Actor Dan Stevens says his new Watergate drama 'Gaslit' tries to look at people other than former US president Richard Nixon as well as journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to deliver stories of individuals whose lives were turned upside down by the scandal.
The British star, best known for playing Matthew Crawley in the popular series 'Downton Abbey' and The Beast in Disney hit 'Beauty and the Beast', is part of the ensemble cast of the show, which is based on award-winning podcast 'Slow Burn' and centres around the infamous scandal that brought down the presidency of Nixon in 1974.
Led by Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, the show focuses on several untold stories, including Nixon’s opportunistic subordinates, deranged zealots, and the whistle-blowers during that era.
Stevens said the show takes a "fascinating dive" into the Watergate scandal, which was a crucial and interesting chapter of American history.
"(It was) one of the first and massively televised media scandals. I sat down with the director, Matt Ross, and talked about his vision for it, the tone they wanted to take, really bringing out the absurdity of it and the comedy inherent in it, even though there is obviously, sort of a very dramatic, thrilling element to it."
"There's also a real catalog of idiots involved and they're great fun to explore. He was putting together just a fantastic cast, not least Sean Penn and Julia Roberts, but just a really fantastic group of actors working with this material,” Stevens said.
'Gaslit', currently streaming on Lionsgate Play in India, mainly presents the story of Roberts' Martha Mitchell, a celebrity Arkansan socialite and wife to Nixon's loyal Attorney General, John Mitchell, played by Penn.
Despite her party affiliation, she’s the first person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, causing both the presidency and her personal life to unravel.
Stevens features in the show as John Dean, a former White House counsel.
Before working on the show, the 39-year-old said he knew about the Watergate scandal through films like 1976's Oscar winner 'All The President's Men,' starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, and Oliver Stone's 1995 political drama 'Nixon'.
The actor said his knowledge of Watergate was more related to 'All The President's Men' and the journalistic side of the story -- Woodward and Bernstein uncovering this great scandal.
He said he did not know half the stories that the series uncovers before he came across the 'Slow Burn' podcast.
"Like the story of Martha Mitchell and how she was silenced. The story of Mo Dean, John Dean's wife and how instrumental she was in how he worked his way through this whole situation. The story of Frank Wills, the guard who bust the whole thing wide open. A lot of these characters are footnotes and sidelines traditionally. And I loved the way that they were being foregrounded here."
Nixon, the man who lost his presidency due to the scandal, is a minor figure in the series, Stevens added.
"Nixon barely features in the series. He is a very minor character but he's always looming there. His portrait is always in the background and things like that, but we don't see the man himself. It's more about the men and women, behind those men around Nixon, crawling towards the circles of power."
The actor believes that revisiting history and an event like the Watergate scandal is important so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
"A bit of a time between an event and how we analyze it can give you a very interesting perspective, especially on what's recently happened. And sometimes, it's too soon to process what's happening in the last five years or something but we need a lens to sort of analyze the personality types that flock around corruption and power.
"What we're seeing today, media and politics, distrust and disinformation, and gaslighting which still occurs in politics and the media, just in different forms... a lot of those seeds were sown at this time.”
Asked if the lessons of the past will ever be actually learned, the actor said one can always hope for the same.
"But history does have a way of repeating itself. And I think by retelling these stories and highlighting certain elements of them, that's our service in a way. It is like, 'Guys, don't forget. What happened here is very similar to what's happening here and here and here.'
"And you know, you're looking at all sorts of administrations, you look at Boris Johnson. There's an awful lot of corruption out there and an awful lot of people trying to sort of sweep it under the carpet, control the media, control the narrative, silence the people who are trying to speak the truth. And that's never going to go away."
[With Inputs From PTI]