July 24, 2013 at 7:03 PM ET
Rob Lowe is no stranger to playing politics. Remember White House communications director Sam Seaborn on "The West Wing?"
Recently, Lowe's been portraying slightly smaller fish and beloved Chris Traeger on "Parks and Recreation," the city manager with the big public servant's heart.
Now, the 49-year-old actor has taken on his personal idol, President John F. Kennedy Jr. in the upcoming National Geographic Channel movie "Killing Kennedy." Based on Bill O'Reilly's bestseller of the same title, the movie follows President Kennedy and his wife, Jackie (Ginnifer Goodwin), as they prepare to announce his candidacy for presidency while tracking and humanizing the man who would eventually kill him, Lee Harvey Oswald (William Rothhaar) and his Russian wife, Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg). Directed by Nelson McCormick ("The West Wing"), the film examines the events that led both men to Dallas, Texas, on that fateful day in November 1963.
But how does an actor portray a historic figure who has been played by countless other actors? Lowe, who appeared at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in Beverly Hills Wednesday, spoke of the difference between inhabiting the president as opposed to impersonating him.
"I'm not Darrell Hammond from 'SNL,' " said Lowe, who was nominated for an Emmy for his role on "The West Wing." If you want a guy to imitate him, I'm not him." But Lowe knew he had to master one aspect: the voice.
"He had two voices. The voice we all know — 'Come to Berlin!' " Lowe said in Kennedy's recognizable Boston accent. "Then he had the way he spoke in private. The Kennedy stutter step, if you will. His stammer. That’s what you don’t see a lot of. I tried to bring that."
He succeeded. In clips shown to TV critics, Lowe offers a goosebumps-worthy portrayal of a man who was killed five months before the actor was born. Lowe said he grew up aware of the political tensions in the country and has been fascinated with Kennedy himself since he was in the first grade. Still, with everything he'd read about the man he idolized, Lowe said he did learn new things by working on the movie.
"I always wondered why he didn't have a more happening Don Draper pocket-square thing going on," Lowe said. "Dude, you're the president, get somebody to make you look tight! What I realized is that he used reading glasses, though he was rarely photographed in them. He kept the glasses in his his pocket and he had a nervous tick where he would take them out and put them back in ... and he'd push the pocket square inside."
The movie will air in November, timed to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.