Anyone who’s read James Swanson’s thrilling Manhunt or Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals has envisioned who might play Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth in a movie adaptation and been tantalized by simmering in-development projects involving Steven Spielberg and Liam Neeson or Harrison Ford.
But perhaps news of Robert Redford’s Lincoln-assassination film, The Conspirator, will finally resurrect such colorful historical characters for the screen. Though the film is primarily about Mary Surratt, who was hanged for her participation in the assassination, Booth is undeniably the killer role. Remember, Booth was a famous actor in his own time who single-handedly impacted history. We’re talking about a murderer who delayed his escape from Ford Theatre so he could deliver one final theatrical line of dialogue: “Sic semper tyrannis.” It’s too surreal to completely fathom a contemporary comparison.
Buried in a Risky Business Blog scoop about Redford’s project, which hopes to shoot this fall, was this nugget: “Producers are out to cast, with James McAvoy said to be at the top of their list for one of the lead roles.” Admittedly, this single line is probably nothing more than a producer’s wish, but I’m intrigued because McAvoy is Booth — has been in my mind since I read Manhunt and saw The Last King of Scotland. Something about those eyes, both charming and dangerous.
Johnny Depp is also a favorite (in my Honest Abe Buffs and Film Geeks Circle, anyway) to play Booth, but the assassin was hunted down and killed at age 26. (Captain Jack is 46.)
Leonardo DiCaprio? Emile Hirsch? Who’s your Booth? McAvoy’s my guy, but I’ll settle for any of these as long as one of these Lincoln films starts shooting soon.