‘Gaslit’, the accomplices, heroes and lunatics of the ‘Watergate case’ | Television

When Nixon died in 1994, the mother of writer-director Robbie Pickering, then a boy of about eight, followed the news on television from Jersey Village, the small Texas town where they lived. She wouldn’t stop crying. Her son asked her why she was crying. She “looked at me and said: ‘That man was misunderstood. He was a great man, and the Liberals did this and that to him.” Since then, Pickering has been obsessed with that figure that until that moment he only knew that he had been little less than the devil and a bad president of his country. That contrast perhaps explains the ironic look he directs at Watergate case the series of which he is the creator, Gaslit, that the Starzplay platform launches April 24th.

“The atmosphere created around Nixon is really the beginning of a kind of American political culture. I was fascinated by the culture of corruption around him,” Pickering says in a video call interview. For years he tried to put together a series about the 37th president of the United States, but he couldn’t find anyone who would buy his idea. Ten years later, the podcast Slow Burnby the journalist Leon Neyfakh, dedicated to different political scandals, focused its first season on the Watergate and some of its protagonists in the shade. And they offered Pickering to use the sound production as a source —among many others— to make a television fiction that premieres precisely when the events that gave rise to one of the biggest political scandals in the United States are about to turn 50. “I wrote the series during the Trump years, and I stuck to the idea of ​​complicity, why people choose to be complicit even in terrible events, even if it goes against their principles. People choose to do that out of ambition or because they want to feel valued or because of fanaticism. People have this tendency to be complicit in things that are wrong, but they also have the ability to act heroically, no matter how complex or problematic someone is, as happened to Martha Mitchell, ”says the screenwriter.

Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell in 'Gaslit'.
Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell in ‘Gaslit’.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

The Mitchell couple is, precisely, one of the protagonists of his story. He, John Mitchell (an almost unrecognizable Sean Penn), was state attorney general under Nixon and a member of his re-election committee. She, Martha (a Julia Roberts in a bouffant wig), was quite a celebrities A regular in the media who lived surrounded by celebrities and politicians, about whom she knew all their gossip. Her privileged position made her the first to connect the dots and understand that the Republicans were plotting something shady against the Democrats, a complex espionage plot. But when she denounced him, no one believed her.

“The short answer to why that happened is that she was a troubled woman,” says Pickering. “Everyone knows the story of John Dean [abogado y consejero de Nixon entre 1970 y 1973 que acabó testificando contra el expresidente, otro de los protagonistas de la serie] and Nixon and all those men who were alcoholics and sex addicts. But with a woman who is an alcoholic, who is too loud, who is too stubborn, a woman who doesn’t always say the best thing… it’s easy to fall into demagoguery and say she’s crazy and ignore her to the point where even when you read history books on this subject today, after history itself has claimed its place in the Watergate and it is known that he had told the truth all along, those books still do not mention it. They just mention how troublesome she was. The sad truth of this is that it is easier to do it because she was a woman”.

Sean Penn as John Mitchell in 'Gaslit'.
Sean Penn as John Mitchell in ‘Gaslit’.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Another character in this series is G. Gordon Liddy, played by Shea Whigham. He was the FBI agent behind the Democratic Party election headquarters spy operation. “The craziest thing I discovered preparing the series is everything that surrounds G. Gordon Liddy. I got into the darkness of the character and, look, I could write the most crazy and incredible story about him to the point of thinking, ‘this is too absurd’. Well when I read everything he did, he was even more surreal than I could have written. G. Gordon Liddy was crazy. People will watch the show and believe that there was no way this guy could be like that. And they will be right, it was even worse. There was no way to believably bring it to the screen of what a lunatic he was.”

Shea Whigham, G. Gordon Liddy in 'Gaslit'.
Shea Whigham, G. Gordon Liddy in ‘Gaslit’.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

luxury cast

Gaslit manages to bring together on the small screen a group of luxury actors, who, in addition to those already mentioned, complete Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin as John Dean and his wife Mo. As its creator tells, the cast began to form through the roof. “I wrote the first chapter, and my producers asked me, ‘Who do you have at the top of your list?’ And I said, ‘well, Julia Roberts, but we can’t send it to her, she’s never going to come out’. One of the producers of the series is Sam Esmail, creator of mr robot and with whom Roberts worked on the first season of homecoming, so he had a direct line with the protagonist of Pretty Woman. “Turns out Julia Roberts said yes, but she only had one request, and that was to act with Sean Penn, who she’s been friends with for four decades. And then, of course, everyone wanted to act with the two of them, so the rest was easier, ”summarizes Pickering.

When you think of movies dealing with the scandal that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency, they come to mind. thriller political, dramatic and brainy, in the style of All the President’s Men (1976) or The challenge. Frost vs. Nixon (2008). Nevertheless, Gaslit He has opted for a different, more personal look at the secondary characters in the case, climbers willing to do anything, staunch fans but also shadowy heroes, people without whom those crimes could not have been committed and would not have ended up coming to light. A more human and close look, and also with more humor. “Actually, when I was writing the series I didn’t think about the tone, the writers only thought about telling it honestly. When you’re writing about someone at the top of the government doing terrible things out of ambition, I was trying to remember what I was like in my 20s and the shameful things I did. That was the personal perspective that we wanted to bring to the series. That’s why you can’t help but be funny, because people are funny. We do things for very dumb reasons. In the end, we’re all a bit of a jerk.”

Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin, in 'Gaslit'.
Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin, in ‘Gaslit’.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

attraction to him Watergate

This will not be the only series that this year will enter the Watergate case. HBO has in portfolio to premiere in 2022 The White House Plumbers, with Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Lena Headey and Domhall Gleeson as protagonists. It will be a five-episode miniseries based on the public records of what happened in 1972 and will tell how E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were responsible for the Nixon presidency, which they wanted to protect at any cost, to end in the worst way possible. Why this attraction of both cinema and television for a scandal that took place half a century ago? “I think it’s because, in the American psyche, it was one of those moments in American history where the powerful were really held accountable,” says Robbie Pickering. “Is not that Watergate There was only one, these things keep happening. But the powerful have found more and more cunning ways to get out of trouble, they are no longer ashamed. Looking back on that moment, we forced Nixon out of government. We caught him. The American system worked,” he concludes.

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