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13 Is His Lucky Number

Steven Culp Delivers In Cuban Missile Crisis Film


January 22, 2001

By Roger Moore

It took a while for Steven Culp's resemblance to the late Bobby Kennedy to assert itself. But assert itself it did. The actor, best-known for a recurring role on TV's JAG, has played the former attorney general and presidential candidate twice, in the 1996 TV movie Norma Jean & Marilyn and in the new Cuban Missile Crisis drama, Thirteen Days.

"I guess I have some sort of aristocratic look about me," he said, laughing. "When I was up for the role in Thirteen Days, I was doing an episode of ER and walking through the hospital in a suit when one of the nurses said, 'Boy, you look just like a Kennedy.' If she only knew."

Culp, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and whose father, Joseph, is now retired and living in Maitland, said that he doesn't have a lot of natural Kennedy attributes. He's a lot taller than Bobby was. And he had to lose quite a bit of body bulk to match the physique of the smallest Kennedy.

"I worked out with a trainer and lost weight to whittle me down to Bobby's size," Culp said. "I wanted this lean, wiry Bobby Kennedy body. And they colored my hair, and I had false upper teeth and the accent."

The accent required endless sessions of listening to tapes of Kennedy's speeches, working on the cadences, the "ur-em-ah" vocalized pauses that the Kennedys have been famous for. Culp said that he wanted to know so much about Kennedy and have his speech and mannerisms down so perfect that all he had to worry about was giving a natural Kennedy reaction to every situation facing him in Thirteen Days.

The result is a personal triumph. In the middle of a career full of one-shot roles on TV and minor roles as "party guest number 2" and "bartender" in films from Fearless to Nurse Betty, Culp has the part of a lifetime. Culp "nails the younger Kennedy's uneasy awareness that the old guard doesn't respect his intelligence or savvy," critic Frank Grabrenya said in his review for The Columbus Dispatch.

"The angle I took on Bobby was that he was the runt of the litter, less naturally gifted than any of his brothers, less noticed in the family," Culp said. "He had this really driving desire to please his father, which is something we can all relate to. He had incredible force of will to be noticed, to be the good son."

And working on the film, studying the history that is behind the missile crisis story gave Culp an insight as to why the Kennedy brothers are still revered.

"They were these extraordinary but imperfect human beings who, at a time of great crisis, were able to rise above themselves, become greater than themselves," Culp said. "There's real nobility and character there. In spite of all the scandalous things that have been said about them, these guys were noble, when the chips were down. They were transcendent human beings."

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