First-time writer-director Peter Landesman hopes to showcase the emotional and physical struggles that American citizens and officials struggled to deal with in his new drama, Parkland.
Parkland recounts the chaotic events that occurred in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, as it follows the assassination of JFK (Brett Stimely), as he was riding in a parade with his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy (Kat Steffens). The story weaves together the perspectives of a handful of ordinary individuals suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances immediately following the president’s death.
Among those who first-handily contended with the murder were such civilians as the young doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital who tried to save Kennedy, including Dr. Malcom Perry (Colin Hanks) and Dr. Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico (Zac Efron); an unwitting cameraman, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who captured what became the most watched and examined film in history; and Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong), who was left to deal with his shattered family.
The drama also followed the law enforcement agents who handled the assassination, including such FBI agents as James Hosty (Ron Livingston), who nearly had the gunman in his grasp, and JFK’s security team, including Roy Kellerman (Tom Welling), who were witnesses to both the president’s death and Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s rise to power over a nation whose innocence was forever altered.
Landesman generously took the time to sit down with us recently in New York City for an exclusive interview to talk about writing and directing Parkland. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how after he read the book Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he was inspired to make a film about the truth of the commander-in-chief’s death, and how the casting process was humbling, as most of the actors in the movie were his first choices.
Check out the full interview below!
You decided to write the screenplay for Parkland after reading Vincent Bugliosi’s 2008 book, Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. What was it about the book, and the subject matter of Kennedy’s assassination, that convinced you to write the script for the film?
Peter Landesman: Well, I feel like for a long time, in the 50 years since it happened, we have focused on the wrong elements, like the fairytales of the conspiracy theories. So it was frustrating to not understand what really happened. Tom Hanks gave me the book, and it was a roadmap of the long journey of understanding and uncovering what really happened to the people it really happened to, and their visceral, ground-level experiences.
How heavily did you rely on the book when you were writing the script, and did you do any additional research when you were penning the screenplay?
Peter Landesman: The book was a roadmap and launching point. Then I went on a three-year research jag on my own journey, through the book and past the book. I spoke to real people involved, including actual witnesses. A number of the people who you see portrayed in the movie are real people involved in the case.
Besides writing the script for Parkland, you also directed the drama. Was it always your intention to both pen and helm the film, and do you feel that scribing the script helped in your directorial duties on the set?
Peter Landesman: Yes, it was always my intention to both write and direct the film. When a director is also a writer, everyone on the production looks to him, knowing he gave birth to the idea. There’s a different level of viability.
You wrote and directed Parkland after working as a journalist at The New York Times Magazine, where you’re most well known for writing The Girls Next Door, an exposé on the sex slave trade in the U.S. What was the transition of working as a journalist to making a film? Did your time as a journalist influence the way you wrote the film?
Peter Landesman: Well, it influenced me in the research. The visual storytelling is very on the ground and visceral. It’s very subjective, trying to give the audience the experience of it happening to them. That came from experiences I had in conflict zones.