Greg Kinnear on being JFK

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo () - September 16, 2011 - 12:00am

Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

While doing an exclusive 20-minute phone interview with Greg Kinnear (The STAR was the only Philippine paper granted the honor), I imagined how he would deliver that classic line in The Kennedys, the $25-million mini-series which premieres in Asia on Sept. 19 to 22 on History Channel, 9 p.m., in which Kinnear plays John F. Kennedy.

“It’s a big, big challenge,” admitted Kinnear who has an uncanny resemblance to the 35th President of the United States. “It’s not easy to portray a great man who is very familiar to the whole world.”

An Academy Award nominee (As Good As It Gets), Kinnear in the mini-series directed by Jon Cassar from a teleplay by Stephen Kronish plays JFK as he handles the twin crises of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. More than that, The Kennedys presents the story of the Kennedy clan as it has never been told before, from their political triumphs to their personal tragedies, tracing the JFK campaign in the 1960 presidential elections to his assassination (by Lee Harvey Oswald) in Dallas, Texas, and that of his brother Robert Kennedy (by Sirhan B. Sirhan) prior to the 1968 presidential election in which Robert would have run.

The cast of the mini-series The Kennedys (from left): Barry Pepper as Robert Kennedy, Tom Wilkinson as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy and Kinnear as John F. Kennedy.

Nominated for 10 awards in the The Emmys (including Outstanding Mini-series Or a Movie), The Kennedys also stars Katie Holmes as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Barry Pepper (of Saving Ryan fame) as Robert Kennedy, Tom Wilkinson (John Adams, The Full Monty, Michael Clayton, etc.) as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., the patriarch of the family and power behind the throne who strikes deals with the underworld to get his son elected into office.

Is this the first time you are playing a real-life person?

“No, it’s not. I’ve played a few real-life people, like a well-decorated war hero who won a Congressional Medal of Honor, whom I played in the movie We Were Soldiers; a guy who was a star of the TV show here in America; and a football coach.”

How was playing JFK different from playing those characters?

“Well, no two people are alike. You know, playing Jack Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, still deeply admired and revered, was very challenging. It’s a rare chance for me to play a President that I really admired. I find Jack fascinating not only as a person, especially his legacy as a politician. And really, if you look at Pres. Barrack Obama today, he’s got a pretty tough hand to deal with in the world. You know, crises come and go in history and I think Jack faced a very, very tough hand himself — the cold war, the Cuba missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs, etc. He faced a very overwhelming task.”

Kinnear lost in his thoughts before the shoot...

How do you think America would be like today if JFK were leading the country?

“Ahhhh, I think it’s very hard to say. But he did seem to be somebody who genuinely wanted to sort things out. I think he was respected on both sides of the aisle. Our country’s politics right now is very divisive, separated by the Republicans and the Democrats. There was a time when leaders, maybe not all, were able to agree on the same point of view and find some sort of a middle ground. Certainly, Jack was able to do that. If he were leading the country today, I think he would be able to calm down some of the rancor and the political squabbling going on from the two sides.”

Are you a Republican or a Democrat?

“You know, I’m registered as an Independent. I find myself screaming at both parties and quite often disappointed in the two-party system that has become entrenched in politics over the past 20 years. I don’t think either party has lived up to the hopes of the constituents who got them elected. So I think it’s hard for me to align myself with any political party in this kind of environment.”

Were you born when JFK was killed in November 1963?

“He was President when I was born and I was the same exact age now as he was when he was assassinated.”

...as JFK arriving at the Dallas airport on that fateful November day barely two hours before he was assassinated...

So you didn’t have any memory of that tragic time?

“Oh, I was three or four months old so I don’t remember anything.” (Laughs)

When did you become aware of the name JFK? Was it from books, in school or from documentaries?

“I think it was from my History teacher. Growing up in the ’70s, the JFK legacy was strong and it still is. So, yes, I realized I didn’t know Jack that well and his personal journey until I got to play him. It’s one of the great things about being an actor, when you get a job you are able to immerse yourself in another person’s life. It’s wonderful being JFK even only for a telemovie.”

What new things did you discover about JFK in your research for the telemovie?

“Well, I would say, you know, what I really found interesting about Jack is his dynamic relationship with his father, Joe Kennedy, and how he was closely aligned he was with his brother Bobby (Also killed by an assassin in 1968. — RFL), I had no idea how strong their relationship was and how deeply Jack relied on Bobby. If you listen to the recordings of conversations between the brothers, which are now public domain, you will see how deeply Jack trusted Bobby especially when he was making key decisions.”

If JFK were alive today and you were face-to-face with him, what would you tell him?

...and with Wilkinson and Pepper in a crucial scene.

“I’d ask him how I did in the mini-series.” (Laughs again) “You know, ahhhh, I would probably…wait a minute…that’s a good question. I’ve never asked myself that. Well, I suppose I’d ask him if he thought he was a great president. It seems that every President is humbled by the job; it’s not a job that you can train for, that position is just something that is unique and owned by so few all over history. I think Jack would have been tough on himself as a personal critic. I would be interested on hearing what his own take was on his job as President of the United States.”

Any other real-life person that you would like to portray?

“I can’t think of anybody in particular. All I know is that I don’t want to play another President.”

Why not?

“You know, there are people who have strong feelings about that subject matter. It’s a hard thing to do as an actor.”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit http://www.philstar.com/funfareor follow me on http://www.twitter/therealrickylo.)


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