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Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear bring Camelot to Toronto as The Kennedys

The Vancouver Sun
By Ben Kaplan, Canwest News Service

"Stop Kennedy Smears" is the name of a website devoted to bringing down the History Channel's eight-part drama about the Kennedys, which is scheduled to begin shooting on June 7.

"You can either look at it like a piece of entertainment or you can't, but we're not out to make a history lesson or a documentary," says Jon Cassar, the two-time Emmy Award-winning director of 24 in charge of bringing the History Channel's first scripted drama to life. "We touch on historical events, but only as it affects the emotional through lines of the family. It has kind of a Godfather feeling: The Godfather is about the mafia, but it's really about fathers and sons."

"The Kennedys" is shooting in Toronto, and leading a tour of his set at Dufferin Gate Studio, Cassar points out where they'll build the Oval Office, the Department of Justice and Jack and Jackie's bedroom, where Cassar promises a good deal of action will take place.

"It's hard to build tension into the missile crisis because we're all sitting here now and we know the world didn't get blown up," says Cassar, who wears a 24 hat and blue jeans and has two separate walls of photographs in his production office: One set of photos shows the 35th U.S. president hard at work, the other shows him with his wife and children, his mother, Rose, and his father, Joe, a relentless business tycoon who pushed his sons hard to overachieve.

"The fact that John had a wife that he was knocking heads with and had to go upstairs for that and downstairs for the fact that Russia wanted to blow up the world, that's what I want to see," Cassar says. "History's behind us. We're more interested in who these people were than the actual historical events."

Helping Cassar recreate history, or at least shine a light on how certain historical figures may have responded to actual historical events, are the actors Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes. Holmes, who is married to Tom Cruise and is the mother of his four-year-old daughter, may bring a special understanding to her role as the former U.S. president's glamorous wife.

"I don't want her doing an imitation. She's a mother and a wife and she's dealing with the press; I want her to grab what she's going through in her own life for the part," says Cassar, who points to Frank Langella's Oscar-nominated work in Frost/Nixon as what he's hoping his actors will achieve. "You couldn't do a better job than Langella. He didn't look like Nixon, but he embodied him, and that's what we're going for here."

Bringing to the screen one of the most larger-than-life, divisive and ultimately tragic U.S. presidents has already attracted its fair share of controversy to the not-yet-built Kennedys sets in Toronto. Cassar says he anticipated it and plans to ignore the big brouhaha.

"I understand why the History Channel wants this — anytime they put on anything with the Kennedys' name in the title the ratings go through the roof," Cassar says. "But I don't think our portrayal is unflattering as just trying to be truthful to how much family life will suffer when you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders. That's the story I want to hear."