“Did the fact that John Wilkes Booth had been an actor play any part in your decision to direct The Conspirator?”

Rick S, thanks for your question. The fact that John Wilkes Booth was an actor didn’t influence my decision to direct The Conspirator (there were plenty of other elements in this story that drew me to this project) but it certainly influenced the way I viewed the Booth character and directed actor Toby Kebbell.  Booth was known for having a dramatic flair — a showman’s sense and appreciation of timing – that provides good texture to shape a character with.

Robert Redford

About Robert Redford

Director Robert Redford offers his insight into the talent, themes, and making of The Conspirator, now in theaters (April 15).
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30 Responses to “Did the fact that John Wilkes Booth had been an actor play any part in your decision to direct The Conspirator?”

  1. Rick Stelnick says:

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. As someone who is familiar with the careers of both yourself and Mr. Booth, I, of course, find it apropos that almost 150 years after the fact your film, about one of the ramifications of his “act”, shall be playing in theatres across the country starting this evening. Good going and best regards.

  2. David Chapman says:

    As a frustrated actor myself and Booth a noted actor of the day we all grave attention.But his misguided loyalities to a lost cause made him play out the ultimate dramatic horror part. We needed Lincoln’s wisdom to bind up the nation’s wounds and Booth took that away from us. That’s why the war is still in the hearts and minds of so many Americans today and still keeps us divided on so many social issues.

    • Laurie Verge says:

      While I admire Abraham Lincoln, I am not sure that, had he lived, Reconstruction and the succeeding hundred years of American history would have been any different. The so-called Radical Republicans represented the thoughts of millions of people as far as the conquered South was concerned. They put up with Lincoln’s conciliatory rhetoric during the war in order to support the cause. Once the war was over, would they have silently done as Lincoln proposed? Personally, I don’t think so.

      The Civil War was based on societal and cultural issues that were over two hundred years in the making. No one man – and not even Congress – could wipe out those issues for decades. much less the four years that Lincoln would have been facing before another election came around? Would he have run again in order to keep “saving the nation?” I don’t think so. He was a tired and drawn man in 1865.

  3. Rick Stelnick says:

    My review of my viewing of The Conspirator as follows:

    Thanks to this movie, maybe perhaps, the phrase “Beware The People Weeping” can be replaced by “Be Aware Of The People Weeping”.

    Look around you at your fellow audience members when you see “The Conspirator”. Their reactions are worth the price of admission. Robert Redford and company, if nothing else [and I'm not saying there isn't], have grabbed America’s attention. No one here could have asked for anything more going in. You know, expect the worst, hope for the best. Have no fear. One thing’s certain, The Surratt Society without a doubt about it is going to benefit big time because of the film. Additionally, also virtually guaranteed, there’s going to be continuing and/or growing interest due to the one-two punch of the movie and the Sesquicentennial for the next five years at the very least. Who could ask for anything more?

    To the movie itself; it is for sure, in every sense, a motion picture – as opposed to the seemingly mass-produced, mindless, run-of-the-mill, special effects, suspense/thriller film fodder which sadly is the state of the art today. It combines the characteristics, in my mind and opinion, of two classics; Gone With The Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird. As a result and as such, to paraphrase the African proverb “it speaks softly and carries a big stick; it will go far.” Bravo Mr. Redford, AFC, cast and crew!

  4. Rick Stelnick says:

    I agree with Laurie. If Lincoln had survived the shot, he would have struggled as a well-worn man, a mere mortal if you will; not as a martyr or a myth with what was to come. However, because he did not live, he became larger in death than he ever was in life. Such is the stuff of legends which outlive us all.

  5. Ann Marie says:

    Superb movie. Haven’t seen a movie in the theater in over 2 years, as you would expect from a new mother. It was worth the trip to the movies.

    I have searched for hours now. I am looking for the title and artist of the song played during the ending credits. It isn’t on the soundtrack, which is filled with the score. Beautiful as the score to the film is, the last song was enchanting and I look forward to hearing it again.

    Thank you!

    • Aisling says:

      Ann Marie- I’m pretty sure the song you’re talking about during the credits is Empty by Ray Lamontagne. He is a beautiful singer and songwriter!

