“Killing Kennedy” co-star Michelle Trachtenberg (Marina Oswald) first heard Rob Lowe as President John F. Kennedy before she saw him in costume. When the cast was on a promotional shoot one day, she snuck into the back room where Lowe was reciting one of his speeches from the film, an adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book. “I literally felt like I was there watching our president in the moment,” she tells reporters gathered in Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “I felt like a housewife that was falling in love with our president because he gave me tingles from nailing that voice.”
Jack Noseworthy, who plays Bobby Kennedy and is the only Massachusetts native in the cast, vouches for Lowe. “I have a wicked awesome Boston accent,” Noseworthy says. “I can say that Rob really had an enormous amount of authenticity. You can really hear it. It’s a difficult accent to do and he really nailed it.”
Lowe downplays the compliments of his cast, though. “I’m not Daryl Hammond from ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he says. “If you want a guy who can imitate Kennedy, I’m not the guy you come to. Hopefully I’m the guy who embodies and fleshes out and makes him a real human being. And that’s really the job.”
Once the voice is down, however, “you forget about it,” Lowe says. “You do the voice, then you go to the things that are more important, which are honesty, authenticity, connection with the actors.”
In fact, Lowe says his co-star Ginnifer Goodwin had a tougher job mimicking Jackie Kennedy’s accent. “It was an overwhelming task to even try to emulate her, so I really did try to pull back to a certain extent,” Goodwin says. “I’m a little less accurate, I think, technically, in trying to capture what I feel was authentic about her as a woman. Her accent was so extreme that … it’s something sort of unbelievable, and I felt that the audience would be taken right out of the movie if I nailed it.”
But aside from trying to avoid sounding too much like Mayor Quimby from “The Simpsons,” Lowe says his main goal was to portray JFK’s humanity. “For me it was very much about capturing him as a man,” he says. “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 do those small details live?”
Although JFK’s story has been told on film time and again, Lowe says he understands why filmmakers are drawn to it. “We don’t have a royal family here,” he says. “Shakespeare made a career writing about the royals; the Kennedys are sort of our royals. If you believe that concept, then it’s like playing a character from Shakespeare.
“Actors play Hamlet all the time,” he continues. “There could be 17 actors on 17 stages on any given day playing those characters, so a lot of people will be playing JFK in the future. He’s just one of our great American icons.”
“Killing Kennedy” premieres in November 2013 on the National Geographic Channel, timed to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.