Coming to theatres this Friday is the film PARKLAND. Based on the novel FOUR DAYS IN NOVEMBER by Vincent Bugliosi it tells the story that most people don’t know about the Kennedy assassination. Instead of focusing on Dealy Plaza and the book depository as most films do, PARKLAND is a film dealing with the stories of those that were there.
From the doctors, to the agents to the film footage taken by Abraham Zapruder, PARKLAND is riveting, sad, hard to watch and storytelling at its finest. From costuming to location this director took no chances in meshing the story with an authentic look and feel.
I was thrilled to be able to speak with the director Peter Landesman about the film and a twist of my own.
Hello Peter, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today because I’m thrilled to be talking with you.
I’m glad we could talk then.
What made you decide to take on this project?
As a journalist I’m always pulled to these kinds of stories. I like the mythology and to figure out why something happened the way it did. Tom Hanks put this book in my hand and it became clear to both of us that this is a real and powerful story of the JFK assassination that had never really been told. I just wanted to tell this side of the story, which, to me, is the most compelling side of the story.
I guess when Tom Hanks walks up and hands you a book you pretty much want to pay attention to that.
Yes, sure and Tom’s a guy like everybody else. These things take years to do so you sure as heck need to connect with the story too. I did connect with it and the book is a masterpiece and set me off on an investigation and my own research for about three years after that.
I was just so riveted how you went to the average Joe side of the story.
It’s about ordinary people on an extraordinary day. The Kennedy assassination was something that happened to the people. There story is much more compelling and tell us more about what happened than any abstract theories there are out there.
The cast you put together for this film is stellar.
It was a magnificent cast and I was very, very fortunate. These are some of the best actors of our time. They all wanted to be connected to the story for the same reasons I did. It was really a wonderful happy accident.
A few years ago I was watching another Kennedy assassination film and when they showed Zapruder I thought, “Wow, he looks like Paul Giamatti!” You can imagine my shock!
Oh wow, that’s funny! It’s one of the reasons I went to Paul although he was a natural choice. He has amazing abilities as an actor.
Playing this man who is traumatized yet still understands the importance of what he did!
He understood the burden of it, understood that it was going to end life, as he knew it.
Paul did such a beautiful job but yet you have to think, ‘what was life like for Mr. Zapruder after that?’
For him it was the end of an American dream. He was an immigrant who came to America and was a real patriot. He knew what he was reprehensible as well.
What made you choose Zac Efron for the character of Jim?
I wanted an actor who himself was on a journey. Zac is amazingly talented. I saw him in THE PAPERBOY and thought this was a kid who had an enormous wealth of talent. The character he is playing is a rookie doctor that gets into something way over his head.
The other character I was riveted by was Robert Oswald.
That to me was an Oscar worthy performance.
The cemetery scene – I couldn’t breathe!
That’s great to hear. I think we all performed at a level we didn’t even know we had in us.
The emotion on the set, how was that?
It was very palatable and very present. There were moments when the entire cast and crew had to take a breath because emotions were so high.
When it was done and it all came together, what emotions did you have about the final work?
It was a very emotional journey for me. It takes many years to make a film from inception to finish. It was a long personal journey for me. I’m not in my 20’s and to some degree this is a fourth career for me so it was a very personal journey for me. It was powerful. Last night I was sitting at a screening with people from Parkland and I had the chance to see what we had accomplished through them.
When you were putting this together, what difficulties did you see trying to make the story happen because there are so many stories in one film?
It’s hard to make a movie anyway with its problems but the challenge was to fulfill my obligation to what I felt was staying true to the mission. I wanted to make a strong and disorienting experience for the film.
Thank you for saying that, it was disorienting because your emotions are all over the place!
Yes, that’s what it is to experience something cataclysmic like that, it really is. It’s standing up into the headwinds and surviving it. Your afraid, scared and when you have those conditions that’s when real heroism happens, when ordinary people can survive that.
The heroism wasn’t even something they knew they were doing.
I enjoyed the fact that the cast melded so well, no one stood out from the rest, which made the story flow amazingly.
It was a cohesive cast and everybody felt connected to the story. Everyone was pushing at the same level.
The Kennedy life and assassination has always been something I read growing up. It was almost like a very mini-obsession of mine. This film more so than others, and not that the others aren’t good, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is PARKLAND will reach audiences on a totally unique level because the characters are relatable because it’s about people.
I wanted the film to be built with elements no one had ever seen before. So all the stuff you think you know you won’t see in this movie. It’s all going to be things you don’t know.
When people walk out of the theatre after seeing PARKLAND, what do you hope they are thinking?
I hope that they feel they’ve experiences the assassination for the first time and understand that heroism and acts of patriotism can also come from ordinary people making the right decisions and doing the right things. That’s not a typical thing for this country. I thought it was time to tell this story that is slightly different than the norm.
It’s like the Indian proverb ‘sometimes you have to lean into the wind to stand up straight’
That is absolutely right and well said, thank you. We are all very proud of what we have done.
It is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of one of our most beloved Presidents. This weekend, see the story in a different light. Opening in theatres is PARKLAND.