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The actor did it; new TV special Killing Lincoln stars Billy Campbell, narrated by Tom Hanks

- February 13th, 2013

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Abraham Lincoln is the comeback president of the year.

And now even the National Geographic Channel is leaping on the Lincoln bandwagon.

Killing Lincoln, a two-hour historical drama that debuts Sunday, Feb. 17, is the National Geographic Channel’s first original scripted project. Featuring Tom Hanks as the on-screen narrator, it stars Billy Campbell (pictured above) as the title character and Jesse Johnson as assassin John Wilkes Booth.

The 16th president of the United States is everywhere these days, in no small part because of the Academy Award-nominated film Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

But unlike the movie, Killing Lincoln focuses specifically on the assassination.

We really sort of pick up where the Lincoln film left off,” said Erik Jendresen, the writer and executive producer of Killing Lincoln. “I think of (Steven) Spielberg‘s film as the prequel to Killing Lincoln.

Spielberg’s film really focuses on the 13th Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery). It’s the story of the victory of Abraham Lincoln.

Ours really is the story of the tragedy, and the irony that, with the ending of the Civil War, the signing of the surrender, and the 13th Amendment passed, Lincoln had a moment – literally maybe 48 hours – in which he was able to shed all the grief and pain and responsibility he had been living with. And it was all taken from him.”

Campbell is a veteran actor who in recent years is best known to TV viewers for his role as Darren Richmond on the AMC series The Killing (apparently he likes shows with that word in them). Campbell was asked if he felt any weight on his shoulders playing Lincoln, especially in light of Lewis’ Academy Award-nominated performance.

I felt almost no weight at all,” Campbell insisted. “The script was so brilliant and so deep in its own way that it was all there on the page.

And I felt really, really safe in the hands of some obviously very passionate people who were passionate about doing this the right way. So I felt nearly no pressure.”

Killing Lincoln actually has a Law & Order feel to it, right down to its own version of classic two-note musical tag. But no real-life murder wraps up as neatly and tidily as a Law & Order episode.

Hanks makes the striking observation that 1,500 theatre patrons were eyewitnesses to the murder of Abraham Lincoln, and yet no two accounts matched. Few even could agree on what Booth shouted after leaping to the stage from Lincoln’s private box.

One of the things that struck me emotionally when I was researching this – and kind of hurt my feelings because I’m a real (American) patriot – is that up until this moment, the White House always was known as the people’s house,” Jendresen said. “It literally was open 24 hours a day. Anybody could walk in to see the president.

The security Lincoln had was solely to get him from one place to the next, not to be there with him. And yet, the threats against Lincoln were numerous. Nothing was ever really done about it.

I don’t think anybody could conceive this would happen. Subsequently, of course, it began a trend. It’s as if we invented something in this country.”

Comebacks aside, some things are better left uninvented.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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