Killing Reagan Director Rod Lurie: "...Even Democrats Nostalgic for Ronald Reagan."

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Killing Reagan Promo

Rod Lurie wrote and directed the widely praised Academy Award- and Golden Globe Award-nominated political thriller THE CONTENDER, which took the first-ever Alan J. Pakula Award. For the small screen, Lurie also created the series COMMANDER IN CHIEF, which was nominated for the Best Drama Series Golden Globe, and for which Geena Davis won the Best Actress Golden Globe for her depiction of the first female president of the United States.

Lurie's latest project is the made-for-television movie, KILLING REAGAN, based off the book of the same name by FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly, which airs Saturday, October 16, on the National Geographic channel.

Bill O'Reilly's book, KILLING REAGAN, is done in a very "outside looking in" documentary style. How is the film going to be in comparison -- a documentary style or a more traditional dramatic reenactment?

This is a normal genre film with actors portraying Ronald Reagan -- that's played by Tim Matheson. Cynthia Nixon plays Nancy Reagan. A kid named Kyle Moore plays John Hinkley. We sort of took the style of the movie THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, where we follow on one hand the assassin, and on the other the assassination target -- Ronald Reagan in this case. So that's the nature of it.

Rod LurieHow difficult was it to adapt O'Reilly's book to this movie? It sounds like it could be almost a total rewrite / reformat with just the same title.

It's interesting you should say that. So I got a phone call from my agent, and he says to me, "Hey, do you want to do KILLING REAGAN?" And I said, "Based on the Bill O'Reilly book? What?" Almost all of us in town are liberals -- some of very strong liberals, including myself -- so the notion of doing an O'Reilly book seemed to be a little insane to me.

But I then read the book, and I read the screenplay, and they were both really sort of non-partisan. In fact, the book is critical of Reagan here and there. But it's really the tick-tock over the three months leading up to the assassination, the assassination attempt itself, and then after that the three months afterward leading up to when he gives this big speech in front of Congress, where he was hailed for behaving so brilliantly during the attempt.

I've seen some of the stills from the film. When I look at Tim Matheson, I do not see Ronald Reagan. But when I see him in these shots and in clips, I cannot not see Ronald Reagan.

We had this brilliant make-up artist, Al Apone, and a woman named Melissa Yonkey to do the hair and create this wig. So physically we were able to get Tim Matheson to look almost perfectly like Reagan.

And then [Matheson] went and did his research, and was able to get the dialect down so brilliantly. He learned how to breathe like Reagan -- literally how to breathe like Reagan. Reagan breathed a certain way, and Tim was able to replicate that. And then he was able to learn how Reagan walked, and how he leaned. It was remarkable to see this transformation.

It helped that everybody on set was calling him Mr. President, too!

If he continues to pull that act off, people may just ask him to replace Donald Trump!

The reason why we're going to be such a big hit is because Donald Trump has made even Democrats nostalgic for Ronald Reagan. And I mean that literally. He is such -- in my opinion and the opinion of many -- a disgrace to not just the Republican party but to all humankind that I think Democrats would take Reagan back right now, no problem.

The last time I saw a film that was about a presidential assassination, it was THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT, and it was a fictional story surrounding President Bush.

Right. That was very controversial.

So I was wondering how you're prepared for an audience whose last exposure to this kind of thing was that particular film.

You know how many people saw that movie? I think that the last one that really dealt with this sort of topic was JFK. And there was a movie called THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT, it was a Showtime film that came out fifteen years ago that dealt with the same subject matter. I think that we're probably a little bit more accurate -- in fact, we're much, much more accurate. A lot of that was fictionalized. We'll still be telling a true story, and I think the audience will appreciate that. People like true stories.