While much of the attention paid to John F. Kennedy focuses on the scandals of his affairs or the circumstances of his assassination, the Kennedy found by Bruce Greenwood for “Thirteen Days” is of a far more serious mindset.
“I thought of how a situation like this would weigh on a man. Not a great man — a man,” Greenwood says of the film, a dramatization of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly escalated to nuclear war. “It would be ludicrous to imagine that he cruised through this with the offhand aplomb of the prince of Camelot,” says Greenwood.
To prepare to play JFK, Greenwood immersed himself in books, video and audio recordings of the president. His portrayal was of a quieter and more intelligent JFK than has been seen in other screen incarnations.
“I made some pretty distinct vocal choices,” Greenwood says. “I discovered his speaking voice behind closed doors and one on one was significantly lower than his public speaking voice. I dropped it down to that register, which not a lot of people are as familiar with.
“I was also struck by what a voracious intellect he had and his ability to draw upon the musings of obscure poets to obtain a frame of reference for a political situation,” he adds. “The more I read, the more I found how serious he was.”
Greenwood and Stephen Culp, who plays the president’s brother and attorney general, Robert Kennedy, worked together on making their characters’ close relationship convincing.
“We had a tendency to drift into one another’s cadences and pitch, so we spent time to find ways to separate ourselves vocally,” Greenwood says. “We were harassing each other from the moment we met … picking on each other, like brothers do.”
Eventually, they had to move on. Culp to other projects and Greenwood to an A&E remake of “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which was shot in Ireland. But still, he couldn’t shake the ghosts of “Thirteen Days.”
“I found myself cruising around there and finding gravestones of Kennedys,” he says. “It’s hard to shake that association.”