If you haven't heard of Brett Stimely, that's OK. You've most likely seen him before. He's played John F. Kennedy four times on film, starting with the 2009 superhero film "Watchmen," as well as in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011), "Parkland" (2013), and "Kill the Dictator" (2013).
"Our eyes seem to be the same and maybe our cheekbones," Stimely says of his physical likeness to the late president. "When I part my hair the way he parts it, I really look like him."
But if you thought all that's involved in portraying JFK is parting your hair and speaking in a Massachusetts accent, think again. Playing the late president can get pretty gnarly.
[Slideshow: The Men Who Have Played JFK]
The "Parkland" production, for instance, became nearly unbearable when Zac Efron and Colin Hanks vigorously pumped Stimely's chest, reenacting life-saving efforts made on the president 50 years ago in a Dallas, Texas, hospital. "When those boys started in on me, I said, 'Wait a minute!' … I told them, 'My heart is already beating!'" A fake chest piece softened the blow during earlier takes, but the piece became unusable, and the actors had to perform "fake" CPR on him au naturale. "It did hurt!"
In spite of the fact that Stimely didn't have any lines in the film – playing JFK after the shooting, "Parkland" was his most challenging JFK gig to date. For starters, he had to keep his eyes open for minutes on end. "Many people don't know that President Kennedy died with his eyes open," said Stimely.
One scene — that eventually got cut from the film — required Stimely to hold his eyes open for a whole seven minutes. "They had bets that I was going to blink." But a lot of people lost. He didn't blink, thanks in part to oversized contacts that adequately guarded his eyes from the surrounding air. His secret to keeping 'em open: "You're getting paid for it."
The seasoned character actor also had to lay on a cold table, very partially clothed, for hours on end, for a week straight. "I had to be there for days and only got up at lunch," he explained. "They cut my clothes off 95 percent of the way for set continuity. I couldn't move. I had to stay there the whole time." But Stimely was clear: He went in knowing that was part of the deal. "You get used to it the sixth or seventh day I guess."
The upshot to playing a motionless, speechless, eyes-wide-open JFK: "I was able to be the fly on the wall." And Stimely says he thoroughly enjoyed listening to the likes of Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, Jackie Earle Haley, and the others deep in process. "It was an amazing experience… I really would have done it for nothing," he says, noting a moving moment when all the actors in the room cried at the site of the recreated, horrific scene depicting the late president. "It was not in the script. It's because they loved this man so much."
And yes, the cast managed to have some fun behind the scenes too. Stimely shared this photo, left, taken on set showing Hanks and cast having a little fun with Stimely's prosthetic exit wound. Hanks texted the photo to his famous dad Tom Hanks, Stimely recalls. The "Forrest Gump" actor, who also served as producer on the film, texted back, "yuck."
For "Watchmen" and "Transformers," Stimely wore a lot of prosthetic pieces with the goal of appearing as an exact JFK. It was especially necessary for "Watchmen" because actual JFK footage was weaved into the film. But not as much makeup and effects were used for his other two JFK roles — though for "Parkland" there was a hairpiece made with a special flap to show JFK's head wound. "Yogurt and bananas mixed with [fake] blood — that's what makes brain matter," Stimely confirms.
Why is Hollywood is still writing JFK parts this many years later? "He was the most liked person in the world at that time," the actor ventures. "Everything about him had a mystery that was a positive thing."
Watch Glimpses of Brett Stimely as JFK in This 'Parkland' Clip:
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