While “Gaslit” tried to stay true to history, Pickering left room for artistic interpretation. (A 2020 series of Epix documentaries based on “Slow Burn” offers a more journalistic narration.) The production decided not to interview the Deans—the Mitchells are no longer alive—because “every Watergate player except Martha had a chance to paint their way,” Pickering said.
Penn was in high school during the scandal and remembers being stuck with the developments. “When this thing hit, I was obsessed. I couldn’t leave the television,” he said.
But he didn’t remember much about John Mitchell, so he turned to James Rosen’s 2008 biography “The Strong Man,” and spoke to experts. “You play with things based on your best guess,” Penn said. “Although it’s a true story, it also has a rhythm of its own.”
The makeup and costume teams went out of their way to make the main characters look real. To turn Penn into a burly, jovial John Mitchell, the actor recruited Kazu Hiro, a makeup and prosthetic artist who turned Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for “Darkest Hour.” Hiro created nose, cheek, chin and neck pieces with platinum silicone so they would have the feel and look of real skin. It took about two and a half hours for each production day to be applied.
Despite the Nixon administration’s efforts to silence Martha Mitchell, “the mouth of the South,” as it was called, would not shut up. As described in the series, the woman who was once a darling of the Republican Party became an outcast as soon as she began publicly pushing for the president’s corruption. Meanwhile, her husband’s declarations of devotion, as she forged behind her back, made her feel like she was going crazy. (Hence the show’s title.) Her addiction to alcohol and tranquilizers only made things worse.
After the Mitchells’ divorce, the show portrays Martha as deeply lonely and at times suicidal. In 1976 — the same year “All the President’s Men” debuted in movie theaters — she died of a rare bone marrow cancer at age 57.
“I don’t think she ever had the clarity of mind to say, ‘I’m going to rewrite the story on my own,'” Roberts said. “She just never had that chance.”