LOS ANGELES, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Actor Kristoffer Polaha is getting ready for his life to change in a big way this weekend, after Sunday's premiere of the TV movie "America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story."
A relative unknown, Polaha stars as one of the best-known figures in American life in the 1990s -- the sexy, influential son of assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Polaha wondered, when he was offered the part, whether it would be a good career move.
Given the passionate feelings JFK Jr. aroused among those who loved him, Polaha considered the possibility that he might get an opposite reaction from Kennedy fans.
"When I was auditioning, I told my manager, people are going to hate me," said Polaha. "He said, 'Yeah, but people will love you too. You just have to take the good with the bad.'"
The bad can be very bad, indeed.
Michael Chiklis was a relative unknown when he played the larger-than-life John Belushi in "Wired," based on Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's biography of the life and tragic death of the comedian. Critics thrashed Chiklis, but he eventually regained his balance and went on to win the Emmy last year for lead actor in a TV drama ("The Shield").
In an interview with United Press International, Polaha said he stands by his work in "America's Prince" -- so whatever the critics say, he hopes to be ready.
"I'm really proud," he said. "There were two days were I left the set feeling like I could given more or didn't get what I felt like I could have gotten."
Just because TV viewers are getting their first look at Polaha, that doesn't mean he just showed up in the acting profession. He has extensive experience in theater.
He said he decided to do "America's Prince" not only for the exposure, but also because he thought the script, by Jon Maas, was great.
"It doesn't air a bunch of dirty laundry," said Polaha. "It's almost a love letter to the guy."
For example, Polaha said the movie -- based largely on Christopher Anderson's best-seller "The Day John Died" -- does not deal with Kennedy's use of marijuana, as the book did.
Polaha said it wasn't hard to understand why so many attractive women were so attracted to JFK Jr.
"I used to see him in New York City, like riding his bike around," said Polaha. "There was something so healthy about him. You know when you smell a cologne and it sets off your imagination? This guy reminded you of being outdoors, fresh air."
In his research for the role, Polaha said people consistently told him that despite the extraordinary circumstance of his life, Kennedy was preoccupied with being a regular guy.
"Here he was $100 million rich, the son of a president who was assassinated, the son of Jackie (Kennedy), a great head of hair, flies a plane, kayaks by himself, scuba dives, worked with mother Teresa -- he dug fencepost holes for the guy who wrote songs for the Grateful Dead. Instead of taking advantage of it," said Polaha, "he got more and more regular, more humble every day. You look at his cousins and they all kind of spontaneously combusted in a way."
Polaha said the credit for Kennedy's personal success goes to his mother, played in the TV movie by Jacqueline Bisset, who previously played Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis in the 1978 movie "The Greek Tycoon."
John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed in July 1999 -- along with his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and her sister Lauren Bessette -- when the plane he was piloting from New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Regardless of the pressure that he might feel playing a man so well-known and loved, Polaha said the gig was also a lot of fun.
"It's pure joy," he said. "It's like a completely virgin ski run. It's like playing Hamlet. Here's a character who's got so much soul, and yet he's got everything at his disposal. It's almost like something like the plane crash had to happen to him, because he never did it himself. He never ruined his own image."