“He wasn’t a monster. He was a man who did a monstrous thing. It was unforgiveable. But he was still a man and we still have to keep that in consideration. I wanted to paint the human side of him a little more for the public,” says Rothhaar, who you might remember as a kid actor in such films as the Farrelly Bros. “Kingpin” and Michael Keaton’s “Jack Frost” Christmas comedy. Rothhaar has done his share of serious fare as well, winning the Hollywood Reporter’s Young Star Award for theater for his work in David Mamet’s “The Cryptogram.”
Playing Oswald in the National Geographic Channel film, however, marks a whole new level for him. He admits it took him awhile to find his way into the infamous character, whom he describes as smart, sophisticated and passionately opinionated around his Russian friends, but reserved and isolated around fellow Americans.
“There was a period where I was trying to figure out what my plan of attack was,” he says. “The thing that ultimately pushed me over the edge in the way that I needed, in terms of ‘How am I going to get into this kid’s head?’ came just as we started shooting. I started thinking about everything he had gone through: His father died of massive heart attack two months before he was born; his mother picked him up and moved him around the United States; he never had a chance to plant roots or develop a core group of friends.
A lot of times, when you trace back the lives of people who’ve done horrible things, there is a lack of love in their young life. I felt an intense sense of — I wouldn’t say compassion, but I felt for the guy. It made me sad to know.”
Rothhaar’s own parents split when he was a young teen. But, he says, “They made sure that no matter what happened, I knew I was loved. I grew up in a home with that. [Oswald] had no foundation, no base. That really was my theme and motivation. Ultimately, he wanted someone to pay attention to him, someone to see him, someone to ask about his day and not leave him alone.”
Now the actor’s family is excited for him as he goes into the hoopla surrounding this movie, starring Rob Lowe as JFK, Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Trachtenberg as Oswald’s Russian wife, Marina.
He’d like to get another movie role before starting production of Fox’s forthcoming “Wild Blue” series, on which he’s a regular. “We start shooting in March 2014,” he reports of the drama from “Justified” creators Graham Yost and Michael Dinner. “It basically takes place on an aircraft carrier — an upstairs/downstairs look at the pressure cooker lives of service men and women. We were supposed to shoot months ago, but we got pushed back. Because of that, we’re not going to shoot a pilot — we’re going straight to series, which is great.”
The delay, he surmises, had to do with logistics of finding a ship on which to shoot. They’ll be working onboard a carrier, and on “soundstages filled with amazing sets” in North Carolina.
As for whether he is upstairs or downstairs, Rothhaar laughs. “I’m a downstairs boy — an ordinance guy, responsible for loading missiles onto the F-18, so it’s gritty work for sure.”