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“The Choice 2016,” a Frontline documentary, takes an up-close and detailed look at the lives of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Starting their stories when they were children, producer and director Michael Kirk lays everything out on the table. Judy Woodruff speaks with him about the making of the film and what it reveals about the two people vying for the presidency.
Tonight on PBS' "Frontline:" an in-depth look at the two people who debated last night, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and what drives them.
"The Choice" examines their background, asks what has shaped them and looks at why each wants to take on the presidency.
Hillary decided to fight. She took charge of her husband's political comeback.
ROBERT REICH, Former U.S. Labor Secretary:
Hillary got very involved in the campaign. For all intents and purposes, she was the campaign manager.
One of her first moves, rebrand herself and become Mrs. Clinton.
It was symbolic. I'm sure she had to swallow hard, but it was just not worth trying to keep her last name, at the expense of everything they wanted to achieve together.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: In order to avoid any problem and to put it to rest, I will forever be known as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
She completely forfeited her own identity, at least physically, got rid of the glasses, got her hair dyed, started dressing at least modestly better, wore some makeup, cultivated a little bit of a drawl.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:
The road to being somebody in this society starts with education.
The transformation was a surprise to some of those who had known her the longest.
When she had to begin the change her appearance, dye her hair, lose a lot of weight, get rid of her glasses, not speak up, not be as much who she was, that hurt all of us. We all felt sad about that. It was hard. It was hard on us. It was hard on her.
She formed an alliance with a controversial political consultant from New York, Dick Morris.
DICK MORRIS, Former Clinton Presidential Adviser:
She has a wonderful instinct for the jugular. She felt that he had lost it because he wasn't tough enough, wasn't strong enough. And she reached out to me because she felt that I would be stronger and tougher.
I think it only intensified and began a lot of the characteristics that you saw from then on, that the ends justify the means, that we will do what we have to do to win, turn to the dark arts of politics to survive.
TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, Author, "TrumpNation": he was seen for quite a long time as a punchline, the jokes about the excesses and the failures of the 1980s. And he had become, you know, a human shingle and a punchline. "The Apprentice" turned all that on its head.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: New York, my city, where the wheels of the global economy never stop turning.
He became seen as a credible businessperson with a real track record, even though that was at odds with reality. And the guy who became a reality TV star via "The Apprentice" learned that he could become a reality political star.
Who will succeed and who will fail, and who will be the apprentice?
For 14 seasons, millions of Americans watched a carefully crafted Donald Trump.
ROGER STONE, Trump Policy Adviser:
He's perfectly made up. He's perfectly coiffed. He's perfectly lit. He's in a high-back chair making tough decisions. What does he look like? He looks like a president.
OMAROSA MANIGAULT, Former Contestant on "The Apprentice": Donald connected with the American public because they wanted to be like him. They aspired to be just like him. They wanted to see all of his affluence, and he let them see it. He let them into every aspect of what it meant to be successful in America.
Everybody's saying I should run for president. Let me ask you a question. Meatloaf, should I run for president?
MICHAEL LEE "MEATLOAF" ADAY, Singer: Absolutely.
As the show took off, Trump again began to discuss a run for the White House.
Who wouldn't vote for him? Who wouldn't vote for him?
All right. Good.
Don't raise your hand.
And I am joined now by the producer and the director of the film, Michael Kirk.
Good to see you again.
MICHAEL KIRK, Producer/Director, "The Choice 2016": You, too, Judy.
So, you were telling me this is your fourth choice — look at the presidential candidates over the last more than a decade. What was different about these two?
Well, almost everything.
Usually, you have two politicians. You have got a record to compare. You have got a time frame to measure up against. What you have here is one of the most overexposed political figures in Hillary Clinton, been on the stage a long time, and one of the most overexposed celebrities of all time, Donald Trump.
And they're side by side in chronology, but not in any other way. So, when the '60s happened, she's doing one thing. He's not doing one thing. He's doing something else. So, there's room for some comparison, but mostly it's just so different because they're so disliked.
You have got the highest negatives for both candidates of any campaign I remember. And it changed the nature of the way people answered our questions, when we were interviewing their closest friends and associates.
What do you mean?
They were just ready to dish, and they really came with a kind of sober reflection.
We do two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour interviews, as you know, with people. And we did 25 for each side, and got real close to a lot of people, and they all sat there through those long interviews and began to pour out their anxieties, their angst, their ambivalences about the two candidates.
So, these are two people we have heard so much about, each one of them, by now. We think there couldn't be anything else out there we haven't heard. And yet you think you got some new material.
We went below the white noise, which was the first thing I decided to do.
The second thing I decided to do was just tell their stories. Don't try to get too political about it. Don't try to balance things out too much. Just go straightforwardly through Trump, warts and all, and through Hillary, warts and all.
It meant in some ways that we would end up spending a lot of time in the troubled dark spaces of things that have happened to them, everything from Trump's divorce from Ivanka and the headlines and that tawdry business that was around that, Monica, Gennifer Flowers. All of that gets laid out in a way that I think fits because it starts with their stories when they were little children and moves right through it.
And you're left with a sense of two people, two warriors. You saw them last night, real fighters, but she is much more closed, much more nicked up, much more beaten up by the negativity than he seems to be.
What did you — what surprised you about the two of them?
Well, the thing that surprised me the most about him was that he's very, very, very hungry for all of it. And he has been since he was a little kid.
And he has failed and he's dropped and he's flopped, and he's not the great businessman that he said he was. He's been schooled in the hardball of business and life by Roy Cohn, one of the toughest characters in recent American history. But he's hungry. He really wants it.
And he started in 1988. We found speeches that he gave in 1988 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that you could play today and believe that they're the same speeches.
And what about her, Hillary Clinton?
Hillary was — the great mystery of Hillary, from my point of view, I had no idea what a powerful force she was in 1969 and '70 and '71.
She does the commencement speech at Wellesley, gets in "LIFE" magazine, is called by some people a voice of a generation. She is really on the road. She's at that thin edge of the wedge of feminism in 1969 and 1970 and a kind of person who everybody, Marian Wright Edelman and lots of people sort of take her under their wing.
She goes to the Watergate commission. She meets Bill at Yale, to be sure, but she goes to the Watergate committee, and works there. And everybody thinks she's on her way. And suddenly she announces, I'm going to Arkansas to live with this bounder, Bill Clinton, and we're going to get involved in politics.
And everybody, everybody that we talked to said, how can this be? I think Robert Reich was heartbroken. I think he just — literally, on camera, you see him sort of melt down reliving what that decision meant for her.
Well, you're setting up two stories that we really, really want to hear. We will be watching.
Michael Kirk with "Frontline," we thank you.
And a reminder:
"Frontline: The Choice 2016" premieres tonight on most PBS stations.
Watch the Full Episode
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