Sundance 2012: Taylor Swift hits red carpet for Ethel Kennedy doc
When one thinks of political matriarch Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, probably the last thing that comes to mind is pop star Taylor Swift.
And yet there the 22-year-old country singer was, walking the red carpet at the premiere of "Ethel," a documentary about the 83-year-old social activist at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. After a handful of Ethel Kennedy's 11 children posed for pictures, Swift came out to join her, gripping her arm as if she were one of Kennedy's own grandchildren.
It was unclear why Swift flew out to Park City, Utah, to support the film, and she declined an interview request to speak about her interest in the documentary, which will air on HBO. But in a recent interview with Vogue, the musician revealed she had recently spent the afternoon with Kennedy and was intrigued by her relationship with her husband. Because when "you look back at the pictures of her and Bobby," Swift said, "they always look like they are having the most fun out of everybody."
Rory Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy's youngest daughter and the director of the film, thanked Swift for attending in front of an audience before the film began. Rory Kennedy also praised her mother for allowing her to make the film, given her distaste for giving interviews or having her photograph taken.
"My mother really hates her name," Rory said, "so every time I say the name of the film she flinches."
Although the movie's title may bear Ethel's name, it is largely about her husband, who was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Through interviews with Ethel Kennedy and her children, the film documents the ups and downs of RFK's political career. He is presented as a loving, shy family man who found much of his drive through his outgoing firecracker of a wife.
Rory Kennedy said her intention was to document what happened to her family partially through her mother's eyes, since Ethel is so reticent about herself.
"Her version of events hasn't been out there in a significant way," she said.
The film gave Rory Kennedy an opportunity to discuss things with her mother that she had never before broached. Rory said she considered discussing such things with her mother before filming the documentary, but decided against it.
"We talked about it, and I discussed that option. But it was important for her to respond, and one of the things I so admire is she just has this personality -- I didn't want her to have answers she had rehearsed, or to not be herself."
Fiercely competitive, devoutly religious and stoic, Ethel Kennedy often brushes aside or outright ignores her daughter's inquiries in the film. Asked to discuss how she felt after her husband was killed, for instance, she said she would like to talk about something else. And so she did.
[For the record, 10:31 a.m., Jan. 21: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Ethel Kennedy's husband as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Her husband was Robert F. Kennedy. RFK Jr. is one of their sons.]
Photo: Director Rory Kennedy, left, Ethel Kennedy and Taylor Swift at the premiere of "Ethel." Credit: Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times