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It’s time to take a trip back in time. “To when?” You might ask. Well, get ready for some big hair, bold prints, and a major political scandal. That’s right, we’re heading back to the ‘70s to a little historic event you might’ve heard about called Watergate — and the woman who opened the flood gates to one of the most notorious stories in Washington D.C.
This Sunday, April 24, the STARZ mini-series Gaslit debuts and offers a new perspective on Watergate — that of Martha Mitchell, the wife of United States Attorney General under President Richard Nixon. Based on the real-life events (and the real people) directly involved in and on the periphery of Watergate, Gaslit highlights how Martha Mitchell (played by Julia Roberts) shined a not-so-flattering light on the Nixon administration and their attempts to cover up their crimes. But there were some who’d rather if Martha kept quiet, thus beginning the process of gaslighting her in some of the worst ways possible.
Though we’re sure the mini-series will take some artistic license, this story must be seen to be believed. Fortunately for us, some of the biggest talents in Hollywood are on board for this project, and they’ve wholly transformed into their roles. From Julia Roberts to Dan Stevens, Sean Penn, and Betty Gilpin, we had to do a bit of a double-take here and there when we saw these photos. Take a look at the actors vs. the real-life people they’re playing with this slideshow and learn more about the real-life people who inspired Gaslit.
Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell
Martha Mitchell was the wife of President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell. At the height of the Watergate scandal, Martha Mitchell was privy to quite a bit of information that was being relayed to her husband — a noted Nixon loyalist. But when it became clear Martha might start talking to reporters, she was kidnapped, drugged, and subdued by Nixon’s lackeys.
Nixon’s allies set out on a mission make Martha look like a hysterical drunk to lead the nation astray from what she knew of the Watergate scandal. Reactions to Mitchell — even her effort to try and defend her husband’s direct involvement in the scandal — varied. But after President Nixon’s 1977 interview with David Frost, she was wholly vindicated. “If it hadn’t been for Martha [Mitchell], there’d have been no Watergate,” Nixon memorably said, per Slate’s Slowburn podcast. Martha Mitchell passed away in 1976, roughly four years following the Watergate scandal.
Sean Penn as John Mitchell
In the time immediately after he served as President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell remained a loyal ally to the president during his re-election campaign. Mitchell was directly involved with the Watergate scandal, and instructed former FBI agent, Steve King, to make sure his wife didn’t leave her California hotel room and begin sharing information about the scandal with reporters.
In 1975, Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. The most important quality to know about Mitchell? He put his loyalty to President Nixon ahead of his wife, who endured gaslighting from Nixon’s cronies.
Dan Stevens as John Dean
John Dean served as the White House Counsel between 1970-1973, deep in the middle of the Watergate scandal. At first, Dean was directly involved with the Watergate cover-up — taking charge of destroying files and more. When he was finally tasked with completing an entire report on the Watergate scandal, at the direction of President Nixon, he started pulling back. Eventually, Dean was fired by Nixon, cooperated with prosecutors, and plead guilty to obstruction of justice.
Betty Gilpin as Maureen “Mo” Kane Dean
Maureen “Mo” Kane Dean married White House Counsel John Dean in 1972. Maureen is largely remembered for sitting stoically behind her husband during the highly-publicized Watergate hearings in the ’70s, but her influence on her husband is explored in greater detail (and with some potential artistic license) in the Gaslit mini-series.
Shea Whigham as G. Gordon Liddy
G. Gordon Liddy was a former FBI agent who was responsible for organizing and executing the Democratic National Committee headquarters burglary in 1972. Liddy was ultimately sentenced to more than 50 months in federal prison for conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping.
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