Julia Roberts says she was so excited to see Sean Penn arrive on the set of his TV series “Gaslit” that it almost caused a wardrobe problem.
“He came in with all his hair and makeup and costume and I was so excited I ran to hug him and I ran so fast that between my body pad and his body pad I just bounced off him. I can’t believe his head hasn’t come off his costume,” Roberts said. “We laughed a lot.”
Penn plays John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney general. Roberts plays her wife Martha Mitchell, known as “the mouth of the South,” a talk show regular who eavesdropped on her husband’s phone conversations and alerted reporters with gossip about Washington’s elite. .
Her indiscretions caused such problems that her husband ordered security to keep her in a hotel room for 24 hours after the Watergate Hotel break-in. Mitchell claimed that her phones and television were taken from her and that they assaulted her and injected her with a tranquilizer to prevent her from trying to leave her. The ordeal was so traumatic that it led to the end of her marriage.
“Gaslit,” which opens Sunday, isn’t just another chronicle of the Watergate scandal, but instead focuses on lesser-known stories of the time, like Martha Mitchell’s. The series is based on the first season of the “Slow Burn” podcast hosted by Leon Neyfakh.
Roberts, who is also an executive producer, was interested in “the idea that we can dig into something that’s part of American history and show people things that they didn’t know at all, or thought they knew, but maybe they were wrong.” ”.
She feels protective of Mitchell’s legacy and hopes viewers will see past the exterior of the big personality.
“She was a stutterer. She was dyslexic. She had a lot of anxiety when speaking in front of people, something you would never see when you look at some of her pictures. She’s so witty, quick and sharp, and she doesn’t miss a beat. It’s impossible to believe that she was nervous in front of people, and yet she really was. She kind of paralyzed her, and I think that’s one of the things that led to her binge drinking before some of these performances, because they really were performances, it wasn’t her personality at heart.”
“Gaslit” also gives a literal voice to Maureen “Mo” Dean, the wife of White House Counsel John Dean.
Maureen Dean, an attractive blonde-haired woman, used to appear on camera during the Watergate hearings, sitting stoically and silently behind her husband as he testified.
Betty Gilpin plays Maureen Dean in “Gaslit” (with Dan Stevens as John) and says she was surprised by her research on the series.
“My dad was a big connoisseur of Watergate and he was obsessed with the hearings and he always told me that everyone was glued to the television. I was prepared not to be able to look away when he saw them.” However, he found them to be “dry, boring and endless”.
Realizing that gave Gilpin a window into her character and the audience’s fascination with this young woman in the background of their screens.
“I feel like the cameraman said, ‘Look at this beautiful blonde. I’m going to frame her because we have to keep the viewers.’”
The Maureen Dean we see in “Gaslit” is much more than a woman who supports her husband; she is an informed person with strong views on the government who will not hesitate to rein in her husband’s ego when necessary.
“Our series takes creative license and is not an exact transcription of what happened,” said Gilpin, who also read the 1975 memoir “Mo: A Woman’s View of Watergate” to prepare. “I wanted to honor the real Mo Dean, while taking my own license and creating a three-dimensional person.”