May-June 2020

Switching lanes

From Capitol Hill to Hollywood, Mario Correa has figured out the write stuff

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Thirteen-year-old Mario Correa was polite and interested when Maryland Del. Connie Morella knocked on the door of his family’s Bethesda home in the summer of 1982 as she campaigned for a second term. He was the only one at home and couldn’t vote, yet Morella, who would later serve 16 years in Congress, spent time talking with him.

That brief connection sparked an enthusiasm that eventually launched Correa’s career in government and politics, and led to his current occupation as a Hollywood screenwriter and playwright. He received his first major film credit last year with the release of Dark Waters, a drama he co-wrote that stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman. The well-regarded movie, directed by Todd Haynes, is based on a New York Times Magazine article about a lawyer’s fight against the DuPont chemical company, which was accused of releasing harmful chemicals into the water supply in Parkersburg, West Virginia. In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency and DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement concerning DuPont’s violations of two federal environmental laws. DuPont was not required to admit liability.

Four years after their doorstep meeting, Correa was a rising senior at Walt Whitman High School when he joined Morella’s first congressional campaign as a volunteer, driving the candidate to events and going door to door and to Metro stations to hand out literature. From serving as a volunteer to later becoming an intern, Correa worked in Morella’s office while studying government and economics at Georgetown University. After graduating in 1991, he became a legislative assistant for Morella.

“She changed my life,” Correa, 52, says of the former congresswoman. “She is my mentor, my role model and my inspiration. She is my third parent.”

Correa left Morella’s office to earn a master’s degree in social welfare and health care systems at the London School of Economics. Returning to Capitol Hill, he worked for the Australian Embassy for three years in congressional affairs, and later lobbied for the Business Software Alliance on copyright laws.

In 2010, a lifelong interest in theater compelled him to leave the world of public policy to pursue a career as a writer. “I thought I wanted to be an actor, but I didn’t have the courage for that,” he says. “Writing seemed the right road for me; it had always been my favorite part of any job.”

Writing for American audiences was not a natural path for Correa, now living in Los Angeles. He remembers crying nearly every day while attending first grade at Bethesda’s Wood Acres Elementary School in 1975 because he spoke Spanish and couldn’t understand his classmates or teachers.

Correa and his family had recently moved to Montgomery County from Chile after his father was appointed as that country’s cultural attaché in Washington, D.C. To help him learn English, his mother, who worked at the Organization of American States in the District, would write phrases on cards in English and Spanish, bribing him with a toy to learn them. “That, and [watching] Sesame Street, pushed me to learn English in one year,” Correa says.