Taps Into The Human Side Of Lee Harvey Oswald
By Sam Davidson
How do you make an audience find sympathy for one of the most hated men not only in America, but in the world? Will Rothhaar, who played Lee Harvey Oswald in Killing Kennedy on National Geographic, has some answers for us. Both Rothhaar and the director of the film, Nelson McCormick, wanted to show people the human side of Oswald. After doing a great deal of research on Oswald to try to understand this man who did such a monstrous thing, McCormick ended up feeling real sympathy and understanding for him. While Rothhaar came from a family that did not have much, what they did have was a lot of love; Oswald had neither of those things. Oswald’s father died two months before he was born, and his mother was unstable and moved him all over the place, sending him to 22 schools before he was even 11 years old. Rothhaar was hit with a wave of sadness, knowing that things could have gone differently for Oswald if his upbringing had been different. Rothhaar began to truly understand him, which helped him bring real depth to the character. Will added that “if anyone can walk away from this film with a shred of understanding, then we have done our job.”
Rothhaar not only did his homework, but he was very educated on the subject as well. His grandmother lives in Dallas, and his parents even took him to the depository where Kennedy was shot when he was a child. When he was offered the role, Rothhaar felt as though it was meant to be and was proud to take on this complex character. “Nobody is hatched full-grown evil; it does not work like that,” Rothhaar added. In Killing Kennedy, we get to see a side of Oswald many have not seen before. Oswald truly loved his daughters; there was such an intriguing human side to him that many people never recognized. Rothhaar’s main goal was to bring this part of him to life and to make the viewers understand that Oswald was just a man who did an awful thing.
Even though people have a preconceived idea of whom Oswald was, Rothhaar wanted to try to put his own spin on it while keeping the historical accuracy. Rothhaar had never played someone who had such a big role in American history. The last person to play Oswald was Gary Oldman in JFK, and Rothhaar wanted to add to Oldman’s performance. Killing Kennedy focuses more on the intimate moments of these historical figures, as opposed to the action and chaos of the assassination. Rothhaar added that, “Hopefully people will come away with the fact that both men were just men, and Oswald was not completely the monster we thought he was, and JFK was not always the hero we thought he was.”
After the watching the film, I can truly say that Rothhaar added an interesting dimension to this villainous character. He even got a chance to speak with Wesley Frazier, the man who drove Oswald on that fated day, and who described Oswald as a “quiet guy that kept to himself, but was very sharp and bright.” He also added that he was “amazing with his kids and the kids in the neighborhood; they all loved him.” This conversation really made Rothhaar feel that this project was worthwhile.
In addition to getting to play this juicy character, Rothhaar got to work with some extremely great actors. Most of his scenes were with Michelle Trachtenberg, who plays his wife. JFK and Oswald never had any interaction, so he did not get to work with Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin one on one, but he got to know them by doing press for the film, in addition to outside meetings. Rothhaar had nothing but great things to say about all of these actors, especially his co-star, Trachtenberg, who spoke most of her lines in Russian.
Rothhaar truly enjoyed playing this two-dimensional bad guy. He hopes he will help people understand that Oswald may not have been the monster that everyone thought he was. While the film still portrays Oswald as a violent man who did an awful thing, we get a look inside of who he was and what made him that way.
To read more about JFK'S assasination, check out these books on Amazon
For an alternative view on the assassination of JFK, watch Rush To Judgement