“I say let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”
“It has become a dangerous country, sir, when you can't trust anyone anymore, when you can't tell the truth,” says Jim Garrison in the film.
To tell the truth that he (and his hero) shared about a conspiracy to assassinate President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and about how truth is fractured and manufactured and spun - “until we don't know what reality is” - auteur Oliver Stone decided upon a big cast of stars. To be used like familiar signposts, stepping-stones, within his jigsaw bombardment of images (real and fake and simulated) in the most bravura piece of film editing in Hollywood history… from 2,800 shots …filmed in just 72 day
He knew which star he needed for this and that role (among 220-plus speaking parts), starrting with the new star two months away from his neverending directing debut, Dances With Wolves, winning sevenOscars
Once he’d landed Kevin Costner,
Warners refused to pay for any other names.
“We went to all the agents in town, begging everybody to sign on a favoured nation [same salary for all]. Many waived their normal fees to help the picture. Many of them turned me down. They wanted their money or they disagreed with the message of the film.”
Stars? Stone wanted Michael Douglas playing everyone! Stone pencilled in his Wall Street Oscar-winner for New Orleans DA Jim Garrison and gay conspirator Clay Shaw and (the cut) Howard Hunt.
Stone believed from the outset that Garrison, the symbolic heart of his film (more philosophical than political), the only man who arrested and tried anyone in connection with the Dallas murder, was “‘destined to go to he who wants it.”
Jim Garrison . He first listed Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson,Dennis Quaid.“Go to these people,”Stone memoed himself, “in a senseendorsing your POV not as important a role as it is an endorsement.”
The two sides of the Platoon coin - the “straight handsomeness” of Tom Berenger and the honesty of Willem Dafoe, his laid back quality, “his Wisconsin side” - were also in contention. (Other Stone stars - like Charlie Sheen, Kyle MacLachan - were also up for roles).
Then, he thought, what he needed was not a star bu t“a real person - a new Gary Cooper, a James Stewart, like old days.” He felt that his Doors star Kyle MacLachan fitted the new Jimmy Stewart idea “Tall, from his heart.”
In Finland, during June 1990, he made notes about: Alex [sic] Baldwin, Gene Hackman, Matthew Modine (his Memphis Belle performance had reminded Stone ofJames Stewart). However,he noted, William Hurtwas “too elaborate.”
Nextcontenders were: Brando (“of course”), De Niro (“interesting gravity here as he gets older”), Mel Gibson, Michael Keaton, John Malkovich, Paul Newman, Robert Redford - and, “notto be denied,”Robin Williams!
Jeff Bridges was not a big enough name, Nick Nolte was too old (he later worked with Stone in U Turn, 1997) and James Woods eagerly fought for the role. Except he also fought Stone. Jimmy wanted more of a Garrison bio while Stone had no wish to change his title - and suggested the lesser role of David Ferrie. No way!
So, Joe Pesci paraphrased Churchill about the murder:
“a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.”
And then Joe refused to work with Stone again. Too demanding. And Scorsese wasn’t?
Various actors (including six Oscar-winners) offered to work for free - including Douglas, Woods - and Don Johnson, who just ached to be Garrison. Stone was interested, not his co-producers. They said: “Johnson’s public image would make him a hard sell.”
By July, Costner's “all American quality” had entered the frayand, finally, scripts were sent out only to Ford and Costner.Ford wasn’t interested; he never bought the conspiracy theoryCostner wasn’t keen.
Willem Dafoe was Garrison until the 11th hour battle for Costner. Stone flew to see him (playing Robin Hood!) in London. For his his Godfather, Stone wanted Costner to be just as obsessed with solving Kennedy's assassination in this film as he was with capturing Al Capone in The Untouchables, 1987. Kevin, however, had promised his wife to take a year off Nothing stops Stone… He sent his script and Garrison’s book to Cindy Costner. She read them and told Kevin: “You have to do it.” That was that and Costner and Ford swopped their leads in JFK and Air Force One.
Clay Shaw . Martin Landau, Robert Loggia, Paul Newman, Peter O'Toole, Gregory Peck, Roy Scheider were discussed. None bettered Tommy Lee Jones. Friends since sharing a room in university, Jones and Stone were born in the same week on September 15 and 16, 1946.