  6. Will Clenney says:

    I found the film a bit flat. Only slightly enlightening. There was a little history there of which I was not aware. Still I was left waiting for the wow moments that never came. The only time I got a rise was when the captain is blacklisted from the club and his girlfriend leaves him hanging. Standing up for what you believe even if it is not popular and at all personal cost is what I derived from the film. The southerners did just that. Washington politics hurt the south but elevated the north. How was that justice for all? All this business about Lincoln living or not living and what he may or not have been is ridiculous. He screwed the south over and evil men prevailed as carpet baggers here and do to this day. The same evil he unleashed came back to him as well. That is poetic justice I say. Kevin Cline’s character spoke volumes for me. Why did he want it brushed away so quickly? Hmmmm? Nobody wins in war or politics unless they are directly profiting from it. Although this film put me to sleep I would say it will make great debate material for small groups of intellectuals in class rooms around the world. Peace

  7. Jo Ellen Ogle says:

    What an awesome opportunity to re-connect with our past. And to remind us of our human-ness. Would we have acted differently? Would our anger have directed our decisions? It is a good lesson that we are taught by our ancestors. But do we actually learn from them? Not so sure about that. I agree that Lincoln would have been unable to make the changes needed to bring together our country; he was too worn out. His death, however, encourages us all to live freely TOGETHER. And pray that we don’t fall short- again.

  8. Will Clenney says:

    I liked Justin Long in Jeepers Creepers and I really thought he was going to die due to the femoral wound he had in his opening scene.

    I thought Johnny Simmons was actually Brock Pierce.

  9. Larry says:

    Can anyone here tell me WHY they admired Lincoln so much? I’m all ears.

    Will Clenney said:

    “Kevin Cline’s character spoke volumes for me. Why did he want it brushed away so quickly?”

    That part of the movie brought one thing to mind for me: When the 9/11 commission was “investigating” 9/11, they began proceedings by saying “This commission’s purpose is not to find out who did it, it is to make sure it never happens again”. LOL—–how will they make sure it never happens again if they don’t find out who di it? The 9/11 commission was a huge joke—-just like Lincoln’s own administration in the quick condemning of Mary Surratt. The constitution was completely ignored AFTER Lincoln’s death the same as it was ignored by Lincoln DURING his presidency.

  10. Steve Kalan says:

    Did you get your research based on the Book Blood on the Moon or was it American Brutis. I felt the historical research was well done.

    • Laurie Verge says:

      The playwright, producers from The American Film Company, and their research teams appear to have used multiple sources and sought the help of Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, Dr. Thomas Turner, Col. Fred Borch, and Dr. Elizabeth Leonard as well as others who are very well-versed in this specific aspect of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination.

      As director of Surratt House Museum in Maryland, I know that they used our research center quite a bit, both in the initial stages of James Solomon’s script back in the 1990s up to and including beginning the filming. They were very serious in their studies and at our facility had access to some of the best material available — the complete files of James O. Hall, considered by most to be the dean of Lincoln assassination research.

      Dr. Hall passed away in 2007 at the age of 94, having conducted research and written on the subject for over fifty years. He was the co-author, with the late-Gen. William Tidwell and David W. Gaddy, of the exhaustive study Come Retribution, which delves into the possibility that the Confederate high command was behind covert operations related to the original capture scheme against Lincoln. As some of you might know, Booth was (at last count) the fourth Confederate sympathizer to contemplate capture. The first dates to 1862. Dr. Edward Steers’s very good Blood on the Moon covers these earlier plots in an opening chapter.

      Dr. Steers, by the way, worked with James O. Hall as he researched Blood on the Moon and another good book, His Name Is Still Mudd, bringing out details about Samuel A. Mudd that had laid dormant for a century.

    • Rick Stelnick says:

      Steve -

      I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a bit prejudiced when it comes to book suggestions about the subject matter at hand. The reason is simple, however, my recommendations to readers are written works of authors who approach the Lincoln assassination by taking two steps backwards before going forward. An excellent example of this type of authorship is The Last Confederate Heroes: The Final Struggle For Southern Independence & The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln [a factual/fictional account of the life and death of John Wilkes Booth by William L. Richter © Burgundy Press 2008. Ritchter includes an incredible ninety two pages of End Notes; Or, The History Behind The Fiction which rewards the readers of the two volume, tour de force, tome with a copious compendium of citations. Simply put, quite frankly and in short; Bill Richter takes apart Booth and his cohorts then puts them back together, piece by painstaking piece, like no scholarly sleuth has dared to do before for almost a century and a half.

      P.S. I mentioned I was prejudiced, well, it’s true. Bill Richter, an unrepentant rebel if there ever was, and I, a sixties radical, nineteen sixties radical that is, are working together co-writing “Deo Vindice: The Trial Of John Wilkes Booth”; wherein we give Booth, who wrote in his diary, “Though I have a greater desire and almost a mind to return to Washington, and in a measure clear my name – which I feel I can do”, the gift to do so. The book is to be published on the 150th year anniversary of the assassination.

