Hamish Linklater: Lincoln was on 'date night' when he was killed in 'Manhunt'

Lili Taylor and Hamish Linklater star in "Manhunt," premiering Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
1 of 5 | Lili Taylor and Hamish Linklater star in "Manhunt," premiering Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, March 14 (UPI) -- Hamish Linklater says that, from a performance standpoint, he didn't feel the weight and tragedy of the scene in his new miniseries Manhunt when his character, Abraham Lincoln, is shot in the head while seeing a play with his wife, Mary, because the real president wasn't aware of what was happening.

"I had never seen My American Cousin before. It's creaky and the laugh line, 'You sockdologizing old man trap,' brings the house down and covers John Wilkes Booth's approach," the Midnight Mass and Legion alum told UPI in a recent Zoom interview with reporters.


"Everyone's laughing. It's this beautiful date night that they finally get to have together and he is finally laughing for the first time in five years and then he's killed. It's just so cruel, but is also so lovely that he did get those laughs "


Created by Monica Beletsky (The Leftovers, Parenthood) and premiering Friday on Apple TV+, the thriller is based on James L. Swanson's non-fiction book about the 12-day hunt for Booth, who attacked Lincoln in 1865 at Ford's Theater in Washington, just as the Civil War ended.

The series co-stars Lili Taylor, Tobias Menzies, Lovie Simone, Will Harrison, Brandon Flynn, Damian O'Hare, Glenn Morshower, Patton Oswalt and Matt Walsh.

Linklater praised Boyle, who is perhaps best known for his work in Masters of the Air and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for his tour de force portrayal of Booth.

"Anthony Boyle is just an animal, the epitome of a true actor," Linklater said.

"He would vault out of that balcony over and over and they would be like, 'Wait until we put the pads down! The stunt guys are going to do it!' And he would just jump. He was fantastic."

In spotlighting one of the most awful crimes in American history, Manhunt looks at the contrast between fame earned through merit and the infamy won by heinous misdeeds.

"It's a pretty thin-to-invisible, the line between notoriety and just being notorious," Linklater said.


He added that he read several books about the esteemed Booth acting dynasty -- "like a good theater nerd would" -- and was fascinated to learn how Booth became the most well-known, but hated member of his family, even eclipsing brother Edwin, whom Linklater described as the "Leonardo DiCaprio" of the era.

"It's just such a wild thing," Linklater said. "The most famous actor in the world at the time [and] it was his brother [who murdered Lincoln]," Linklater said.

To prepare to play the slain president, Linklater said he studied other actors' screen portrayals, but "more as a fan than as a thief."

"If you want to steal from the best, you want to start with Daniel Day-Lewis," he added, referring to the actor who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the titular president in the 2012 drama, Lincoln.

"But, he's like Fort Knox. I don't know how you even get in there. The man [Day-Lewis] comes from another planet or a heavenly cloud or something like that," Linklater said.

"I really appreciate all of the unbelievable actors who have played the part, but he is such a great man. He contains multitudes. What we were doing was really trying to focus on the guy who was a husband and a father and a friend."


Spending more than three hours a day in the makeup chair and donning exquisitely made period-accurate clothing also helped Linklater do his job.

"Everything was so incredibly authentic from the discomfort of the boots to the texture of the wallpaper," he said.

"You don't need to use any substitutions or sense memory or imagination at all. It's all here. There were just such phenomenal artists in every aspect and inch of the production."

Also crucial to the story is the friendship between Lincoln and his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, played by Menzies.

"Monica did such a beautiful job of calibrating their relationship and showing times when Stanton had to be steel while Lincoln was unsure, and moments when Lincoln was like, 'This is what we're doing,' and then Stanton would follow," Linklater said.

"Showing how that friendship developed -- they began as rival lawyers and then became the closest of friends -- was necessary for motivating what would follow, which is the actual blood and body of the series, this locomotive chase to catch the killer and expose who sent those three assassins out that night and then to defend the Union and get Reconstruction started."

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