Nanette Burstein tells us how she got the famously private Madame Secretary to open up, for the fascinating documentary about a life lived in the public eye.

Hillary, Nanette Burstein's definitive four-part tell-all about the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, screens Wednesdays on SBS (if you missed the first episode, the entire series is now streaming  at SBS On Demand, see below). It canvases every aspect of a life lived in the public eye: Hillary Rodham’s early days as a feminist trailblazer; her time spent redefining the role of First Lady, with all its scrutiny and scandals; her own tilt at a political career, culminating in her Democratic nomination as the first female candidate for president.

In a wide-ranging interview on SBS movies and TV culture podcast The Playlist, Burstein tells Fiona Williams about how she shaped the epic series from its early origins (a film about the 2016 campaign).  She explains that nothing was off limits in the course of the 35-hours spent interviewing Clinton. Everything from her political aspirations, Whitewater, Benghazi, her emails, and yes, Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, would be discussed. When it comes to the latter, we witness the visible discomfort of finally breaking a decades-long silence to tell the world about the darkest days of their marriage.

"She was not looking forward to it at all, which was abundantly clear"

“Discussing this project, I brought it up and said, ‘We do have to talk about your marriage’, says Burstein. “But she was not looking forward to it at all, which was abundantly clear to me and her. And so it was very difficult for her. She is a private person. She said so in the interview and I put it in the series. It was hard for her to discuss that.”

Burston’s 1:1 interviews (with both Hillary and Bill) are weaved together with over 1,700 hours of campaign footage, and a considerable archive of the 30+ years Clinton has spent in public life.

 “I wanted to open it up into this much broader story about her whole life, Burstein explains. “I think she was very open to it for a couple of reasons:

  1. “I was wanting to frame it in the context of the arc of the women's movements and our history of partisan politics. [To communicate to the audience that] her life served a bigger purpose, and that there would be a lot learned other than just some sort of vanity piece about her life or, flip side, some very dark version of her life.
  2. “I think it was also about legacy. She's not going to run for office anymore. She is not worried about what she has to say in the same way. Her entire adult life, she had to worry because from the time she was in her early thirties, she was the First Lady of Arkansas and it didn't end, her political career, up until a couple years ago.

“So, I think she felt like the timing was right to do this kind of piece and have some kind of legacy of who she was and what she accomplished, and even though it was going to be... She wasn't going to have creative control, but I think in the end she trusted me. I wasn't like a hardcore conservative or anything!”


Listen to Nanette Burstein on The Playlist
(interview starts 11:48) 



Highlights include


On encouraging Hillary to let her guard down

She’s not used to doing this kind of interview. I mean, she's been interviewed millions of times in her life, but always with a very specific agenda of the news of the day. So, she's never just been able to speak freely about all the various things she thinks and feels and her life story and anecdotes in that kind of way. So, I think it took some getting used to, like, "Oh, I can just open up and relax."


On asking Bill Clinton about the night he disclosed to Hillary that he had lied to her, and to the world, about his affair with Monica Lewinsky

Excerpt: “He knew I was going to ask him about that; I didn't want to just spring that on him! But still, I didn't know how honest he would be and how candid he would be. But once we went there and started discussing it, he really opened up and he was actually shaking physically and really emotional, teary-eyed.

It surprised me that he was so candid […] “


On what surprised Burstein most about her documentary subject

On which of Hillary’s flaws she thinks are fairly critiqued

On the role of political journalists in shaping the narrative around Clinton during the 2016 campaign

On the notable absentees in the roster of interview subjects

...And much, much more.



Four-part series Hillary airs weekly on SBS at 8.30pm Wednesdays. All four episodes are now streaming at SBS On Demand

Watch episode 1:


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The Playlist 132: Nanette Burstein talks 'Hillary' / 'The Good Fight' / 'The West Wing' rewatch / 'One Night In Miami' (TIFF)

Our minds are very much on U.S. politics this week, given that Americans will head to the polls for the 2020 presidential election in less than 50 days. We're joined by documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein, who talks to Fiona about making a landmark biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Nothing was off limits during the 35-hours spent interviewing Hillary about her life as a feminist trailblazer and polarising figure in US political life - or when Nanette asked Bill Clinton to open up about confessing all to Hillary about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. You won't want to miss this interview. Elsewhere in this episode, we preview the new season of The Good Fight, Ben has been (re)watching The West Wing, and Fiona has high hopes for Regina King's One Night In Miami. 

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