Recreating The Kennedys
Few true-life 20th Century personalities have created as deep and enduring a public image as John F. Kennedy. His life, has been analyzed, scrutinized and interpreted to a greater degree than almost any other contemporary President — forging indelible images and impressions in the public mind. Yet for Thirteen Days, the filmmakers wanted to present a fresh look at Kennedy — a look at the President in action during his
most challenging moment, in the midst of making some of his most private and vital decisions, knowing that whatever course he took could spark a nuclear conflagration.
To capture this contemplative side of Kennedy, the filmmakers cast Bruce Greenwood, who won the role the moment he stepped into the audition. "When Bruce came in it was one of those cases of someone just being perfect and the search ending," says Peter Almond. "He brought a real distinction to the man, a real sense of Kennedy's complexity, his brilliance, his physical limitations dating back to his war injury. His is a very complicated characterization that goes to a new level of interpretation."
Another relationship Greenwood explored was that between JFK and his brother Bobby, an intimate multi-level relationship unlike any other that has ever been seen in the White House. "To me it was a great relationship, complicated, competitive, slightly adversarial even, with them poking fun at each other whenever possible," observes Greenwood. "With their two very different styles they complemented each other and strengthened each other."
To get into the demanding role, Greenwood tackled ceiling-high piles of biographies and watched hour after hour of filmed appearances. Even in the car, he listened to audiotapes of Kennedy. His research about the Cuban Missile Crisis sometimes surprised him. "What shocked me is how close we actually came to the end of the world," he notes. "That really resonated for me. You had a President who did not fully trust his military advisers and that lack of confidence in them may ironically have been the key to the successful resolution to the crisis. Kennedy initially wanted to bomb Cuba, and his military advisers were aggressively advocating a massive air strike, but after the Bay of Pigs, he couldn't stomach another disastrous misstep. He listened to everyone, from his most trusted counselors, including of course his brother, to the Generals who were beating a path towards war. At the end of the day, one guy had to make a choice based on all of these highly informed and vehemently held opinions. And it could have gone either way."
Greenwood also found much to admire in Kennedy's handling of the crisis. "I really liked his open-mindedness, his willingness to learn from other people," he says. "He created an atmosphere in which people were encouraged to be themselves, to truly speak their minds, to not be intimidated by the office he held. That atmosphere is what allows for such a great human story to be told."
That atmosphere is also what allowed such a close relationship to develop between Kennedy and advisers such as Kenny O'Donnell. Director Roger Donaldson was pleased with the way Greenwood brought that to the fore, especially in scenes with Kevin Costner. "One thing that Bruce really brings to the part is a very strong presence that can't be upstaged by a star like Kevin Costner. You see them as being entirely on equal ground as President and trusted aide," he comments.
Another relationship Greenwood explored was that between JFK and his brother Bobby, an intimate multi-level relationship unlike any other that has ever been seen in the White House. "To me it was a great relationship, complicated, competitive, slightly adversarial even, with them poking fun at each other whenever possible," ob
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