  11. DJD says:

    I have an unrelated question for Robert Redford. Do you want to continue making films primarily about America and well to do American families or will you ever work on something perhaps a bit more foreign? I only ask because you have at your fingertips an opportunity to reach potentially millions of people through your art form. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to cover other issues? For example what an Afghan family has gone through for the past decade or a British family who lost their son to osteosarcoma only because the National Health System’s tight budget prevented the necessary scans being given in a timely fashion? The possibilities are endless, which is why I wonder why you only focus on America?

    • chris swanberg says:

      What is wrong with making a film about our history?
      Not enough good well researched films like this one are made. This is one of the few on this subject I have ever seen. Redford’s film Lions for Lambs is another film that looks at how we live, think and act in the modern world. As an American, and an independent filmmaker, he can choose the topics that interest him. there are many others doing films on the rest of the world. Why do you criticize him for doing one on our history? IT’s like asking a painter why he only paints birds or flowers. That is what he is interested in. Give him a break.

      • Laurie Verge says:

        I agree. However, Mr. Redford was the director of The Conspirator, not the producer. The American Film Company is a new production company whose stated mission is to bring American history back to the American public. I certainly hope they succeed because Americans need to learn their own history. Many people from other countries know more about our history than we do.

        I am the director of Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, and I can tell you that our visitation over the past six weeks since the release of The Conspirator has doubled and tripled. 99.9% of those who have seen the film before coming have remarked on how much they enjoyed it, learned from it, and wanted to know more. They have also expressed the desire to see more such history movies. That’s what the purpose of The American Film Company is all about. And no, I am not paid by AFC to say that!!!

      • DJD says:

        Hi Chris,

        It wasn’t a criticism, it was a question. No need to get defensive. “Give him a break”? I was just asking a question. Geeze!

        • DJD says:

          And also I didn’t say there was anything wrong. Don’t read to much into a blog comment. It was merely a question directed at Redford. I don’t think making movies continuously about America is bad, and I didn’t say that. I just admire his work and wonder what it would be like if he branched out onto other issues.

      • Julie Salvatore says:

        If a painter only ever painted birds and flowers, I would ask the painter why he never opened his mind to paint anything else. There is nothing wrong wish asking, but something wrong when someone is as uber patriotic as Chris comes onto what I would consider a more intelligent social website than say youtube or myspace and leaves replies as if he is on youtube or myspace. No doubt this is the same ‘Chris’ going around biting everyones head off with different last names. Sad, sad, sad.

  12. Laurie Verge says:

    What is even sadder is when bloggers make personal attacks on total strangers via the blog and get completely off track about what the blog is all about.

    We’re talking history here, people – not psychology 101.

    • Julie Salvatore says:

      What’s even sadder Laurie is when people use Robert Redford’s blog as a means to promoting their own business. Psychology 101 taught me posting multiple comments about your business means you think you will gain personally from it.

      • Laurie Verge says:

        I am repeatedly posting as a professional historian who is director of a house museum where the history of this movie took place. I am also considered an expert in the field of the Lincoln assassination and assisted researchers with the film. Therefore, I feel qualified to use this blog to help others learn about this fascinating history. Isn’t that what this blog is about? Learning and discussing history? Not slamming people? I mention Surratt House Museum so that posters will understand my interest and knowledge in the field.

        Are you a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist qualified to question people’s motives and personalities who post on this historical blog?

        If you do hold a degree in that field of science, why not attempt to analyze the historical characters who took part in the Lincoln conspiracy? That would be of more use on this blog where 99% of the people are genuinely interested in the history.

        BTW: I met Robert Redford at the gala premiere at Ford’s Theatre in April, and he thanked Surratt House Museum for keeping the history alive.

        • Pamper says:

          In those days, it was more common for men not to cuss, elclpiaesy collegiates.The goal or thought was that if men did not cuss, they also would not drink or participate in other activities that were considered as ungentlemanly.As times changed, so did the need for the program.It was a different era and time

  13. Julie Salvatore says:

    Actually I am a registered nurse and I have taken extensive courses in psychology. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

  14. The Filmmakers The Filmmakers says:

    We do acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of Laurie Verge of the Surratt House Museum, who has not only assisted us on the film research, but who has also contributed a great deal of time and energy to this blog. We do hope the commenters will return to a spirited and interesting discussion of the movie and the history.

    • Jennifer Robero says:

      I’ve been reading the comment thread on here with great interest…that is the way the internet works. People go off on a tangent, doesn’t mean they don’t have a point. Maybe Robert Redford should have a separate blog about the rest of his career, since this film is just one small piece of the puzzle. I’m sure he doesn’t live and breath Lincoln history, he may have for a few months, but pretty confident in that he has moved on and is working on new things.

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