In the more than 52 years since it occurred, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been depicted in movies and on TV from seemingly every conceivable angle. So leave it to a relatively new medium — with the help of some of old media’s most creative minds — to come up with a novel approach.
In “11.22.63,” an eight-part event series dropping on the streaming service Hulu appropriately enough on Presidents Day, Monday (Feb. 15), executive producers J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Lost”), Stephen King (“The Shining,” “Under the Dome”) and Bridget Carpenter (“Friday Night Lights”) spin a yarn that takes a decidedly science-fiction approach, about a disillusioned high-school English teacher who gets the chance to go back in time to prevent the slaying of the nation’s 35th chief executive.
Jake Epping (James Franco, “Milk”) is down on his luck. His wife left him, his students don’t listen and his novel failed miserably. But when his ailing pal Al Templeton (Chris Cooper, “Adaptation”) shows him “the rabbit hole,” a secret portal back to 1960, and asks him to go into the past and prevent the Kennedy assassination and thus create a better present, the burnt-out educator finds the challenge irresistible.
But what if the past doesn’t want to be changed? And by saving Kennedy, what course of events will that set in motion, events that may threaten Jake’s very existence? As the enormity of the mission unfolds, Jake finds himself faced with an increasingly complex set of choices.
Also in the large cast are Josh Duhamel (“Las Vegas”), T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Sarah Gadon (“Maps to the Stars”), Daniel Webber (“Home & Away”) and Lucy Fry (“Vampire Academy”). The story is based on the novel by King.
“We’re not exactly telling a history lesson,” Franco recently told a gathering of TV critics in Pasadena, Calif. “With Jake Epping, the time traveler, you have a new ‘in’ to the story and you get to learn everything all over again but from a completely fresh perspective that we haven’t really seen before. And so I think it’s a guide. It’s a way to kind of guide a new generation into what happened.”
Much of the series was shot in Toronto but some key scenes were shot in Dallas at the site of the slaying, Dealey Plaza, which helped inform the performances of some of the cast members who weren’t yet born in 1963.
“It was eerie being there,” Franco says. “And [productions have been shot] there before, but ours has its own little twists and turns, so it felt like revisiting but also that we were doing something new that hadn’t been done before. But like any movie or project that you go to the actual place, it resonates with something. We did ‘Milk’ and we shot in the actual place where Harvey Milk ran his campaign, and the same thing with Dealey Plaza. It still retains something of what happened.”
“You get a sort of authenticity,” Webber adds, “and there’s a little thing for the actors within the performance that pick up on little vibes in different environments. … And as a performer, you go there and you just basically keep getting fed by this environment. So I think it adds another layer to an already quite complex story.”