‘Killing Lincoln’ Star Billy Campbell: Daniel Day-Lewis Was Not an Influence

by | February 15, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Interviews, Midseason 2013

Billy Campbell as Abraham Lincoln in "Killing Lincoln" (NatGeo)

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar nominated “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States, tells the story of how Lincoln got the 13th Amendment, which abolishes slavery, passed.

On Sunday, Feb. 17, the National Geographic Channel is telling a completely different Lincoln story, “Killing Lincoln,” from executive producers Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, about the final days of Lincoln’s life and the plot by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate the president, starring Billy Campbell as Abraham Lincoln.

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One would think that Campbell might have second thoughts about taking on a role that could draw comparisons to Day-Lewis, who has won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BAFTA Award and is waiting to find out if he will take home the Academy Award.

But in an exclusive interview with XfinityTV.com, Campbell says he had no second thoughts about accepting the job, telling us, “It is my practice not to think that way.”

Campbell says he was attracted to the project because the script by Erik Jendresen, adapted from “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, was well written and he appreciated the fact that the story humanizes the former president.

“If I was to say that I took anything away from this about Lincoln, it was the sense of him as a warm, living, breathing, every-day human being,” Campbell says. “Lincoln has been virtually canonized over the years. He is an icon. Even for someone like me, who reads a bit, it is difficult not to slip into that mode of thinking of Lincoln as superhuman, but he wasn’t. He was very human, maybe even more human than a lot of people of his day.”

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The two-hour movie also spends some time with John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson) and makes the point that he was a man who really thought that what he was going to do was the right thing and that it would save the South.

“Not only has Lincoln been canonized and iconized, but Booth has been turned into a cardboard villain,” says Campbell. “He wasn’t. He was a complex person. He wasn’t just a nut. He wasn’t crazy. It was just that he believed in his cause and he thought he was doing the right thing. It just so happens that he was very, very wrong and his cause, I think, was very, very wrong.”

It was recently announced that Campbell has signed for a role in the FOX pilot “Delirium,” based on the bestselling young adult novels by Lauren Oliver, for the 2013-14 TV season. It puts to rest any hope that Campbell might reprise his role as Darren Richmond on Season 3 of “The Killing.”

“If you know anything about the Danish series, after they solved the murder, the only actor going on to the second and third seasons is the main detective,” he says. “So that was always the plan. It makes perfect sense.”

“Killing Lincoln,” narrated by Tom Hanks, premieres Sunday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic Channel.