Rob Lowe had to wrap his head around John F. Kennedy’s very specific hairstyle.
“There’s a lot of hair technology going on there, in case you didn’t notice,” says Lowe, who has the title role in Killing Kennedy. “We’re used to seeing him in black and white. But when you see him in colour, he almost has ginger hair.
“So my whole look is very sort of dialed in. I’m keeping it a secret as to how I did it.”
Killing Kennedy, which is based on a book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is a two-hour docu-drama that debuts Sunday, Nov. 10 on the National Geographic Channel. Besides Lowe, Killing Kennedy also stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Jacqueline Kennedy, Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald and Michelle Trachtenberg as Marina Oswald.
It was 50 years ago this month that John F. Kennedy was gunned down and the string of recent TV documentaries is long and impressive. Killing Kennedy is a dramatic portrayal that simultaneously charts the highs and lows of two men – JFK and Oswald – and their respective relationships with their spouses during the buildup not only to JFK’s assassination, but to Oswald’s as well.
Hair secrets aside, Lowe says that when it came to JFK’s voice, the hard part was that the comic voice everyone uses when they’re doing JFK – basically Mayor Quimby on The Simpsons – isn’t necessarily the way the president spoke in real life.
“Look, I’m not Darrell Hammond from Saturday Night Live, right?” Lowe says. “I mean, if you want a guy who can imitate Kennedy, I’m not the guy you come to. But you’ve got to sound like him.
“Just technically, what I learned was he really had two voices. He had the voice that we all know, ‘Come to Berlin.’ He had that voice, which is the voice everybody imitates. And then he had the way he spoke in private, which was very different.
“There’s actually a linguistic term called the ‘Kennedy stutter step,’ not to get too technical. Basically, it’s his stammer, and that’s what you don’t see a lot of. I tried to bring that, I immersed myself in it. But then you forget about it, you do the voice, and you go to the things that are more important, which are honesty, authenticity, connection with the actors, all of the stuff that actors do on a daily basis.”
Actors actually don’t get to play John F. Kennedy on a daily basis. It’s the fortunate few who can pull it off.
“In terms of what we share, I don’t know,” Lowe says. “(JFK) was an optimist. He said, ‘We’ll put a man on the moon in 10 years.’ I can’t think of any president before or after who would dare make that kind of prediction and then live up to it.
“I’m a kid from Ohio who said I wanted to be a working actor, so I believe in optimism.”
Optimism and hair technology, that is.