‘Killing Reagan’ debuts on National Geographic Channel on October 16th and this insightful ‘Killing Reagan’ Q & A with Tim Matheson demonstrates his thoughts about this dramatic program. Ronald Reagan had one of the most remarkable presidencies in U.S. history. He was overwhelmingly loved by folks on both sides of the aisle throughout his time in the White House. Previously an actor, he had a “regular person” appeal about him. Reagan was dynamic and adored, respected and revered.
Q: How familiar were you with the events of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan?
TM: I was not familiar to the degree I am now, but I vividly remember the day he was shot. It was a seminal event. He had just gotten into office. After the shooting, there was such a groundswell of emotion and support for Reagan because he handled it so well. He was so strong in the face of adversity. The country was behind him, and he used it to his advantage. He used it to accomplish what he believed he needed to accomplish politically and economically for the country. He was a smart politician.
Q: Can you describe the Ronald Reagan you are portraying?
TM: He was charming. He started out every conversation with a joke and ended with a joke. He knew that you could get more with sweetness and sugar than you could with vinegar and malice. In my experience, I have learned that there is rarely the perfect man for the perfect job, but Reagan was born to play the role of president. He was an inspirational leader when the country really needed it. This is no reflection on Jimmy Carter, but he was not what the country needed at that time. Reagan was the conservative Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He started the Saturday morning radio broadcasts. He used his voice to reassure people. He would talk to the people directly. He would ask them to call their congressmen to get a bill passed. The public trusted him and loved him. There was tremendous economic growth under Reagan after the recession. I respected the way he dealt with foreign policy by personally reaching out to foreign leaders. We were under a serious threat of nuclear war, and I think he was the right person at the right time to deal with that.
Q: What was the relationship like between Ron and Nancy?
TM: It was the two of them against the world. They lived a fairy tale. She understood him and knew what he needed. She was an actor; he was an actor. His passion for politics was something she shared, though maybe not to the degree he felt it. She became an enabler, not in a bad way, but in the true sense of the word — she became more of a supporter. She helped him get what he wanted and helped him to accomplish it. He was a private individual and shy. They didn’t entertain much because all they needed was each other. They did the requisite dinners but most days they were home showered, in their pajamas and eating dinner by 5:30. They would just sit together. People forget that he was 70 years old when he was elected. People say, to stay young, take on a new job as you get older. Well, he did just that.
Q: How do you think the assassination attempt affected Ronald Reagan?
TM: From everything I have read, the assassination attempt affected him immensely. He became aware of his vulnerability. He became aware of that narrow thread that holds you to life. According to what I read, he felt he survived for a reason: to broker a peace deal with the Russians to make the world a better place. That is what he devoted himself to. Again, I am speaking as an actor trying to understand a character. I’m going to put my own spin on it, and it must all be taken with a grain of salt. But I found it heroic: He found a greater purpose for his life in the moment he thought he was going to die. It gave him a strong purpose to come back and refocus on this presidency and his life.
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
TM: I had all the visuals, the books, interviews, films and personal videos. The challenge for me was to forget about all of this and not create a caricature but to create a character. As an actor, I work from the inside out, so I had to let go of all of those things. I had a voice coach to help me find that great Reagan “timbre.” I had complete trust in my hair and makeup department. It’s been a treat.
Q: Tell us about working with Cynthia Nixon.
TM: I have been a fan of Cynthia’s since Sex and The City and more recently in The Affair. She is a talented, strong, wonderful actress. She is Nancy. She is there supporting me. You look at her and it draws you into our world, our relationship. In one scene, I (Ron) had a mock debate with Carter that didn’t go so well. I was trying to encourage and reassure her (Nancy) that I felt fine about it, and I called Jimmy a “peanut farmer.” She just placed her hand on my face in a most loving gesture. It made me fall in love with Nancy.
Q: Talk to us about Rod Lurie’s style of directing.
TM: Rod Lurie is one of the most wonderful directors I have had the pleasure to work with. He shoots like Clint Eastwood: no fuss. When he gets it, he knows it — one or two takes. So, when you come to set, you really need to be ready. With Rod, you jump into the deep end and go. It’s exciting and challenging. I just put myself in his hands and don’t think about anything other than being as true to my character as possible. You are in good hands with Rod Lurie. One of the great ideas that Rod had was to keep Kyle Moore (who plays Hinckley) and me apart during filming. He said that he didn’t want me and Kyle to meet, and if I did run into him to not speak to him or be nice to him. He wanted Kyle, as Hinckley, to feel isolated and alone. That is part of the brilliance of Rod Lurie. He gets that kind of finesse with actors.
Q: What do you think about the timing of this movie and the current election cycle?
TM: I think the timing of the movie with the recent presidential election is important. What I find so remarkable is that the more I learn about Ronald Reagan, the more I like him. I always fall in love with every character I play. He was genuine. He was a true believer. He was deeply principled. He had strong beliefs religiously, philosophically, politically. I only see that in a few of our current candidates. Reagan was a warm, loving person. He would read and respond personally to letters sent to him. He would send out personal checks to those he felt were in need. There was a deeply personal and human side to him. He was a hard worker.
Q: What were your thoughts on the “Killing” series?
TM: I saw Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. And, of course, we all know Bill O’Reilly. I think it is a brilliant conceit. I admire the dual track of the thrust of the novels going back and forth between the assassin and the victim. It’s a brilliant narrative device. I admire the heck out of them. What is unique and striking about KILLING REAGAN is that, of course, Reagan wasn’t killed. So, this is more the story of the human tragedy of their lives.
Leave a Reply