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TV Column: ‘Killing Lincoln’ producer stirs tempest in a tea party

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PASADENA, Calif. — John Wilkes Booth “could be the poster child for the tea party,” Erik Jendresen, exec producer of National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Lincoln,” told shocked TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.

Booth was not mad, and his views were, in fact, pretty common when he assassinated Lincoln, Jendresen said Friday.

“This is not the act of somebody who can easily be dismissed as a psychopath, so that it’s easy to understand — ‘Oh well, he was crazy.’ This is a man who believed what still probably 20 percent of this country still believes.”

“Killing Lincoln,” a two-hour special, is an adaptation of the book of the same name written by Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. The NatGeo channel is a co-venture of National Geographic and another division of FNC-parent NewsCorp. called Fox Cable Networks.

Understandably, TV critics wondered what O’Reilly thought about the exec producer’s comment. Sadly, O’Reilly was not in attendance. So they asked Jendresen.

“I can’t speak for Mr. O’Reilly,” he said, accurately.

“If you look at the politics of the time, and the epithets that were being hurled at Lincoln, there is a feeling in the nation that is not dissimilar to the past four years of Barack Obama’s presidency — the idea today of this imperial presidency . . . [of] somebody who is essentially going to declare himself king and take over,” he continued.

“It’s stunning to me to read some of the newspaper articles of the time, some of the contents of the letters and memoirs from the time, and some of the things that were thought about Lincoln in the South are so similar . . . to the dialect of today.”

Liberace’s grand style

Nearly 30 years after the death of Liberace, TV critics don’t seem to know what to make of seeing Michael Douglas play the renowned pianist/flamboyant entertainer — much less Matt Damon playing his lover — in the HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra.”

“Did you find him attractive?” one critic asked Damon, after Douglas explained that he’d tried hard not to impersonate Liberace in the role, and instead tried to “make myself attractive to Matt.”

“Very attractive,” responded Damon, who plays Scott Thorson, Liberace’s much-younger lover and author of the book “Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace,” on which the HBO flick is based.

Another critic thought it must have “jolted” Douglas to wear Liberace’s trademark outre costumes, and to shoot scenes in the Liberace-esque settings.

Damon, meanwhile, got asked to discuss the difference between “regular glamour” and “Liberace glamour.”

(Damon apparently spent more time in wardrobe for this movie than in his previous 15 projects and insisted that he thoroughly enjoyed it.)

Then Douglas got asked what his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones, had to say “when she saw you dressed like that.”

“Where have you been all my life?” Douglas guessed, assuring critics that she’s very proud of the picture.

“Did she offer you input in any way?” the critic persisted.

“You mean suggesting how I did my makeup?” Douglas snapped.

Have you ever felt that you would like to bang someone on the head with something hard and heavy? It was kind of like that.

Douglas noted that a dozen years ago, when he was working on “Traffic” with Steven Soderbergh, the director asked him: “Have you ever thought about Liberace?”

“I looked at him and said, ‘Is this guy messing with me?’ ” Douglas admitted.

“How many men did you say that to in the last 10 years?” a critic asked Soderbergh, who directed “Candelabra.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of my opening line,” Soderbergh snarked.

‘Normal Heart’ to HBO

Ryan Murphy will direct Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer in Larry Kramer’s adaptation of his Tony-winning play “The Normal Heart” for HBO.

Roberts, who was last directed by Murphy in the best-forgotten “Eat Pray Love,” will play Emma Brookner, a physician who treated some of the earliest HIV/AIDS patients in New York in the early ’80s. Ruffalo will take the role of Ned Weeks, the founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Bomer has been cast as the reporter who became his lover.

The project, which was knocking around last year, won’t be seen until 2014, HBO announced.

To read more from Winter TV Press Tour 2013, go to washingtonpost.com/
tvblog
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