The Kennedys: After Camelot stars Katie Holmes and Matthew Perry were among those who turned out Wednesday night at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills for the premiere of their Reelz miniseries.
The mini, based on the J. Randy Taraborrelli's best-selling book After Camelot: Personal History of the Kennedy Family 1968 to the Present, stars Holmes as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Perry as Ted Kennedy. It picks up where the 2011 miniseries The Kennedys ended, with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
"We felt pressure [over] the last one we did [original series The Kennedys] … where the family did exercise some pressure indirectly that caused our show to be dropped from the History Channel," executive producer Michael Prupas told The Hollywood Reporter. "In redoing it again, we're showing that we stood up for that and were able to win some Emmy Awards with that first show and we have virtually the same team together."
The original series was slated to air on the History Channel. After the political left and Kennedy historians raised some concerns over the show's accuracy, the network dropped the series, which was subsequently be picked up by Reelz channel, where it set a network ratings record.
After reading Taraborrelli's book, executive producer Keri Selig tracked down the author and brought this project to Muse Entertainment. While she enjoyed learning about the Kennedys' lives post-RFK's assassination, it was Jackie's story that made Selig determined to bring this book to life onscreen.
"To see her have to survive, post this whole Camelot … it really humanizes her. Her family is an extraordinary family. It was the most female empowering role of a lifetime for me. I wanted to tell her story. She's a survivor and a winner," Selig said.
Reprising her iconic role as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is Holmes, who not only stars in the series but also directs the third of the four hours of the show, a role she felt ready for.
"It was really exciting to bring my ideas to the table," Holmes told THR, adding that of her second time playing Jackie: "This was more of a different character completely. She was more of an innocent in the last series. She really became a real strong woman in this one."
Also stepping into the Kennedy shoes is Perry, who both stars as Sen. Ted Kennedy and serves as an executive producer of the series. Unfazed by the iconic name of his character, Perry found the challenge of portraying a role that transcends his previous works as one of the main reasons for taking on this project.
"I didn't feel pressure [taking on the role]. I just looked at it as an opportunity to do something different than I've ever done. I wanted to make sure that I didn't do a Ted Kennedy impression, but brought some of myself to the role," Perry told THR.
Also joining the show is actress Kristin Hager, who found her role as Joan Kennedy a challenge, for her character endures demons that the public wasn't able to understand.
"It was a really challenging role to take on, because she had such a hard life. Anytime you're playing someone that is real person, there's so much pressure. It can be daunting," said Hager. "She [Joan Kennedy] was ill-prepared for that kind of life. I think that's why she ended up where she was. She was a very private person who wasn't ready to live such a public life."
While the Kennedys are one of history's most written-about families, the cast and crew believed that the series showed an authenticity to the family's story and explored their identities that were overshadowed by the Kennedy name.
"America has only really had one royal family and that's the Kennedys," said Kristin Booth, who reprises her role as Ethel Kennedy. "We always have this idea in our day and age in social media … like this expectation that everything has to be perfect and everyone has to look a certain way and be a certain way, but really when the cameras are down and the lights are off and the doors are closed, they're just human and they are flawed. What I love about the new series is that we depict these people as human, with their flaws ... and how they navigate life in dealing with these things."
Returning director Jon Cassar expressed the same sentiments about the family's realism.
"What I love as a director is that you strip down the fact that they're the First Family … their family stories aren't that much different from the people that are out there," he said. "Even though they're the first family, they're a normal family, amazingly enough. They have the same problems everyone else has, just in the limelight."
When asked what audience members should take away from the series, Holmes believes that the underlying power of the Kennedys was their ability to stay united as a family.
"I hope that they take away that no one is perfect, no family is perfect. It's important to stay together as a family," she said.
After screening a preview of the first episode, the cast sat onstage to answer questions from moderator and KTLA reporter Sam Rubin and audience members.
The first part of The Kennedys: After Camelot premieres Sunday, April 2 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Reelz. The two-hour conclusion will air Sunday, April 9, at the same time.