To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the National Geographic Channel is presenting Killing Kennedy, based on the bestselling book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.
The movie stars Rob Lowe as the President, Ginnifer Goodwin as Jacqueline Kennedy, Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald and Michelle Trachtenberg as Marina Osward. The film premieres on Sunday, November 10th at 8 pm.
Rob Lowe came to the TV critics tour to discuss the legacy of President Kennedy, who died four months before the actor was born.
What was it about this version of history that attracted you?
I remember when I saw Ian McKellen’s Richard III. It was modernized, set in the 1930s Germany, and it was amazing. I’ve never seen this story told [like this] before.
For those who haven’t read the book, it takes Oswald and Kennedy both at  at the exact same moment in time, and Oswald is defecting to the Soviet Union, and Kennedy is announcing he’s running for President. They couldn’t be more different.
You can’t imagine that they would ever meet, let alone affect each other’s lives the way they did. And it’s [told on] these parallel tracks. It’s really a genius storytelling device. It makes the story that we all know unbelievably compelling.
John Kennedy has been portrayed on screen dozens of times. How did you approach playing him given all of the other portrayals that have taken place?
You just try to figure what can you individually bring, and for me it was very much about capturing him as a man. We all know the iconography of Kennedy.
I was really interested in the details of what he was like as a father, as a brother, as a son, as a husband, as a flawed, complicated and heroic guy, where those small details live.
We don’t have a royal family here. Shakespeare made a career writing about the Royals. The Kennedys are our Royals, and if you believe that concept, then it’s like playing a character from Shakespeare. Actors play Hamlet all the time.
A lot of people will play JFK in the future. He’s just one of our great American icons.
Your friend, and co-star on The West Wing, Martin Sheen has played both Bobby and John. Did you talk to him before you did this about playing John Kennedy?
And he played [President] Bartlet, which is another variation of the Kennedys, when you really get right down to it. No, I didn’t, but I remember vividly his Bobby to William Devane’s JFK, which in the Kennedy sweepstakes, they are the horses to beat.
William Devane was stunning, and Martin is always great. I’m going to have to ring Martin up and compare notes.
Any last words about the movie?
Killing Kennedy was more than just a job. I think it speaks to the fact that we’ve all been lucky enough to be part of things that we love, and a part of things that affected us really deeply, and that’s what Killing Kennedy is for all of us.
It’s easy to get lost in the iconography of all of this and forget that these were real people. JFK was a complicated man who did great things and had more yet to do.
And [in the movie] we [include] the last speech he ever gave, and that speaks to what was lost, and what we have the ability to possibly still achieve today.