Watergate Movie Was Meant to Be Funny. Then Came Trump

The makers of “Watergate,” a film about the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, first intended to make a lightly humorous study of the affair. Then came Donald Trump.

The movie, having its European premier at the Berlin Film Festival, recounts the fall of President Richard Nixon, starting with the break-in by thieves seeking material to help his election campaign at the Democratic Party’s offices in Washington’s Watergate complex.

It blends interviews with participants in the affair with original footage and dramatized re-enactments of Nixon’s conversations, using tape recordings from the listening devices the Republican president installed in the Oval Office.

Director Charles Ferguson started making the film before Trump became a candidate. But once the real estate magnate and former reality television star won the White House, Ferguson felt he had to adjust the tone.

“The original film had more humor in it and was more of a real-life political thriller,” he told Reuters on Tuesday. “As all these parallels unfolded … I came to realize that just wasn’t appropriate and I had to make a very serious film.”

Trump’s presidency, like Nixon’s, has been conducted in the shadow of an investigation by a special prosecutor. In Trump’s case, Robert Mueller is investigating Russian influence in the election. Several of the president’s top campaign aides have been indicted or convicted. Trump calls it a witch hunt.

“Watergate – Or: How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President” shows scenes of tense conversations in the Oval Office between a Nixon who is by turns charming, bullying, paranoid or furious, and associates including Henry Kissinger and Bob Haldeman. Nixon is played by the Tony Award-winning British stage actor Douglas Hodge.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporters who first revealed that the Watergate break-in was more than a simple burglary, are also interviewed.

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