'Mayor Pete' Director Jesse Moss Reveals How He Got 'Reserved' Pete Buttigieg to Open Up in New Doc

Mayor Pete is now available to stream on Amazon Prime

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty

At 39, Pete Buttigieg has achieved more than most do over the span of an entire lifetime having served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, working as Mayor of South Bend, and running for president as a Democratic candidate.

Now, the husband, father and current Secretary of Transportation, adds another milestone to his legacy: he's the subject of a new documentary.

Directed by Jesse Moss (The Overnighters), Amazon's film Mayor Pete takes viewers inside Buttigieg's run for the presidency, his marriage to Chasten Buttigieg and how the couple handled messaging around the candidate's sexuality on the 2020 trail.

PEOPLE spoke with Moss about the making of the film and how he got Buttigieg — who made history as the first open member of the LGBTQ community to be confirmed to a cabinet-level position — to open up for the cameras.

When did Pete come on your radar as someone that you wanted to profile?

March, 2019. He was dipping his toe in the presidential waters. He had announced an exploratory committee, but not officially announced his candidacy. And that was around the time that we reached out to him. My producers had an introduction to Pete and they reached out. And I think at that point he had a staff of four. He was definitely a long shot candidate, but we proposed this idea of a documentary. Pete's committed to transparency. I think he was intrigued by the idea — wasn't probably fully sure what he was signing up for, but then again, neither were we.

Mayor Pete
Amazon Prime Video

And actually when my producers proposed the idea, I said no. I knew who Pete was. I knew he was a rising star in the party, but I just wasn't ready to sign up for this. But they said check out this town hall that he just did. And I did. And I was like, okay, wow, there's more going on here than I really imagined. His message is powerful, it's resonating clearly. And I said let's try, let's see what happens. Let's see if this access that he's promised is really for real. And so we just jumped in and that was April 2019 I started filming.

Was he forthcoming in the beginning? There are some raw moments in the film, but he does come off as quite guarded.

Yeah. I think Pete is… He's reserved. He's great on stage. He's great in front of a TV camera. But just sort of directly one to one he's a little bit standoffish, I would say. And controlled. And these are often the enemies of great documentary. I mean, you want subjects who are flamboyant, who are extroverted, who are out of control sometimes, and that's really not Pete. But we had this access. I mean, we had agreed that we wouldn't embark on the project if he wasn't willing to let us into the room. And that was really the most compelling thing, not the campaign whistle stop tour in Iowa. It's really what was happening behind the scenes in his life and in this campaign. And I think access in theory is really different than access in fact.

So he'd agreed, we were on board, but proving that out was every day a negotiation. I wouldn't say with him, but just kind of keeping up with him. Sometimes getting past staff who were there to protect him and keep you out was a challenge. Not that we had to sneak in, we didn't sneak in, but just that his time became really precious. And I wanted sometimes the downtime, that was the most valuable thing to me. Not when he was on stage, but when he was at home with Chasten, or meeting with his top advisors or in debate prep. And so those were the moments where we really got to step behind the curtain and see what it was like for him as a person to be going through this process. And that's really where the story began to emerge for me.

How did his husband play a role in him opening up?

I knew that I was interested in Pete, I didn't know when I started that I was interested in Chasten. And immediately when I met Chasten I thought that remoteness that Pete has, maybe Chasten is a way to understand Pete in a really grounded way. And it was like I recognized that opening and I kind of charged through. And Chasten was really supportive of the project and we connected, he and I connected.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, right, and his husband Chasten Buttigieg acknowledge the audience at the end of a campaign event, in Milford, N.H Election 2020 Pete Buttigieg, Milford, USA - 10 Feb 2020
Chasten (left) and Pete Buttigieg. Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

We saw that, actually one of the first scenes I filmed that really proved to me the potential of the project was Pete gives that really moving speech at the Victory Fund, where he talks about being closeted and growing up and struggling with his identity. And after that, him and Chasten have that really intimate moment together. Chasten was like, "Are you sure? Are you really saying what I thought you were saying?" And I thought, wow, they're letting me film this really intimate moment in their relationship. And this is really getting at something personal. But also it's about what's public in their identity, Pete's identity. And I saw a new possibility with this story.

What's your relationship like now with the subjects?

I mean, I feel close to Pete, and Chasten too. And there's a lot of love and respect that I have for them. We stay in touch. I haven't seen them in a while. I think Pete's busy with his new job and they have these twin newborns [they welcomed twins Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg in August], but we've had a great conversation about the film. It's stretched on for months and months. He saw some cuts of the movie. No editorial control of the film, that resides with me. But the conversation that I have with all of my subjects about the work and it's his life that we're sharing on screen. And I think I owed it to him and to Chasten to share the work with them. And I'm looking forward to staying close to them and seeing where life takes both of them.

Mayor Pete is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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