Sony Pictures brought two awards-worthy gems to Deadline’s The Contenders LA on Saturday: political biopic The Front Runner and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
A retelling of the 1988 scandal that saw Democratic Sen. Gary Hart and presidential hopeful caught in an extramarital affair, The Front Runner seems particularly relevant in this politically fraught time, director Jason Reitman said.
“I would be very happy with less relevance,” he said grimly, getting a laugh of recognition from the Contenders audience at the DGA Theater. “It had all this connective tissue to today. … We wake up, we open up the news app, we look at the headlines and we go ‘F*ck!”
The film also highlights the way that “tabloid journalism and political journalism all started to drive into the same lane,” Reitman said, drawing an analogy with finding stories about politics and Ariana Grande’s relationship on the same page of his online news. And Hart’s situation was one of the first to blend public outrage with a presidential race in the way that has become normalized. “He was a human being who made real mistakes,” Reitman said, “and got us into the conversation of what kind of flaws we are willing to put up with from our leaders.”
Hugh Jackman did exhaustive research to play Hart, collecting multiple notebooks on his subject, and told Deadline’s moderator Pete Hammond that he related to Hart’s trauma in some ways, given the exposure he himself lives with. “I understand it a little bit,” he said. “But Gary’s personality is different from mine. If you ask me a question, I’ll probably answer it, but he’s a private person by nature, which makes it all the more fascinating that he ran for the most public job in the world.”
But it was the film’s complexity and lack of polarity that resonated enormously with Jackman. “There are no heroes; there are no villains,” he said. “I’m more interested in the gray areas of life. I’m more interested in the vulnerable side of superheroes. I’m more interested in the flaws.”
Showing the film to Hart and his wife Lee was the “scariest thing,” Reitman said. But all seemingly went well. “We all went for hot chocolate together — their choice — and the first thing Gary said was, he asked his wife, ‘Do I really talk like that?’ and Lee said, ‘Yes darling, that’s exactly how you speak.'”
Sony’s other Contenders offering, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is a refreshing incarnation of the Spider-Man story, in that not only does it feature hand-drawn animation, but it focuses on the 13 year-old Miles Morales, an African-American/Puerto Rican character inspired in part by Barack Obama and Donald Glover. It also features more than one Spider-Person, since anyone can wear this superhero mask, representing the possibility of being whomever you choose to be.
“This is a story that’s been told a few times before,” co-writer and producer Phil Lord said. “And what’s so neat about being able to tell this story is these guys are all from different universes, and this is the first time that get to meet. They come from all different backgrounds, and different time periods, but they all resonate with each other.”
Although known to comic book fans, the character of Miles felt compelling to co-director Peter Ramsey, he said. “Why another Spider-Man movie? I mean, I know I asked that,” he said. “Of course, part of the reason was to introduce Miles.”
As producer Christopher Miller–who, together with Lord, worked on The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street–added, “This movie shows a diaspora of people, but especially Miles, who is a really interesting character, and makes this movie extraordinarily special.”
Voicing Miles is Shameik Moore, who deserves every accolade, Lord said. “It’s hard to ignore what Shameik has done. That guy has done a lot of sessions. He even put it on his vision board on the set of Dope and said, ‘I want to be Miles Morales.'”