At six-feet-four-inches tall, actor Billy Campbell seemed right for the part of Abraham Lincoln in National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Lincoln.” The actor famous for “The Rocketeer,” and in movies like “Dracula” and “Enough” says because of his same height as the 16th president, he did not assume he was a shoe-in for the role. He however credits the makeup artists and costumers for enabling him to pull off the credible part of “Honest Abe.”
As its first original scripted drama, “Killing Lincoln” is based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. The movie premieres Presidents Day weekend on Sunday, February 17th at 8 p.m. ET/PT and encoring at 10 p.m.
The so-called “tick-tock” docu-drama, narrated by actor Tom Hanks, provides a detailed history lesson for adults and children alike. It counts down the weeks, days and minutes leading up to the assassination of Lincoln and the dark days after the murder with the manhunt for the president’s killer. The result is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat presentation into one of the most significant events in the history of the United States. While focusing on Lincoln at the close of the Civil War and how he was worshipped and adored by many and despised for ending slavery by others, the movie also takes the audience on an emotional ride into understanding presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. The film is a far cry from the sanitized, textbook, elementary school take on the life and death of both Lincoln and Booth.
With makeup and wardrobe aside, Campbell says his goal was to portray Lincoln’s warmth and compassion for people whether from the north or south, a member of his family or his administration, or someone he met on the street.
Did he feel challenged or pressured as an actor to portray Lincoln? Campbell confides he had little if any pressure in assuming the role and as for pressure he says he felt secure in the project because of the “brilliant script by Erik Jendresen adapted from Bill’s book.” Campbell adds that Jendresen was obsessed with Lincoln from youth making him a valuable resource during the production as a “walking, breathing Lincoln encyclopedia.”
As for that other big picture Steven Spielberg directed Academy Award nominated film “Lincoln,” Campbell says he has not had a chance to see it yet and is happy that his project wrapped well before the Daniel Day-Lewis version of the movie hit the screen.
Why the fascination then with the 16th President of the United States? Campbell believes the self-educated, country lawyer who ascended to the highest office in the land “embodies the American myth that anyone can be anything.” Campbell adds that Lincoln is “a great human being. He is not only a canny, smart politician, but genuinely a great human being. A guiding light.”
Prior to his portrayal of Lincoln, the 53-year-old actor has been cast as the villain in a number of television programs and films and he is ready to get back to work as a bad boy. The former star of AMC’s “The Killing” is set to begin work on FOX’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s best-selling trilogy “Delirium.”