will confess, there were moments when it was harder than others and it was a very intense experience."
What was it like to see the finished docuseries? "The first time I saw it was like an out-of-body experience." It was also her first time seeing one piece of footage that she had only heard about before. "Sitting there, watching this, and seeing myself burned in effigy, given what's going on in the world today and how really crazy and scary the time can be, I was like, 'Wow, what was going on then, and what is going on now, that trying to get universal healthcare provokes that level of hatred?'"
Who were her role models as a child? "When I was a young girl, I did not know any women who worked outside the home, personally, other than my teachers and the public school librarians, so there were not images or real-life role models that I could look to."
Why was she so disappointed, as a child, to be told by NASA that she could not work for them? "To be told I couldn't do something because I was a girl? That had never happened to me before, and that was a real eye-opener."
Why is Eleanor Roosevelt one of her heroes? "The more I learned about her, the more I admired her... She said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.' So she's always been a kind of North Star to me."
If she had not followed her law school classmate and boyfriend Bill Clinton to Arkansas in 1974 and married him in 1975, would she ultimately have been more or less successful in politics? "I find it impossible to answer... I did follow my heart to Arkansas... We were both considered top lawyers under 40, we were both perceived as having incredible futures, but I never saw myself as a political candidate. I saw myself as an activist."
How has she managed to handle decades of criticism — of her name, voice, clothes — and accusations of impropriety? "I had to learn early on in Bill's political career to take criticism seriously but not personally. There are things you can learn from your critics because sometimes your friends won't tell you that you're messing up or that you could do something better — sometimes the critics have a point. But you cannot allow criticism to literally undermine your self-confidence and to destroy your own ideas and your dreams... So much of that is rooted — let's be clear here — in misogyny and sexism. Everybody has an opinion about a woman in the public arena."
Why did she and other members of her family socialize with Donald Trump in the years prior to 2016, including attending his 2005 wedding in Florida? "Those were encounters that were not very many and not of great moment, certainly to me. We all lived in New York. We all encountered each other. And until he became a Republican, Donald Trump supported Democrats in the New York delegation and elsewhere in the country. And, you know, literally, we were invited to his wedding, and Bill was making a speech in Palm Beach, and I thought, 'Wow, I'm gonna go see what this is about'... I don't know what happened to the person who supported Democrats and then became a 'birther,' questioning, you know, President Obama's birth certificate, and then became a virulently anti-immigrant candidate, when he had used immigrant labor for everything he built. I don't know. It was all opportunistic. So yeah, I did know him, just like I know, you know, literally hundreds of thousands of people."
During or after the 2016 race, did she ever fear that Trump would actually "lock her up"? "I didn't know what he was capable of... Look, if I had ever done anything wrong, he would have gone after me. Let me put it that way. You know, I've never done anything wrong. I'm, you know, as some people like to say, the most investigated, exonerated person in recent history. But if he could have found anything that he thought could impose some kind of cost on me — because, at the root of this, Scott, is he fears that his win — that narrow win in the Electoral College — was not legitimate. Part of what he does in the way he lashes out is because, deep down, he knows the Russians helped him, despite his incredible efforts to deny it. He knows WikiLeaks helped him. He understands all of that. So if he could [have gone after me] — as he has tried to do, to go after people all the time, and thankfully without a lot of success — he would have, because he's a vindictive score-settler and he doesn't want the legitimacy of his election ever to be questioned, although history will continue to question it. So, thankfully, you know, I never did anything that gave him any cause, despite his best efforts."
Was she aware of the misinformation about her that was spread on social media in 2016? "I was dying. I was endlessly dying. I was constantly dying. In fact, this interview, you are interviewing a ghost."
How big a problem is Facebook? "We are divided by sources of information... If you create algorithms for Facebook, controversy drives more clicks, conspiracies are just manna from Heaven, they will get people's attention... I'm also impressed by this latest effort called [Stop] Hate For Profit where advertisers are pulling their advertising from Facebook. Facebook has to be held accountable because they trafficked in conspiracy, they trafficked in misinformation, they trafficked in Russian disinformation, and they've got to be held accountable because we're gonna have another election, and everybody should know what's at stake and then cast their vote accordingly."
Is it possible that in 2016 Russians influenced not only voters but vote counts? "There are still a lot of unanswered questions about what they were doing probing registration bases and what they were doing probing election systems. So far, that has not been nailed down. But the influence certainly has."
What advice would she give pre-2016 election Hillary if she could go back in time? "The thing that I look back on is the difficulty we had in defending against the action that [then-FBI director James] Comey took 10 days out from the election putting out a statement that I was being investigated again, even though it tunred out there was nothing new there and there was no there there. I would have figured out a better way of countering that, because it really did raise understandable questions in voters' minds, and I watched internally as my numbers dropped in key places like Pennsylvania because, all of a sudden, this was back in the news. So if we could have figured out a better way to counter that and not let it drag on."
Would she have handled the current moment of crisis better than Trump has? "We wouldn't have been able to stop the pandemic at our borders the way that Trump claimed in the beginning, but we sure could have done a better job saving lives, modeling better, more responsible behavior. I don't think we necessarily should have had as deep an economic assault on livelihoods and jobs as we have. So I know I would have done a better job."
If Trump is defeated in 2020, does she think he will leave the White House without a fight? "I don't know the answer to that yet. I think it depends upon how big the loss is, and that's why they're doing everything they can to prevent people from voting — you know, they want to stop mail-in voting, they want to shrink the number of places where people can actually vote in person — because they know if we have a big turnout, they lose. And so we're gonna have lots of fights over actual voting procedures between now and November. And if they can do anything that makes it look questionable, they will. And that's why everybody needs to come out and vote — I don't care where you live — and have as big a turnout as possible so that there can't be any excuse given."
Should Trump be 'locked up' after he leaves office? "I believe in the rule of law. If there's evidence that he should be investigated, then hopefully a non-partisan, very deliberative process would be used, not what we're seeing in the current Justice Department, which is undermining the rule of law and our institutions."
Would she beat Trump if she were on the ballot again in November? "Yes. But I think people believe that this is a referendum on him."
Will she ever run for president again? "No. Not in the cards."