Why do you think the assassination of John F. Kennedy still resonates 50 years later?
There is no question that John F. Kennedy was the most charismatic American president in modern times. Most presidents are kind of buttoned down. Bill Clinton was an exception. Barack Obama is an exception. JFK, he had the glamour, he had the money, he had the wife, he had the little children, and people were emotional about him. So when he was killed, it was never resolved in people’s minds. It was almost like they never accepted it, even though they knew it happened. When people watch this movie, they are going to be fascinated — not only about the assassination, but the new things we tell you about the president. It is an emotional connection between a slain president and the American people. And it is never going to change.
What did you think of the casting of Rob Lowe as Kennedy?
When they came to me as the executive producer of the film, I said that is a great choice. He’s a contemporary guy, he knows politics and he understands the world — all of which are important.
Last year’s KILLING LINCOLN film was a tremendous success on National Geographic Channel, and KILLING KENNEDY promises to draw a lot of attention in this 50th anniversary year. When you wrote these books, did you envision them becoming films?
Sure. What I try to do is to arrest people’s attention visually. I am trying to tell you a story that you can picture in your head. That is why I think it translates over into movies, because when I am writing on the page, at the scene, I want the reader to be saying “Yeah, yeah … that is what happened!” So you can see it, not just read the words. Because I am a television guy and I have always worked in visuals, I believe it is easier for me to do that than some academics. That attention to visuals is what I bring to the books.
You have said that John F. Kennedy was a great man who made a lot of bad choices …
In our research from for the book, we found out that John Kennedy evolved into a great man. He wasn’t a great man to begin with. He was a brave man, and that is why we included the story about his heroics in World War II in the book. I think it was the death of his baby boy that turned him into a great man. He became much more responsible, much more in tune with other people and their needs and concerns. Before that, he was almost too selfish, and that hurt him in the leadership role. But after the death of his boy, he started to think about others, and he evolved into a great man and a great president.
Everyone knows you as one of the most famous news and political television personalities in America. Tell us about Bill O’Reilly the history teacher, and how these stories tie into that side of yourself.
I became a history teacher right out of college, and I taught at a tough school in Miami. I brought the same sensibility to the classroom that I bring to television and to my books. I tried to make it as interesting as I possibly could. I brought a lot of energy, a lot of facts, and a lot of controversy, because, as you know, I don’t shy away from that. The students, most of them, responded. Whereas with other history teachers, it could get boring, my classes came alive and we made these people real, and that is what people respond to. They want to understand who Abraham Lincoln was, they want to understand who John Kennedy was, who Jesus was.
It must be nerve wracking to trust your book to a production company and a network to turn it into a movie. Tell us about your decision process and what feels right to you about working with National Geographic Channel and Scott Free Productions.
When we made the deal for KILLING LINCOLN, we looked around for a company that was going to be responsible. We didn’t want to get into … he’s a vampire. We said, look, you’ve got a good book here. Millions of people are buying it. Take the book and put it on the screen in a responsible way. Take a little license if you need to because it is the movies and you’ve got to move it along, but the facts are the facts. And we thought that National Geographic Channel, with their history of factual presentation, was a perfect place. So we went with them, and they brought in Scott Free. Ridley Scott? The guy is off the charts. He knows how to move a storyline along. It’s been a great partnership for all of us.