Willie O’Keefe . Matt Dillon, Dennis Quaid (from the Garrison list), James Spader (from Wall Street) and two Stone regulars: Tom Sizemore (Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers) and Michael Wincott (Talk Radio , The Doors) were all listed for the squawking jailbird - almost inevitably given to Kevin Bacon.
Lee Harvey Oswald . “He's the one,” noted Stone about Charlie Sheen. Odd, considering Sheen had more or less played Stone in both Platoon and Wall Street. So, in the end, he wasn't the one. Nor were Alec Baldwin, DB Sweeney or, over-stretching the envelope, Tom Cruise (from Born on the Fourth of July ). US-Austrian diector Robert Doornhelm approved of the JFK auteur Oliver Stone’s original choice and snapped up Frank Whaley for Oswald in the his tele-movie, Fatal Deception: Mrs Lee Harvey Oswald… as Gary Oldman played “the patsy, the fall guy, exactly what he said he was.” He dieted for the role and met the widowed Marina Oswald.
“And where he died, I died. Right on the spot.
The corridor was the real corridor.
The elevator was the real elevator.”
Jack Ruby . Stone’s first choice had been Danny Aiello - inexplicxably substituted by Brian Doyle-Murray, better known for comedies, madcap and otherwise.
Jack Martin . Jack Lemmon beat Harry Dean Stanton. (For the only time in their ten films, Lemmon and Walter Matthau did not share a single scene).
Liz Garrison . Elizabeth McGovern, Cybill Shepherd - and the winner was Sissy Spacek - “from Texas,” said his notes.
David Ferrie was “a tough one to find,” reported casting director Risa Bramon Garcia, who felt it was an “amazing” part for Stone regular James Woods. He did not. John Malkovich was never interested being tied to another (unmade) films about the assassination from Don Delill's book, Libra. Gary Oldman had also been thought for Ferrie, along with Willem Dafoe (the nearly Garrison), Jeff Goldblum, Martin Landau, and Joe Pesci - who won it and delivered the immortal line: “You just don't get it, do you? Even the shooters don't know.”
Dean Andrews . His line was: “Kennedy's dead. You want to line up with a dead man?" Danny De Vito, Larry Drake, John Goodman were beaten by John Candy.
Senator Huey Long . Walter Matthau trumped Gregory Peck
Rose Cheramie . Sally Kirkland beat Goldie Hawn to being Jack Ruby's stripper who heard the plot being stirred. Sally went to a strip club (with Stone), ready to try out in g-string and pasties... as if she hadn't done that in The Sting, 1973.
X . Marlon Brando either turned down X - or the role’s 16-minute monologue. (That’s a lot idiot cards). Stone understood. “Marlon was occupied with his son” [on trial for murder]. Donald Sutherland accepted the Deep Throatian character, based on Colonel L Fletcher Prouty (1917-2001), Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, principal contact between the JFK's Pentagon and the CIA and one of Stone's technical advisors.
Guy Bannister . Brian Dennehy, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman were considered. Ed Asner accepted because “I will forever be grateful to Oliver for what he achieved with Salvador .”
Olive Stone was born to make this movie, said ace Chicago critic Roger Ebert, a fan from first to last of JFK . “It's like a collage of all the books, articles, documentaries, TV shows, scholarly debates and conspiracy theories since 1963. We know the litany by heart: The grassy knoll, the hobos in dress shoes, the parade route, the Bay of Pigs, Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia, the two Oswalds, Clay Shaw, Allen Dulles, three shots in 2.6 seconds, the eyewitness testimony, the woman with the umbrella, the gunpowder tests, the palm print, Jack Ruby, the Military Industrial Complex, the wrong shadows on the photograph, the Zapruder film, and on and on....
This is not a film about the facts of the assassination,
but about the feelings. JFK accurately reflects
our national state of mind since November 22, 1963.
“We feel the whole truth has not been told, that more than one shooter was involved, that somehow maybe the CIA, the FBI, Castro, the anti-Castro Cubans, the Mafia or the Russians, or all of the above, were involved. We don't know how. That's just how we feel.”