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Inside a Controversial New TV Series

George MacKay on the conspiracy theories of 11.22.63

Despite focusing on the events of a November day more than five decades ago, the new series 11.22.63 feels thoroughly modern. Perhaps it’s because the eight-episode series will premiere exclusively on the streaming channel Hulu on February 15, or because the plot—based on a Stephen King story—uses time travel to put a contemporary man in midcentury Dallas to investigate the murder of a president. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the series also makes use of some of today’s most recognizable talent, including James Franco, Josh Duhamel, Cherry Jones and, notably, the British actor George MacKay as Lee Harvey Oswald pal Bill Turcotte. 

Here, MacKay—who’s also starring in the forthcoming film Captain Fantastic and will appear in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Old Vic in London—discusses the appeal of conspiracy theories, the importance of shirt patterns and building his character’s playlist. 

When you’re starring in a series about the assassination of John F. Kennedy—especially one that involves time travel and all sorts of twists and turns—does it make you question what we know about the situation?

It does, especially because I didn’t realize just how many theories there were to start off with. That was kind of the beginning, like, Oh, God, there are all of these different conspiracies that are still going on. After that was processed, I realized when we went to Dallas for the final part of the shoot, I had been focused solely on the Lee Harvey Oswald version of it. But it’s really exciting to think about what could have been how it happened or that [the shooter] could have just been some poor scapegoat. You really don’t know, and that’s sort of amazing because it’s still talked about in this day and age.

So it’s certainly interesting enough material that you’re willing to spend a few months of your life working with it. 

It was initially the people involved in making the project that were most intriguing to me. With [director] Kevin MacDonald doing the pilot—really having him directing television at all—and James Franco playing the lead, those were the elements that first drew me in. And then the subject seemed like a great platform for a thriller. That was the main thing for me, because they were being so secretive about the project that there was no script to read or anything like that. And my character was a construct for the TV series, he wasn’t featured in the book.

George MacKay as Bill Turcotte in “11.22.63”

How was he built, then?

Bridget Carpenter, the writer, wrote a scene for the auditions, and it was separate from anything in the rest of the script for the sake of the information. But it was this great sort of dialogue between [my character] Bill and Lee Harvey Oswald, and I just thought the idea of playing this guy from Kentucky, it was a very different part from any one I’ve played before. It was just something I thought was very intriguing.

The production design alone must have been a trip, considering a large portion of the action takes place in a very stylized 1963.

The design and the costumes were truly amazing; the level of detail that went into everything was really, really incredible. And the richness of that was something you’d experience every day on set when there would be all these old cars or even in the colors in the costumes or the patterns of the shirts—it was so specific, it had to be. And then for someone like myself, who’s playing a rag tag young guy from a working town who probably hasn’t bought any fresh clothes for a while, that really added a different texture to everything. You know it was interesting just learning about American culture as a Brit, and being sort of removed from understanding the politics of the time. It was very interesting just to learn about what the concerns were culturally of that time as well.

Did your interest in the period extend to your off hours as well or did you get your fill at work? 

One thing about filming TV format is that depending on the episode, you can be a bit in or out. And I found it really helpful to continue to look into that world and learn things that seemed relevant to that world in my down time—otherwise I had a fear of losing track of what’s going on. So, I would be reading up or listening to music—usually bluegrass or country music—and really getting into that world, finding an interest in some stuff is part of where Bill comes from.