November 17, 2005
Look-alike actor brings Bobby Kennedy to the stage
By Ben Berkowitz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actor Jack Holmes bears an uncanny
resemblance to the late Robert F. Kennedy and sounds almost
like him. He even wears a tie clip that Kennedy once gave to an
So it is little wonder that Holmes has brought the slain
former attorney general and younger brother of former President
John F. Kennedy to life in an acclaimed one-man off-Broadway
Holmes doesn't so much act Kennedy in the 99-minute play
"RFK," as "channel him," enthused The New York Sun.
But none of this would have happened, if Holmes had not
accidentally met an agent seven years ago who said he thought
the actor looked exactly like the former New York senator.
This casual observation prompted Holmes to start
researching Kennedy's life and thoughts, leading him to
discover the power of RFK's liberal idealism.
Holmes, 42, struck gold one day when he visited a used book
store in Hoboken, New Jersey, when the owner just happened to
receive a box full of books about Bobby Kennedy's life.
"I gave him $20 for it," Holmes said.
All of the reading helped him in his preparation, which
included work on the accent and the look to come as close to
the Kennedy profile as possible. But his upbringing also had
something to do with it. "I grew up in kind of an Irish
environment, a big family," he said.
It took Holmes seven years to bring his play to New York. A
longer earlier version, "The Awful Grace of God," played in Los
Angeles in 2004 to smaller audiences and low-key reviews.
"It was a long process of draft, draft, draft and draft and
finding a more concise way to get a point across," he said.
Early reviewers said the spirit and especially the liberal
idealism of the man who was gunned down in 1968 as he ran for
the Democratic presidential nomination hovers across the room,
thanks to Holmes performance.
"RFK," which opened this week, starts in early 1964, when
Kennedy resigned as attorney general to run for the U.S. Senate
from New York, to 1968, moments before he was assassinated at
the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
But the play tries to do more than retell a crucial period
in a famous American life -- it is a commentary on change, a
time when people were both optimistic about the future and
worried about what it would bring.
"We need new politics. It's not that we need to be more
liberal or more conservative. We just need better liberals; we
need better conservatives. We need a new way of looking at
America's role across the world," an emotional Kennedy cries at
one point during the play.
"This was a very emotional and emotionally-driven person
who did not have a cap on his passions," Holmes told Reuters in
a recent interview.
Holmes also draws his inspiration in part from real bits of
Kennedy memorabilia, like an original printing of the Warren
Commission report on John F. Kennedy's assassination that sits
on a desk during the show.
Then there is the tie clip, in the shape of John F.
Kennedy's World War Two boat PT 109, which Holmes wears during
the show. A former Senate staffer of Bobby Kennedy's came to a
reading of the play in May and gave Holmes one of two PT 109
clips given him by RFK in the 1960s.
Early reviews of the play were glowing. The Newark
Star-Ledger called it "highly engaging." The New York Sun said
the show was "a charmingly seamless examination of the man's
ideals and life, (it) wanders like a conversation but pierces
like a bullet."