An entire nation literally divided over mixed feelings toward former president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, both very well-known for bringing extreme conservatism back into the White House, there's one thing that's pretty much unanimous when it comes to the character of this couple- they are certainly complex individuals. A former movie star that had made it into the role of Commander and Chief, and a woman known for extreme poise while still often appalling the public for her spendthrift behavior, Ronald and Nancy, if nothing else, were heavily multifaceted people- and that requires the finest of actors to play them, and Killing Reagan has found just the perfect caliber of talent to fill those roles.
While the extremely acclaimed and versatile Tim Matheson takes on the former President in a performance critics are already raving about, the unbelievably gifted Cynthia Nixon is cast as Nancy, stealing scenes as she usually does while bringing her nuanced excellence and intense commitment to the screen, always managing to raise the bar for those around her. No stranger to playing first ladies or historical figures, Nixon has also has given a praise-worthy performance of Eleanor Roosevelt in Warm Springs, and just recently stepped into the shoes of Emily Dickinson for A Quiet Passion- which the brilliant talent has also received outrageous applause for. What is most impressive about all of Nixon's many historical roles is not only how tremendously different they are, or even how extremely accurate they are to the person they are representing, but that they never come across like an imitation- she always focuses more on the performance itself, rather than creating a cartoon character of the figure, instead bringing her own brand of excellence into every persona as she channels each individual.
And having become a legendary figure herself in both modern media, film and television, and for New York iconography in general for her memorable work on Sex And The City, there's a very good chance that one day another actress will be lined up to try and fill Nixon's shoes on screen- although, it will be quite a sight to see if that newcomer will be able to do so anywhere near as well. Already a two time Emmy winner, a five time Emmy nominee, a Grammy winner, and a five time Golden Globe nominee, as well as countless other award wins and nominations, the brilliant actress has made a name for herself as one of the most renowned actresses of her generation. And with Killing Reagan already being so highly celebrated, there is no doubt that the ginger-haired talent will soon be adding yet another Emmy nomination to her list of achievements.
With the film set to premiere on Sunday night on The National Geographic Channel, Nixon took some time to talk about how she went about researching her complicated character, what it was like working on A Quiet Passion, and who she would love to work with in the future. Read below to see what she had to say!
“Killing Reagan” looks very gripping and covers one of the most wild stories of all time. You can't make this stuff up! Why don't you give people a little history lesson for those not familiar with it.
You know, Ronald Reagan was this man who had been this movie star in the 40's and 50's and had gotten into politics later in life, and soon enough found himself getting elected. He was a very right-wing guy and he defeated Carter in a landslide and came in with a very conservative agenda. He was there for only two months, and then out of the blue there was an assassination attempt on his life and he was almost killed and it changed everything for him in the White House, as well as the fact that it changed everything between him and his wife. It turned their lives upside down in good ways and bad ways.
The Jodie Foster connection here is eerie as can be, and it certainly shook up her life as well. The actress that you have to play her in the film, Katie Lara, is truly a doppelganger. Talk about her a bit, as well as the rest of your cast- like Tim Matheson as Ronald Reagan, who is also an amazing actor.
Everything Tim does is simply incredible. And he is really at such a real advantage because first of all, he looks so much like our former president, but he also did such a great job at his research. He was constantly listening to old recordings of Reagan while on set, particularly when we first started out. He was always trying to get as close to his voice as possible. And yes, that's another bizarre point of the story, right? The entire reason that John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill the president to begin with was that he was so confused between fact and fiction. He was obsessed with Taxi Driver, and fanatic over the Robert DeNiro character who had wanted to protect the prostitute, who is played in the film by Jodie Foster. So, John Hinckley Jr. decided that he was in love with Jodie Foster and that she was the answer to all his life's problems. But, understandably, she would not give him the time of day- she doesn't know him- and he just keeps calling her and bothering her. So, he decides that if he can kill the president then she will know who he is and she will have to take notice. And...I guess this was a strategy for him to make her think he's really cool and powerful? [Chuckles wildly at the very idea of it] Who knows. So, he essentially tried to shoot Ronald Reagan for...Jodie Foster.
How accurate do you stay to the events and to history in the film? Are there any major differences you know of?
Oh, it's pretty accurate! Rob Lurie, who directed our film, is not only a very strong history buff, but he is particularly concerned with the American presidency and he is a real expert on the subject. And then, of course, you have the fact that it's being done on National Geographic where they don't just double check- they triple and quadruple check every single detail. Accuracy is extremely important to them. The historical precision is really one of the big priorities of the film.
