Hulu’s “11.22.63” looks back with hindsight at the theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the man who U.S. history books have taught us killed the young president, Lee Harvey Oswald.
For Daniel Webber, the Australian actor who plays Oswald on the eight-episode limited series, much of his character’s biography was very new to him.
“I didn’t know any of his story, any of his family, so the whole thing was new and surprising,” Webber, who starred on Australia’s long-running soap “Home and Away” last year, told Business Insider. “There’s so much to this man and he is such a complex guy, so trying to learn about him was interesting.”
Based on the 2012 Stephen King novel of the same title and executive-produced by King, J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and showrunner Bridget Carpenter (“Friday Night Lights”), “11.22.63” stars James Franco as Jake, a high school teacher who’s drafted by his ageing mentor into using a hidden portal to 1960 in order to stop the JFK assassination. Once there, he can’t go back and forth in time or he’ll risk erasing any progress he has made. But before stopping Oswald, he will explore several other theories surrounding JFK’s death.
“That’s kind of the whole point of this series. We really do want to look at those infinitesimal day-to-day choices that we make or don’t make, which end up setting us on a certain path and that lining up to you shooting the president,” Webber explained. “That was one of the exciting parts about this — looking at what happens if Lee doesn’t do this, maybe the past has been changed enough so that he won’t do this due to things like the butterfly effect. It’s an interesting question.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s television critic called Webber’s portrayal of Oswald “wonderful.” And Variety singled out Webber’s “mastering [of] Oswald’s peculiar speech pattern and growing sense of paranoia.” Webber, who had never used an American accent on screen, studied Oswald’s speaking style first on his own, and then with a coach to refine his accent.
“There’s quite a lot of recordings on him,” Webber said. “And each one contains a very different-sounding voice in its own way. So it was finding a middle ground with the different voices, ’cause I think he was always in some way playing a different part… That was part of the process of trying to figure out his voice: Learning the sounds and the shifts that Oswald had and the unusual inflections, then really trying to replicate that and spending hours each day just practicing.”
Then there were the more psychological aspects of Oswald for Webber to absorb, such as his complicated relationship with his widowed mother (played by Cherry Jones).
“His mother Marguerite was grandiose and controlling and overwrought and she was a lost soul that was trying to fill this bottomless well of uncontrolled love no matter what the cost was,” Webber explained. “I think that Lee was a real projection of that, so I looked into the mother-son relationship quite deeply to understand him and understand the reason behind the choices and actions that he took from 13 years old to when he was killed at 24.”
“11.22.63” debuts Monday, February 15 (Presidents’ Day) on Hulu.