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Ginnifer Goodwin On 'Killing Kennedy' And Playing Jackie O

On Playing Jackie O
National Geographic Channel

Playing an iconic figure like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis certainly isn't easy, especially when she's been depicted on the small screen so many times. Ginnifer Goodwin ("Once Upon A Time," "Big Love") boldly accepted the challenge, and plays Jackie O in the National Geographic TV movie "Killing Kennedy."

Rather than just a straight-up biographical depiction of the legendary political couple, "Killing Kennedy" instead focuses on the two couples -- John F. Kennedy (Rob Lowe) and Jackie, along with Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) and his wife, Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg) -- as they navigate their way through the rise of JFK and his tragic, sudden death.

HuffPost TV spoke with Goodwin about taking on Jackie, how she dealt with the pressure of the role and how she approached that final, harrowing death scene.

HuffPost TV: A lot of people are obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, and it's one of the most recognized historical events to take place in the United States. How familiar were you with the Kennedy assassination before this movie/this role came about?

Ginnifer Goodwin: I didn't really have a relationship with the subject matter, in that I never studied it in school. I had seen several of the movies and the miniseries, and I heard from my grandparents what they knew from that day. I worked with Bill Paxton on "Big Love" and he's something of a JFK scholar. I'd heard him tell stories about it over the years -- he was at JFK's last speech in Dallas. I can't say that I knew anything beyond the broad strokes of the assassination.

So what drew you to the project?

Every movie and miniseries takes a different angle, as far as which conspiracy they're representing. Most of them concentrate on the more ... I hate to say it this way, but the more dramatic aspects of the administration, like the philandering, so I've never really felt like I knew who these people were, as human beings. What I was drawn to while reading this script, and I hope this comes across in the film, is "Killing Kennedys" looks at four human beings in fascinating parallel worlds. These two couples were a great distance apart, but they were on an inevitable collision course. I really appreciated the intimacy of this project. This is the behind-closed-doors story.

How much pressure did you feel coming into this?

In the beginning, immense. She's not just a world icon, she's one of my style icons. I was very familiar with what she did culturally, using her gifts. I admired her greatly, but I saw her for the person she was post-assassination. I felt a great relief in pressure in realizing that I wanted to play the side of her that nobody really knew. I based my version of Jackie on what she'd written about herself. I didn't have to live up to as much.

It's interesting because you play Snow White on "OUAT," a fictional iconic character. Which role is harder for you to play?

There's pros and cons. Each is harder than the other in different ways. What's interesting to me is I'm almost always cast as a character based on source material. To play such an American icon and at the same time be one of fairy tales' biggest characters is not shocking to me at this point. I like that I don't have to rely on just my imagination. It also pushes me further because I have to try to understand something that's so defined already.

If I have to compare the two, Jackie is harder, because there's so much about her that's recognizable. Specifically physically, vocally, things like that. Trying to inhabit her was very difficult. I wanted the audience to find me believable and relatable. In that way, it was hard. But sometimes playing Snow is harder, because it's like the ultimate fan fiction. I have to make sure that I keep Snow true to Snow while we're taking the story so far.

Did you have a dialogue/dialect coach for Jackie's accent? It's kind of hard to nail down.

I did. I found the voice to be very difficult. We don't have much of her speaking in private. Whenever she's being interviewed on camera, she spoke in a very, very specific way. I'm not convinced that that's how she spoke in private with her husband. So that's not how I spoke in private with Rob [Lowe]. I tried to incorporate her vocal stylings, taking into consideration the time, her time at boarding school, and her being incredibly nervous on camera. Also, I had to remember that she was a massive chain-smoker, which I am not.

When she was younger, she was very loath to have her photo taken. During the Kennedy administration, there are only a couple photos of her with a cigarette. She was hardcore about keeping it hidden. She even had an aide whose job it was to keep a cigarette lit at all times.

One scene that really stuck out in "Killing Kennedy" was post-assassination, when you're cradling JFK's head in your lap. Was that based on truth?

It is. What's interesting is that there are conflicting reports of what happened. I couldn't base what happened that day on Jackie's own accounts, since she just blacked out and literally couldn't remember anything specific. I had to base those scenes on how she was described by other people. I went with her bodyguard's account, and he was with her at the time -- his name is Clint Hill. He talked about her losing it in the back seat, and only becoming the stoic, shocked figure in the moments following what happened in the car. This is also based on a book, "The Death of a President," by William Manchester.

Manchester sourced so many different interviews to write the book -- and it's quite graphic. She was literally trying to put [JFK's] head back together in the back seat. People were under the impression that Jackie thought if he put his head back together, that he would be OK, to revive him, which is also why she's crawling on the back of the car, because a piece of the president was rolling off the back. Her instinct was to just put him back together. We tried to capture that, and I know it's in conflict with other reports that say she didn't do anything, but we went with the reports of people close to her.

"Killing Kennedy" airs on Sunday, November 10 at 8 p.m. EST/PST on the National Geographic Channel.

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