Being Jackie Kennedy

The Tragedy of JFK  director Daniel Henning surrounded by The Kennedys on opening night. ( Photo courtesy of Rick Baumgartner.)

The Tragedy of JFK director Daniel Henning surrounded by The Kennedys on opening night. (Photo courtesy of Rick Baumgartner.)

It's difficult to put into words how much of a joy it has been to play such an incredible woman and icon of American history. Even as a Canadian, I grew up adoring her style and grace. And over the months we spent rehearsing, I did as much research as I could to be worthy of the shoes that I was about to fill. I read a ton and didn't sleep well through the whole process; early on I couldn't sleep because I had such horrifyingly vivid images flashing through my head, and later I couldn't sleep because I was just so darn excited to wake up every day and play Jackie Kennedy!

The role was even more than I dreamed it would be. I bonded very strongly with my cast mates, especially fellow Kennedys Ford Austin (JFK) and Chad Brannon (RFK), and we all worked so hard to bring these people back to life with our research and camaraderie. We were constantly sharing specific details and rare personal photos to better understand the spirits of the people we were invoking in our play.

When we opened, it was touching to come out after each performance and greet the awaiting audience members. It was music to our ears to hear how well each of us embodied the spirit of the people we were portraying on stage. And I felt an enormous outpouring of love, especially when Charlotte Rae blew me a kiss, and Teri Hatcher gave me a hug while uttering the word "amazing" in my ear. 

McKinnon is a gentle Jackie, full of grace, with a stunning resemblance to the first lady.
— Ellen Dostal, Broadway World
Casey McKinnon’s radiant Jackie.
— Steven Stanley, StageSceneLA
Casey McKinnon is the apotheosis of Jackie Kennedy, and she is equally stunning. Her craft is evenly exquisite as she executes with a precision rarely seen in a 99-seat venue down to the wisp of hair that falls near her eyes in the burial scene.
— Joe Straw

After the election, we weren't sure how the play would read with audiences. To our delight, the piece resonated even more. Especially the march to Selma with Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful timeless message reflecting the Black Lives Matter movement, and Bobby Kennedy's tragic vision for a more compassionate and unified America.

We were so pleased to see the play get extended. And I was thrilled when it received seven nominations in the BroadwayWorld LA Awards, including my first ever nomination for a theatre role (Best Featured Actress). Voting is open until December 31st, so vote online before it's too late!

It's been interesting to play Jackie Kennedy on stage at the same time as Natalie Portman's highly publicized portrayal on screen. While I'm sure we both did very similar research from books, documentaries and archival footage, we had to take different vocal approaches to the character. Since Portman was playing Jackie on film, she had the liberty to use the delicate, whispered voice Jackie was known for. In the theatre, however, that wouldn't work. So, I had to do a ton of digging to find audio samples of Jackie speaking louder; something she only did when she was either giddy with delight or very upset. It was much more common for the first lady to use a sort of 1960s vocal fry in order to provide emphasis instead. I was so relieved when I came across the Schlesinger tapes released by Caroline Kennedy, as well as this interview with a beaming Jackie after Jack won the Democratic nomination in 1960. Portman and I both worked hard in our own mediums to honor this great lady, and I'd definitely love to trade notes with her someday over a cup of tea.

For me, becoming Jackie was a life-changing process. My mental image of myself changed significantly over the past few months. I found that whenever I removed my wig after a performance, I stopped recognizing the girl looking back at me in the mirror. Every day I found myself being more comfortable having thicker eyebrows, parting my hair to the side, and dressing a little more sophisticated. I even cut my hair to a shorter length, something more polished; a bit of a modern Jackie, I suppose.

In other ways, the role distanced me from the first lady. Playing a woman in the sixties, and surrounded by a cast of 13 men, I found myself slipping into a more traditional female role; being treated as a beauty, but overlooked in intellectual discussions. In order to maintain my sanity as a human being, I had to really speak up and be more assertive. It's funny how playing someone who criticized feminism has replenished my desire for gender equality.

Gonna miss Camelot...

A video posted by Casey McKinnon (@caseymckinnon) on

Before our final performance, everyone backstage was very emotional. We knew that what we had here was special; our own Camelot. 

Our final performance was filled with very real tears. Our JFK sincerely did not want to go to Dallas, every moment and touch was more profound, and the funeral scene was heartbreaking for every single one of us. 

It's been an incredible opportunity and a rewarding journey. I'm so grateful to Daniel Henning for creating this amazing play and bringing together a cast of lovely, talented actors who I hope to work with again and again. 

Thanks to everyone that came out to the theatre to support me, especially my loving mother Marian, my brother Greg, and my sister-in-law Jaimie who all flew in from Canada! This is the first time any of my family has seen me on stage as an actor and I was thrilled beyond words to have the opportunity to share this experience with them. On the night my mother came to see me, I got so choked up after the curtain call just taking in the knowledge that my mother was there. I have tears streaming down my face as I type that. I also had tears streaming down my face as I reread this paragraph hours later.

It meant a lot.

It also meant a lot to have so many of my best friends and new friends come out to see me. Thanks to my love Rudy Jahchan, my mentor Armin Shimerman, my bestie Raya Yarbrough, Bear McCreary, Paul Whitfield, Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Platt, Charlie Bodin, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Celeste Wolfe, America Young, Jenelle Riley, Christian Lebano, Rob Nagle, Marcelo Tubert, Faith Collins, Dana DeRuyck, Andrew Perez, Crystal Keith, Ulka Mohanty, Eileen Rivera, Tom Merritt, Liz Miller, Meredith Berg, Ethan Erwin, Deborah Cresswell & Jack, Eunice Wilson, Eric Rudnick, Rachel Berney Needleman, Kitty Swink, Bo Foxworth, Elyse Mirto, Nar Williams & Rachel, Priscilla Taylor & Thane, Ken Simms, Leshar McGhee, Bree Wernicke, Mario Perez, Martine Battle, Amelia Meyers, Jason Rosenwach, Lorelei Bunjes, Corryn Cummins, Leslie Ranne & Patrick, Paul Romero, Olivia Delgado, James Ferrero, Shannon Leigh Reeve, and Sue Anna Yeh.

This was an extraordinary ride with some of the greatest cast and crew I've had the opportunity to work with so far. Thank you to all that shared in this one brief shining moment with me.

ActingCasey McKinnon