How accurate is ‘Manhunt’? The true story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination

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spoiler ALERT: This article discusses the changes to the plot of the premiere episode of “Manhunt”.

Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was one of the biggest turning points in American history, and the new Apple TV+ series “Manhunt” examines the behind-the-scenes drama of a wartime government thrown into chaos. Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies) leads the series as Lincoln’s close confidant and Secretary of War, who goes on a mission to track down John Wilkes Booth (Anthony Boyle) after he shoots President Lincoln (Hamish Linklater). The seven-episode series is executive produced by James L. It is based on Swanson’s nonfiction book “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for the Lincoln Killer,” and the first two episodes will be released weekly starting March 15.

Diversity spoke with “Manhunt” creator, executive producer and writer Monica Beletsky about striving for accuracy while telling a thrilling story, the importance of depicting Lincoln’s violent death and bringing period-appropriate sanity to television.

What was your initial research process for “Manhunt”?

First, my eyes fell on Edwin Stanton’s painting, and that was the way for me. I thought it was a fascinating dramatic situation for the main character to be in the middle of the assassination and Andrew Johnson’s run for president the next day. During those 12 hours, we had no conscious President, so the responsibility fell on his shoulders. When I learned that he was also a close ally of Lincoln, shared the grief of losing children, and had asthma before medicine, I thought what a rich figure to cast for the lead role. So my idea was to tell the story through him as a cat and mouse thriller with Booth.

The book is non-fiction, and Mr. Swanson documents in detail the night of the assassination and Booth’s escape, as well as the soldiers surrounding Booth. I used all that research a lot in the show. I was lucky enough that the book was available when I came up with the idea of ​​telling the story through Stanton.

But it was a jumping off point for me to structure this cat-and-mouse and bring out conspiracy theories around the Lincoln assassination, similar to what we’ve seen with the JFK assassination. I didn’t realize how many layers to the plot there were, so it was important to bring that out. It was also important to me to showcase the story’s unsung African-American heroes and women.

Which conspiracy theory was the strangest you encountered?

There is a theory called the Dahlgren Affair, which is the theory that Lincoln, possibly Stanton, or both approved the assassination attempt on Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Because he was the mastermind of the Union – and the war had been going on for so long, and was so brutal – they wanted a quick end to it. It is possible that Davis’s failed assassination attempt gave Booth or conspirators around Booth the idea of ​​doing the same to Lincoln.

In the first episode, we see Lincoln get shot, and there’s a lot of blood lost. It’s very visceral. What was your process when considering how graphic you wanted to make this important scene?

I’m very sensitive to violence and horror, but I thought it was really important to show how horrible this murder was, and how cowardly it was to shoot someone in the back where they couldn’t defend themselves. Plus, knowing that it was a time before bacteria and viruses were understood, before doctors even washed their hands, was fascinating to me. The fact that Lincoln bled out was essentially how he died. They did not actually perform surgery on him, even though three surgeons were brought there. So I wanted to deeply kill the people Stanton was facing, and I remember a moment in the mix where I asked for the bloody towel to be turned just a little bit, because I think that would be a terrible way to die. Was. This was important so that you could understand why Stanton wanted to avenge his death so much, to the extent that he sacrificed so much of his life.

Compared with many historical dramas, the world of “Manhunt” seems period-accurate in terms of cleanliness, sets and costumes, feeling lifelike and gritty rather than ancient and elegant. What was behind the decision to take this approach?

There are very few photographs – photography was still underway – but there is a photograph of the bed where Lincoln died. You can see blood on the pillow and it shocked me: because at that time very few photographs were domestic, or criminal. Most of these were portraits of important people. So the fact that they took the time to do this amazed me.

It was interesting to learn that people actually had only two pairs of clothes and they wore them one by one. Also, at that time, beards were modern and fashionable not only because of Lincoln, but also because the razor was not so developed. If a person cut themselves with their razor they could get sick and die, so this was a very sensitive time in terms of cleanliness and hygiene. There’s a rawness to what people were going through.

What was the most challenging part of shooting this sweeping historical drama?

It was a very ambitious project, and a lot of things were challenging – but also really exciting, because it’s such an opportunity, especially as a woman, to do something on this scale, and to have so many characters in so many hours. To be able to join in. It’s a huge cast, because Booth is on the run, so every episode, I have to play new roles as he bumps into new people on the street. So this was a challenge. And the weather in Savannah – we were there for hurricane season, so we got a fair amount of weather delays.

But I think with so many characters, it’ll prove emotionally rewarding for sure. That the audience would be invested and so many people would care, and I could pay a visit to such different walks of life.

Would you like to tackle another historical thriller in the future?

It depends on the story. I’m attracted to something where, when I know the central connection or idea, it inspires me. This seems relevant. That’s where I start, and if it happens during a recession or any other time, so be it. But if it’s contemporary, I might as well join in. It’s really about the character and then it goes from there. But I don’t want to fool myself and just become The History Girl.

What’s an interesting fact you learned about Lincoln that didn’t make it into the show?

She had house slippers with little goats on them: Hamish and I would joke about goat slippers all the time. Our costume designer, Katie Irish, actually gave us copies of them. I don’t think we ever had a shot that went all the way down to his feet, but I thought he was attractive.

Also, what an intelligent and friendly person he was and how art sustained him during such difficult times. Stanton once became angry at him because he had to hold an important war meeting, and Lincoln insisted on reading Shakespeare or something at the meeting. Stanton said, “Come on already!” – So I think there was something very attractive about his eccentricity.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Watch the trailer of ‘Manhunt’ below.

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