Q&A With Ginnifer Goodwin on Playing Jackie Kennedy

“The story is so riveting and personal and intimate and relatable and devastating and ugly and idyllic, all at the same time.”

Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy
Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy

What was it like to play such an iconic character?

There was a bit of pressure going into playing Jackie Kennedy, as I’m sure there was with any of the roles in this film. I have read other scripts in which Jackie appeared and I have blatantly not wanted to touch her. She is, I think, every modern woman’s idol, and so it was important to me that, if I ever did play her, I felt empowered to do justice to the person she was.

What about this script made you want to finally play her?

This is the first time I read a script involving Jackie that I felt had a little bit of everything. It is respectful, it is intimate and revealing, and the narrative is captivating. I couldn’t put the script down, and I was really inspired. Ultimately, I think what really attracted me was that, in this story, we are showing so many private moments, which gave me a little more creative freedom than I even realized going into it. I hadn’t really thought about the public version of her versus the private version of her. Then I started researching the role and thought, of course, and found there is almost no information about what happened behind closed doors. There are a lot of assumptions, and I think most people, including me, project onto them what we want these people to have been. But because almost all of the Jackie scenes in this film take place behind closed doors, as an actress, there was something liberating, something that took some of the pressure off and made it a little less overwhelming.

Talk about your research process for this role.

I was obsessive! I don’t know if I have ever done as much homework as I did for this. I really feel like, at this point, the entire cast could teach a college-level course about the characters we played. On set we would spend all day saying “Did you know that Bobby did this?” or “Did you know Jackie did that?” I think we have probably all read all there is to read and seen all there is to see about these people. I feel like there is a lot of external judgment about Jackie, and a lot of guesses about what she could possibly have thought and felt in certain situations. Because of this, it was really important to me that I only based my characterization of her on what she said about herself. So I read everything under the sun and just absorbed as much as I could from interviews with her. I wanted direct quotes. I also found myself really inspired by photographs. I came across a collection of photos that her daughter Caroline said were Jackie’s favorites, and I started making choices based on the dynamic between Jack and Jackie that I saw in those pictures. In the end, I latched on to a couple of quotes and one particular photograph, and all of my choices were based on what those told me about her.

What did this unique research approach afford you in terms of how you built and played this character?

Because I based my characterization solely on the things I heard her say in her own voice, I know that I am playing her differently than she has been played before. For instance, in one interview, she said, “Why would I have an opinion about politics when Jack is going to have an opinion and it is going to be better than mine?” She described her marriage as very Victorian. It was always sort of about her being the wife he would want her to be and if there was ever a conflict between them, no matter whose fault it was, she would immediately take responsibility. It was complete devotion to her family. It’s possible I am playing that devotion with a little more extremity than maybe she exhibited in real life, but I hope it reveals a different dimension to her that was real.

What do you feel sets this movie apart from others that have been made about these people and this story?

On the subject of JFK, the only films, miniseries and television events with which I am familiar are very different. They generally fall into a reenactment category, or into something almost fictional because of their foundation in conspiracy theories or more fantastical extremist versions of the story. What I love about our film is that we are somewhere in the middle. We are dealing with facts, everything is proven and we are not complicating it with conspiracy theories at all. This is the public information we have at this point, and as actors, it is just about fleshing out the characters. Yes, we drew conclusions about what they might say behind closed doors, but I feel like all of those experiences and behaviors behind closed doors are really justifiable factually. I think this film will be seen as a really respectful portrait of these people’s lives because we are not making any judgment calls; and because what we know about them is so fascinating, I think this movie will be fascinating.

Why should people see this film?

What was attractive to me about it, and what I think the audience is going to love, is that it is so incredibly educational and yet the story is so riveting and personal and intimate and relatable and devastating and ugly and idyllic, all at the same time — much like real life is. It’s also like we have been filming two different movies: one on the Kennedys and one on the Oswalds. I think that having so much about Lee and Marina is going to be really refreshing for audience members who don’t know much, if anything, about their real lives. Our director, Nelson McCormick, describes this as being like two trains coming from two different ends of the universe on a collision course. When I read the script, I hoped there would be a different ending. Clearly, all of us know what is going to happen moment for moment, and yet there is something about the building of tension in this story mixed with these really beautiful, quiet moments that does make you almost think something else could happen.

What was it like playing opposite Rob Lowe as JFK?

Hands down, there were times when I felt like I was with the ghost of Jack. There was one scene during which I felt I was witnessing the actual transformation of this conflicted, private, not-yet-fully-formed man into the powerhouse that the public knew JFK to be. Rob is such an incredibly talented and dynamic actor. I can’t say I have ever had that experience of feeling like maybe my scene partner was channeling something from a higher source. I would say working with Rob has been life changing, and has reinvigorated me and made me remember why I do this as an actor.

Don’t miss the global premiere of Killing Kennedy Sunday, November 10 at 8P!

For more with Ginnifer Goodwin, watch this behind-the-scenes interview:

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