Behind The Sign: Will Rothhaar, Killing Kennedy Breakout Star


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A charismatic and versatile young actor, WILL ROTHHAAR is already an accomplished Hollywood veteran, having worked steadily in the industry since the age of 4 and amassing over 70 TV and film credits.

This fall, Rothhaar will star in the highly anticipated National Geographic Channel’s television movie “Killing Kennedy” opposite Rob Lowe, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Michelle Trachtenberg.  Based on the best-selling book of the same name by political pundit Bill O’Reilly, Rothhaar plays JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the factual account of the lives of the two men whose fates were inexorably tied on that tragic day in 1963.  Trachtenberg plays Oswald’s Russian wife, Marina, while Lowe plays President Kennedy, and Goodwin stars as Jackie O.

In our exclusive interview, we got to know a little bit more about the man behind the character.

The Interview:

1) What was it like playing one of the most notorious villains in American History?

It was incredible.  The thing about Oswald is that he has always been seen as a 2-dimensional villain.  Part of what myself and director Nelson McCormick wanted to do with him was paint the human side, as this has never been told before.

2) How did you prepare for the role?

Lots and LOTS of research. Books, documentaries, YouTubing, and  Googling. Digging deep, as there is less info out there on Oswald, at least, it is harder to find.  But the journey of all of it was so rewarding.  I was discovering new things right up until we wrapped the show. I'm still digging deeper now!

3) Once you became Lee Harvey Oswald were you able to sympathize with him in any way?

Oswald grew up with a lot of instability.  His father died 2 months before he was born of a massive heart attack.  His mother was unstable and picked him up and moved him to different cities all over the country for different lengths of time.  He didn't have the opportunity to put down roots and had no real friends.  A lot of neglect and lack of love as a young boy.  Those seeds, or lack thereof at the age when one is developing themselves as an individual tend to give way to deeper problems later on.

There was a time, right at the beginning when I was looking at him from the outside, trying to figure out where the crack was, where I'd be able to get inside his head... There was one night when I had been talking to my father, Michael Rothhaar on the phone, and afterward was reflecting on how grateful I was that I grew up in a home filled with love.  We all are a bunch of struggling actors, but we never wanted love in our house. It was abundant... And that is the moment where I found the crack... I realized that he never had any of that, and how awful it must have been to have to deal with that as a child... Suddenly I was overcome with the deepest sadness and understanding for the guy... I felt for him to the point of tears.  And I got it.  From then on, that was my plan of attack in playing him.

4) Did you get to meet with Bill O’Reilly? If so, what was he like?

I did!  He's very tall.  Nice guy, who came and watched us do our thing one day.  Grateful he wrote the book, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this now!

5) If you could go back in a time machine what era would you choose and why?

I would pick the 1920's.  Golden age in the world for literature, music, and art.  Ideally with some changes though.  Like some medical advances, equality for women, and civil rights.  Oh, and I like the clothes and the haircuts.

6) Have you always been a history buff or has 'Killing Kennedy' made you more curious about history?

I LOVE history.  Always have.  However, this subject was particularly fun for me as my father Michael Rothhaar, and my mother Nancy Linehan Charles had educated me on this subject since I was a young boy.  My grandmother lived in Dallas, I had been to Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository many times as a youngster... So the fact that I had the opportunity to just explore and explore this subject was super rewarding and certainly scratched my itch for research!


Now, for the Hollywood Branded Behind The Sign Quiz:

1) The nickname my friends have for me is:

Willy, Henry, Willburs, ill Will, Trilliam, Willy Boy Blue.

2) My first celebrity crush was:

That's a tie between Madonna as Breathless Mahoney from Dick Tracy, and Trini from the Power Rangers.

Current and forever celebrity crush?  Monica Belucci.

3) The most embarrassing moment as an actor that still makes me cringe was when I:

Was 12 years old, sitting alone on stage in front of a full house at the Geffen Playhouse, and I completely blanked on my next line.  I was TERRIFIED.  Still makes my stomach turn.

4) If I could pick four people to have dinner with, dead or alive, I'd choose:

Neil Gaiman

William Shakespeare

Chet Baker

Billie Holiday

5. A movie that made me cry is:

Forrest Gump.  And a number of others I'm sure.  I get misty if I'm moved.


Photo Credit: Willy Lamar 

More Resources

“Killing Kennedy” (trailer can be viewed here) is set to air on November 10th, timed to the 50th anniversary of the tragic event.

Check out more behind-the-sign coverage from Hollywood Branded on our blog!


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