The Reagan-era time period is so popular right now in media. We are seeing it everywhere from "The Americans," to "Stranger Things," to even "X-Men: The Apocalypse!" Why do you think that is?
I think the truth is that we are just far enough away from it that it is instilled in a lot of our memories. I mean, I was a teenager when all of this happened- so, it's very much in my consciousness. But, it's kind of astonishing when you see how very far we come from then. It really looks, feels and is in fact a period piece. Just look at this election season. Everyone is evoking Ronald Reagan, or doing so on other peoples behalf, and in some ways you can say that the really strong right-wing movement was really started by Ronald Reagan- but it's stunning to see how very far we've come from then. Charm and charisma aside, Ronald Reagan would never be able to get elected today. Even though some may think of him as a hero, he would be considered way to extreme to even be nominated.
How was it slipping into the role of Nancy Reagan? What kind of research did you do to prepare to play her? Is Nancy Reagan someone you particularly admire, or have admired?
She was not, nor is she a woman I admire. I found it very interesting learning about her, and I did gain much more respect for her, and much more empathy for her. But, even at the time there were people who did love her, and I think they loved her elegance and her devotion to her husband, but she still managed to get a lot of bad press- and that was very much for money squandering over items like the White House china, or keeping the dresses that had been borrowed without paying taxes on them. She got in a lot of money trouble in a Marie Antoinette fashion. But, our movie certainly is about politics, the presidency and definitely about the dangers of assassination, but it's also about two people who are just people even though they are in the White House, and the incredible devotion they had to one another. They had a complete interwoven partnership and dependency on one another, and many people say that without Nancy Reagan there would never have been a Governor Reagan, let alone a President Reagan. It was her belief in him that enabled him to go so far and see through so much of his agenda. I think the terror that she felt when he was shot and nearly died became even more amped up. She had been seen as overbearing beforehand, but then she became desperate to protect him in any way she could think of.
This, of course, is not your first time playing a First Lady. You also played Eleanor Roosevelt in "Warm Springs," and just recently you played Emily Dickinson in "A Quiet Passion." Is playing real people a big draw for you, particularly political figures? What other types of roles would you love to play?
For me, it is especially interesting to play real historical people, but even more interesting than that it is interesting to play people who aren't all one thing, who you can't dismiss as simply a heroine or a villain- because none of us are all one thing. And the older we get, the more complicated we get. And I really think that's one of the nice things about aging, you can handle more complex characters, but writers also tend to write more complex characters as well because the longer we live the more layers we grow. So, I don't really think about who I would love to play specifically. Things come my way. I'm sure there's a million people out there that I would love to play, I just don't spend too much time sitting down and thinking about it.
Talk a little bit about "A Quiet Passion," and what drew you to the film.
Well, I always loved Emily Dickinson from the time I was a kid. My mother was a huge reader of hers, so I was not only exposed to reading her poetry early on, but we had a record in our household of Julie Harris reading some of her poems and letters, and we would listen to it all the time. So, I wouldn't exactly say that I memorized it, but I was definitely familiar with the material. I felt a real kinship to her. Many people do, especially many young women. Unlike many of the poets of that period who are very flowery, verbose or ornamental, and go on and on without really talking about too much- they favor beautiful phrases over subject matter, Emily is so modern, direct and succinct. You really feel like she is wrestling with some of the pertinent questions that one would ask about life. You really do feel like she is speaking directly to you. I think because Emily became a recluse, that's a big reason why no one previously made a film about her- they thought that her life might not be interesting, but this film shows that couldn't be farther from the truth. She lead a very active life, her mind was very active, she had tons of struggles with love, God, fear- she's constantly trying to understand herself and life. She's very interesting.
You also had a mini says reunion with Sarah Jessica Parker on the red carpet for her new series, "Divorce." You've worked with so many amazing talents, who else would you love to work with, or work with again?
Oh, there are all kinds of people I suppose, but the first person that immediately comes to mind is Tilda Swinton. And I don't even know if that means that I would love to act with her, but I just love to watch her!
Now that would be one talent-filled movie! Swinton and Nixon together on-screen and acting off one another? Hopefully, filmmakers can come up with some great content for these two gifted actresses, stat! But, for now, fans can be treated to yet another amazing performance by Nixon this Sunday night in Killing Reagan.
Catch Killing Reagan this Sunday, October 16th, at 8PM on The National Geographic Channel.