The Butler and the Kennedys

Photo Credit: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
August 31st, 2012

The Butler and the Kennedys

-- The upcoming film "The Butler" is based on the true story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served eight presidents during the course of his career. The film, by Lee Daniels, stars Forest Whitaker as the long-serving butler, with an all-star supporting staff portraying the presidents and their families, from Harry Truman to Ronald Regan.

Daniels is one of Hollywood's hottest producers and directors, thanks in large part to his Oscar nomination for directing "Precious" in 2009. He's a skilled artist when it comes to dramatic films, and with an actor like Forest Whitaker taking on the title role, he should have plenty of drama to present to audiences worldwide.
The story of "The Butler" is based on a report written by Wil Haygood for the Washington Post in 2008, titled "A Butler Well Served by This Election." Haygood is new to the movie business, with this film being his first foray into writing or producing, but his work outside of the silver screen is well regarded. Though he's a film neophyte, he's certainly no stranger to politics or political writing. He's a regular writer for the Washington Post, as well as an author of several books. Among those books is one about political figure Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the Former Harlem U.S. Representative from 1945 to 1971.

The central character in the film, Eugene Allen, was a black man in the White House during the turmoil of the civil rights period and at the height of the Cold War. During that time, he saw things change greatly in the country, and grew to know the presidents and their families well. Whitaker takes on this role, and Oprah Winfrey plays his wife Helene, in Winfrey's first live-action film part since her starring run in "Beloved" back in 1998.

Whitaker is a highly rated actor, having won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in "The Last King of Scotland" in 2007. Many of his roles have him portraying a man with a quiet unassuming nature, filled with depth. He brings a level of humbled dignity to the roles that few actors can pull off. This makes him a perfect choice to play the presidential butler, a man trusted with the privacy of some of the most powerful men in the world during that time.

Among the many presidential and family roles are those of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy. The role of JFK is portrayed by James Marsden, who many moviegoers might recognize from his role as Scott Summers/Cyclops from the "X-Men" trilogy of movies. Performing the role of Jacqueline Kennedy is actress Minka Kelly who recently starred in the revamped "Charlie's Angels" series as well as "Parenthood" and Friday Night Lights."

The roles of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy weren't easily won by either Marsden or Kelly. Matthew McConaughey was actually cast as JFK first, but scheduling conflicts led to his having to drop out of the role. Even then, James Franco who is well known from his role as Harry Osborn from the Spider-Man movie trilogy was seriously considered for the part before Marsden was finally cast. As for Kelly, Mila Kunis of "That '70s Show" and "Black Swan" fame was an early favorite to play the role of Jackie Kennedy before she finally won the part.

Marsden and Kelly are assuming roles that have seen a great many attempts by past actors to perfect, most recently in 2011 by Greg Kinnear as President Kennedy and Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy. Most have fallen short of the perfect portrayal. The distinctive accent of JFK is easy, requiring a bit of mimicry to get it right, but it's not easy playing the roles of individuals who were among the most charismatic residents of the White House ever.

Will Marsden and Kelly pull it off? There have been few images available of the two as the famous first couple, and no trailers as of yet, so all there is to go by is former performances. Marsden shines in former roles with a youthful vigor that will add much to his portrayal as JFK. He's good looking and can hold the viewer's attention long enough to enable full immersion into the role he's playing. Kelly is a wonderful choice as well. Her acting is impeccable, and her beauty and charm should match up well with Jackie Kennedy's in comparison. Though the final proof of their suitability can only be seen with the release of the film in 2013, early indications based on past performances point to good things for the final print.