Infinite Energy Center used as backdrop for National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Reagan”

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By: George Dickie

Published: October 7, 2016


At first glance, Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett would seem an unlikely filming location for a presidential debate scene. But turn the lights down in a conference room filled with production equipment and up on a podium sporting a presidential seal, and no one would be any the wiser.

It’s a hot early June afternoon in Duluth, where a production crew is busy filming several scenes for National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Reagan.” The two-hour telepic, which premieres Sunday, Oct. 16, is based on the book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard that follows the events leading up to the 1981 attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr.

The movie actually breaks down into two stories. One is that of Reagan, played in the film by Tim Matheson (“The West Wing,” “Animal House”), the former California governor who rides voter disenchantment with a foundering economy to an easy victory over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. The other is Hinckley’s (Kyle S. More, “Murder in the First,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), a mentally ill child of privilege looking for ways to impress the object of his obsession, “Taxi Driver” actress Jodie Foster. Their stories and lives converge on March 30, 1981, when Hinckley shoots Reagan and three others outside a Washington, D.C., hotel, nearly taking the life the nation’s 40th chief executive.

On this day, Matheson is at the podium filming a soliloquy delivered by Reagan during his famous October 1980 debate with Carter, with Reagan’s actual words played to him through an earpiece. The 68-year-old actor is a stickler for detail, stopping the filming numerous times to get Reagan’s cadence, inflections and pauses down to a tee. Sporting a slicked shell of hair and a dark blue suit, he certainly looks and sounds the part. But he’s also very wary of coming off as someone doing a Reagan impression.

“That’s the danger …,” he says. “I think the trap is to try and do a mimic of the great speeches and things and not to find the rhythm and the inner thing because nobody’s looking at both of them. (Viewers are) going to be looking at whatever we do and they’re going to go, ‘Is that how it was?’ And then you go and look, ‘Oh, it’s a little slower. He didn’t quite say that word, he said this word.’ You know, I got a couple of words transposed.

“But I think the most important thing was to try and find the inner core of what his beliefs were because he had very strong principles about what he believes politically and personally and emotionally. So I was looking just for the inner sort of course that he was taking and then let the outside just take care of itself.”

The attempt on Reagan’s life had a profound effect on his wife, Nancy, played here by former “Sex and the City” co-star Cynthia Nixon. In the early days of his presidency, says the 50-year-old actress, Reagan was the subject of much criticism and Nancy felt that they were somewhat under siege and not safe, a belief further exacerbated by the shooting.

“She worries that they aren’t being protected better,” Nixon says, “that they’re kind of under attack from all of these angles. And then of course, this thing happens where he is literally attacked and was almost killed, and I think at that point she will not take any chances. And that’s when she becomes — she’s very aggressive anyway in her guard-dog stance — but this makes her feel that there are all these people and I’m supposed to trust them but there are too many things being left to chance here and we’re not playing around. This can have very dire consequences.”

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