‘Manhunter’ actor was introduced to John Wilkes Booth on ‘The Simpsons’


Almost 159 years after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, the name of John Wilkes Booth still rings through history. At least here in America.

In other countries, maybe not so much. At least not in Northern Ireland, where the actor who plays Booth in the Apple TV+ series “Manhunt” grew up.

“My introduction to John Wilkes Booth was through an episode of ‘The Simpsons,’” said Anthony Boyle, “where Bart plays John Wilkes Booth. As he comes out, and Milhouse is Lincoln, and [Bart] says, ‘Hasta la vista, baby.’”

Actually, Bart says, “Hasta la vista, Abie” — but Boyle’s memory wasn’t far off. (It was in the 1993 episode “I Love Lisa” — which premiered 16 months before Boyle was born.)

“Manhunt” is a seven-part retelling of the assassination of Lincoln, the search for and killing of Booth, and the prosecution of conspirators in the plot to kill the president. The enormous cast includes Tobias Menzies as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton; Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln; Lili Taylor as Mary Todd Lincoln; Glenn Morshower as President Andrew Johnson; and Matt Walsh as Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Even though he’s not American, playing the assassin of one of America’s greatest presidents was a challenge for Boyle.

“Booth is an ass—-. I hate that guy,” Boyle said. “But Booth doesn’t think he’s an ass—-. Booth thinks he’s a hero. So, in order for me to serve the project … I have to think that I’m the hero in this. I wasn’t playing Booth as a villain, per se. I was playing him as if … I’ve got to do what’s right. I have to assassinate the president. I have to save America.”

Once he got the part, Boyle started doing research on Booth. But he found most of the books about him weren’t particularly helpful “because they were written for a casual reader, and what I really wanted was to get to the bare bones of him.” So he turned to a collection of letters Booth wrote when he was between the ages of 15 and 26.

“And when he starts off at 15, he’s rambunctious,” Boyle said. “He’s going to fairs. He’s mooning people. He was a bit of a wayward lad. Then at about 19, he starts writing things like, ‘Someone insulted my sister, so I put a stick over his head and watched him bleed.’ And then by the time he’s 25, he’s writing things like, ‘The Black man is enslaving the white man in America.’ So you’ve got, through these letters, this, just, descent into this madness. Into this racist ideology.

“So I really went back to the letters, as opposed to books written about him or episodes of ‘The Simpsons.’”

The Apple TV+ series is based, sort of, on the nonfiction book “Manhunt,” by James L. Swanson. But whereas the book focuses on the assassination and the hunt for Booth, the miniseries digresses into a lot of politics, including a lot of flashbacks to Lincoln.

There’s a lot of interesting material, from a look at why Johnson is among the worst presidents in American history to another historical revision on Mudd. In “Manhunt,” Mudd knew he was treating Booth, who broke his leg when he leaped to the stage after shooting Lincoln. But, regardless, Mudd was a slave owner who was a terrible human being.

However, the book benefits from its relatively narrow focus. The TV series is undercut by executive producer Monica Beletsky and her team broadening the narrative to politics and personal drama, building a story with too many characters to keep track of and so many details that it can be tedious at times.

“It’s a very complicated, political story that we’re telling,” Menzies said, “but also hopefully a very human one. And one of the ways of doing that is to really bring these fascinating people as richly and as accurately to life.”

Noble intentions that go largely unfulfilled.

And, be warned, “Manhunt” is filled with characters who are slaves or former slaves — and the n-word is used frequently.

The first two episodes of “Manhunt” starts streaming Friday, March 15, on Apple TV+. Episodes 3-7 will debut one at a time over the following five Fridays.

Worth checking out

“Alice & Jack” (Sunday, 8 p.m., PBS/Channel 7) • This “Masterpiece” production follows the romance of a quirky couple (played by Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson) over 16 years.

“An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution” (Monday, 7 p.m., ABC/Channel 4) • Oprah talking about weight loss? Talk about a blast from the past.

“Homicide: New York” (starts streaming Wednesday on Netflix) • From producer Dick Wolf, the man behind all those “Law & Order,” “Chicago” and “FBI” series, this new show recounts real murder cases.

“Palm Royale” (Episodes 1-3 of 10 start streaming Wednesday, Apple TV+) • This bright, colorful and somewhat subversive comedy centers on a woman (Kristen Wiig) trying to gain entry into Palm Beach high society in 1969 by crashing her way into an exclusive country club. The cast includes Leslie Bibb, Carol Burnett, Mindy Cohn, Laura Dern, Bruce Dern, Julia Duffy, Allison Janney, Josh Lucas and Ricky Martin.

“3 Body Problem” (All eight episodes start streaming Thursday on Netflix) • The producers behind “Game of Thrones” — David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — join forces with writer Alexander Woo (”True Blood,” “The Terror”) — to adapt the sci-fi book series “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” (written by Cixin Liu), which recounts what happens after Earth makes contact with extraterrestrials. And it gets off to a very strong start.

“Diarra from Detroit” (starts streaming Thursday on BET+) • Surprisingly, exceedingly funny new series about a divorced schoolteacher (Diarra Kilpatrick) who has a great date — and then the guy seems to ghost her. She’s determined to track him down, and is quickly caught up in a mystery.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.



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