LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In November 2000, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was the most hated woman in America by many Democrats, which is why self-described liberal Laura Dern loved portraying her in the new HBO movie, "Recount."
The film, which airs on the U.S. cable television network starting on Sunday, takes audiences back to the disputed 2000 presidential election that sent George W. Bush to the White House.
Confusion over "hanging chads" and butterfly ballots led Democratic nominee, then Vice President Al Gore, to challenge the election outcome and call for recounts in Florida, which Harris, a Republican with aspirations for higher office, eventually ordered halted.
Throughout the TV movie, writer Danny Strong characterizes Harris as clueless about the workings of her office but shrewd about decision-making that would favor Republicans. Harris' dual nature, Dern said, is why she loved the role.
"That's what made it even more fun to be honest, to get inside the head of that sort of person, to examine her look and be like her -- all those challenges make it more fun," Dern told Reuters in a recent interview.
"I've never had so much fun in my life," she added.
Dern, 41, has enjoyed many roles over a long career. The daughter of actor Bruce Dern and actress Diane Ladd, Dern began performing small parts as a child and came into her own in her late teens and early 20s in several of director David Lynch's films, including "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart."
In the 1990s, she landed in big Hollywood flicks such as Steven Spielberg's dinosaur thriller "Jurassic Park," but never strayed too far from smaller, independent movies such as "Citizen Ruth," which dealt with the politics of abortion.
"Recount" goes behind closed doors and inside the minds of Republicans and Democrats to attempt to show how party leaders tried to manipulate the counting of votes to their favor.
In the end, after Florida and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it was Harris' job to stop the recount and end the process. As the movie tells it, she did everything legally and within her government-sanctioned power to see that Bush won.
Strong told Reuters his screenplay was based on research from numerous books and interviews with major players, including Bush supporter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.
Dern said she did not try to contact or meet Harris, but that she spent weeks studying videotapes of the former Florida politician's press conferences and transcripts of interviews.
Moreover, Harris went on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for four years before losing an election bid to become a U.S. senator, so she has a long and easily accessible public record.
Dern, who described herself as a "passionate liberal," said that after the 2000 election, she became "deeply disillusioned" with the U.S. political process, but that "Recount" gave her greater insight into what happened.
The movie's audience, she hopes, will also become more aware so that a similar situation will not occur again.
"It should remind people of both parties that (an election) is an opportunity to be heard," she said. "It should remind them, even more, that if they're out there just to be a cynic and not to use their voice, that would be a tragedy."
She added that when she goes to vote now in a state that still uses paper ballots, she is careful to see that she has clearly marked her choices and there are no hanging chad.
"I check my ballot so many times, my 6-year-old checks it for me," she said.