Q&A With Will Rothhaar on Playing Lee Harvey Oswald

“To me, he is not a monster. He is a man who did a monstrous thing.”

Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald


Every American, it seems, knows the name Lee Harvey Oswald, but very few know much about him as a man. What was it like to play a character like this?

From the very first conversations I had with our director, Nelson McCormick, we talked about portraying the human side of someone who has for all these years been seen only as a two-dimensional villain. We wanted to find where he is human and let people see that. For all these years, people have seen him as a monster. To me, he is not a monster. He is a man who did a monstrous thing. And there’s a big difference.

Talk about some of the research you did for this role.

I did a ton of research. I read the book “Marina and Lee.” The author, Priscilla McMillan, spent 10 years with Marina and also used to work for JFK back when he was in office. It was interesting delving into Marina’s story as well, learning who she was and what she was about. For me, the research is almost the most fun. I found radio interviews Lee did in New Orleans where there are these three 10-minute-long segments in which you hear him talk and talk, which really helped me learn what he sounded like.

What did you learn about Oswald that surprised you?

I had no idea about his upbringing. He grew up very neglected. His father died two months before he was born, and his mother was very unstable. She put his older brothers in an orphanage when Lee was born and sent them to boarding school. Then, when he was three, she dropped him in an orphanage and then took him to New York. It was as if he never belonged anywhere, and he never had anyone recognize him, or sit him down and ask him about his day. This makes perfect sense in the story we are telling, because he is motivated by the fact that he wanted to be seen, he wanted to be recognized for something. I am not going to say you will feel compassion for him, but you might look at him and say, yeah, I’ve been there.

What was it like to shoot the assassination scene?

The scene was shot from my viewpoint, through the rifle scope. And the camera is on me following the car as it comes down the road. It was intense. We were shooting in a building that really looked a whole lot like the school book depository. When I was lining up the shot, and finally bring the rifle around, it’s like, take a breath and you know that is the moment. It was intense.

In telling this story using a parallel structure, what kinds of comparisons were you able to draw between these two men?

One thing I found really interesting is that almost from the beginning, it is obvious that Lee wants fame. And, at least in the early days, JFK really didn’t. He grew to accept it. But the first time we see him in the movie, he is about to announce he is running for president and he is talking about how it was not supposed to be him taking that stage, it was supposed to be his brother Joe. Meanwhile, the whole time, Lee is saying, “It’s always been me.” That is what he truly believes.

Did doing this movie change your mind about the assassination and all the related conspiracy theories?

I was raised on this subject when I was younger. Both my parents were big advocates of JFK so I knew about it at a very early age. There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there. I have my own opinion and I always will. And this didn’t change that. But this is the story we are telling. It is the facts, and that is what is really interesting about it. What is so cool about this rabbit hole is that it goes so deep and there are so many different viewpoints on it that you go, OK, this is the one we are going to do. And I think we nailed it.

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

For more Will Rothhaar, watch this behind-the-scenes interview: