“I was not of Reagan’s political bent but I wanted to find the heart and the humanity, rather than the history and the politics,” reveals actor Tim Matheson during our recent webcam chat (watch above) about portraying President Ronald Reagan in “Killing Reagan.” He adds that “once I realized it wasn’t a political story or propaganda but a love story about Ronnie and Nancy and how this killing attempt affected their relationship, then I was in. You can’t act politics… just emotions, wants and desires.”
With Cynthia Nixon starring as wife Nancy Reagan, the telefilm aired on NatGeo a few weeks ago. Of his portrayal, Matheson explains that “the challenge of playing such an iconic figure as Ronald Reagan really appealed to me and terrified me at the same time. That’s what we as actors do — try to find those moments were we can get out there on a really high wire. Your technique and training takes over and hopefully you survive.”
Playing the president gave Matheson some insight into the man’s humanity: “The most remarkable thing about him was right after he was in recovery, he asked about this guy who shot him. He said ‘I’ll pray for him and I have to forgive him.’ I thought that was a very enlightened spiritual side of the man that I probably wouldn’t have guessed he was capable of and I was very moved by that.”
He also says “sometimes when you are acting in a scene, emotions come and you don’t expect it. In ‘Killing Reagan’ it was the scenes where he was joking in the hospital after he’d been shot. I think it was his attempt to make things seem normal and try and make light. When Nancy came in and he said ‘Nancy, I forgot to duck.’ That got very emotional for me. I was overcome with emotion. It was surprising: the gravity of it, the humour of it and the contrast between those.”
The performance now has Matheson and Nixon nominated at the 2017 Critics Choice Awards along with the program itself for Best TV Movie or Limited Series. Will “Killing Reagan” set Matheson on course to earn a Golden Globe or SAG nomination next? Check out our full interview above for more, including his reflections on his time on “The West Wing.”
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