If you haven’t heard the news already, Boston native and Academy-Award winning screenwriter (remember that?) Matt Damon may be headed into production on a biopic of assassinated senator and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy. Adapted from Evan Thomas’ 2000 biography, “His Life”, the film would be the largest Hollywood production to take on the story of the fallen liberal icon, with Gary Ross slated to direct working off of a Steven Knight script. Damon would also be the most famous actor to take on the demanding role—but still, for a little bit of context and fun, we gathered up the best performers who’ve portrayed RFK to see what kind of competition Damon is up against.
5. Linus Roache, “RFK” (2000)
Now the presiding Assistant District Attorney on “Law & Order”, British actor Roache did a fine job of portraying the young politician from his days at the side of his brother, JFK, to his own presidential run and subsequent death in this made-for-TV movie. Like any good English actor, Roache had the body language down and obviously spent time with a speech trainer, so we’ll give him high points for effort.
4. Casey Affleck, “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” (1990)
Yeah, that’s right, Casey Affleck, Damon’s long-time friend, brother of co-screenwriter Ben, and Boston native, showed up as the young Bobby Kennedy in this schmaltzy TV mini-series. At that age, Affleck was a spitting image of the man who would grow to be one of our youngest Attorneys General and, naturally, he had the Beantown tongue to go along with it. Today, Affleck has cultivated an alternately spooky and funny screen identity, but back then it was a solid match.
3. Martin Sheen, “The Missiles of October” (1974)
The first, but not the last time Kennedy’s “Thirteen Days” (a must read) served as the basis for a movie, this TV account of the Cuban Missile Crisis was also the first, but not the last, time Sheen played a Kennedy (he was also JFK in the 1983 mini-series “Kennedy”). While shorter in stature than RFK and technically not much of a lookalike, Sheen has always moved around the screen with a bit of gravitas and has employed a perfect New England accent in both “The Departed” and “The West Wing”. No wonder he’s played the president, a presidential candidate, or White House official seven times in his long career.
2. Steven Culp, “Thirteen Days” (2000)
One of Hollywood’s better “that guys” working today, Steven Culp is one of those highly flexible actors who can step into the spotlight or blend in with the background depending on a director’s needs. Here, Culp almost steals the show with a fiery, genuine performance in an otherwise tepid take on Kennedy’s gripping, vital behind-closed-doors account of the Cuban Missile crisis. Unlike others who’ve taken on the part, Culp brought real emotion, strength, and fragility to the role. He’s no saint here, but no slouch either—Culp’s Kennedy is the real deal.
1. James F. Kelly, “Dark Skies” (1997), “Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair” (1993), “Onassis: The Richest Man in the World” (1988), “LBJ: The Early Years” (1987), “J. Edgar Hoover” (1987), “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy” (1981)
He’s not the best known actor to take on RFK, but he is the only one who’s allowed the beloved, fallen firebrand to define his career. Between the years 1981 and 1997, Kelly played Bobby Kennedy six times on television, more than any other actor. In addition to playing JFK in “Sinatra”, Kelly looked the part, walked the walk, and talked the talk. True, playing RFK everywhere (including the bizarre “X-Files” rip off “Dark Skies”) may have typecast him for life and limited his career. But for his sacrifice, he more than deserves to be at the top of our little list.
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“Matt Damon To Star In New RFK Biopic” (Deadline)
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