It was this horrible experience of being in a room with 30 or 40 other young men who sort of looked like me... It was everybody in the same room auditioning together.
The latest Stephen King novel to be given the book-to-film treatment is 11.22.63, J.J. Abrams’ eight-part miniseries with a super-sized opening chapter directed by Academy Award-winner Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland). This could prove a huge breakthrough for Hulu in terms of sheer scope alone—think Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle—and set the streaming service on a more ambitious and attractive path moving forward.
11.22.63 has a colossal event in its crosshairs: President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on the date in question, and the escalation of the Vietnam War and other tumultuous events that followed. In this time-travel fantasy, the unlikely conduit charged with altering the history books is Jake Epping—good god, when does James Franco sleep?—a high school teacher who’s sent back in time to the year 1960 via a local diner owner’s rabbit-hole closet, tasked with having that bullet spin away from its mark to save Kennedy’s life. As is true of so many stories that try to fool Father Time, tinkering with the past to change the present and future won’t come without complications.
In a cavalcade of formidable talent including Chris Cooper, Josh Duhamel and Cherry Jones, Daniel Webber shines in his portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Australian newcomer is superb in his imagining of Oswald’s peculiar speak and growing sense of paranoia—a mental state that, ironically, Jake helps agitate. According to executive producer Bridget Carpenter, the biggest change in the adaptation was the expansion of Webber’s character, which is very telling indeed.
11.22.63 will begin to unspool exclusively over at Hulu on Presidents’ Day, February 15.
Did you just move out to Los Angeles? Is it permanent?
I have! I just got a place, as in, I moved in two days ago. I’m still in moving mode, thinking about “I need to get this. I have to put that there.” Organizing and decorating—all the fun stuff…
Yeah. You sound super excited about it, too.
[Laughs] I’ve been backwards and forwards to L.A. quite a few times now, but as far as it being permanent, absolutely. 11.22.63 provided a base for me to actually do that, but the plan was always to get out to America. There are such brilliant stories that get told here. Being a part of this show, and to be able to tell such an important story from the culture about this infamous person—Lee Harvey Oswald—I’ve always wanted to be a part of that kind of storytelling history.
I hope you’re ready for this because this is some hard-hitting journalism: IMDB tells me you trained as a trampolinist at a young age. How did that come about?
I got into it when I was about 10. We just had a backyard trampoline and I used to flip around and have a good ol’ time. I was an energetic kid. My parents started talking about how I should maybe learn to do it properly, so I ended up getting coaching. I did that until I was 18 or so.
And you traveled for it. You committed to it professionally.
Yeah. I went to the Middle East and performed for the Olympics closing ceremony. Obviously, there’s the nationals and the different competitions that you can do as well. It’s very much on the cusp of committing to something that doesn’t give you financial support. I have a few friends who are still doing it, competing for world numerous times with synchronized partners. It’s extraordinary that they’re able to do that. There’s not much support in terms of sponsorship, either. It’s an interesting little world in itself. Trampolining is an Olympic sport as of 2000.
I went on YouTube and the first video I clicked on was called “Best trampolinist in the world #1.” It was literally these two kids in their backyard jumping up and down on a trampoline.
[Laughs] That’s hilarious. It doesn’t get much better than that, to be honest.
You were also a rope access technician on wind turbines. I don’t know what that means.
It means that you get up very early in the morning in the freezing cold, climb up a 150-meter tower carrying 15 kilos of gear, and spend most of your day looking up and down at the world. There are cables holding you up at the very top and you’re on this skinny little beanpole of a tower getting blasted by the wind. You see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets from that high up. It’s a really broad job, like being a builder on roads. Wind turbines are the last jobs that I was working on, but it involves everything you can’t do from a scaffold, scissor-lift or something else. It requires hugely different applications when you’re on oil rigs and inside mines, for example.
David Fields’ The Combination was your first acting experience. It’s my understanding you didn’t have representation at the time, so how did that film come into your orbit?
I didn’t have representation. It was this dream in the back of my head. I stumbled across this audition during a time when I was doing a lot of research on how to get into acting in the Australian industry. It was a big cattle call. It was this horrible experience of being in a room with 30 or 40 other young men who sort of looked like me, auditioning for the one or two roles. It was everybody in the same room auditioning together. It was one of the odder auditioning experiences looking back at it. [Laughs] But that’s kind of it. I just did the general, big meeting and went back to do another meeting. I also had a chat with David about who I am and what I’m about outside of wanting to become an actor—the trampolining and everything else. Fortunately, I got on.
So the ambition was there. When did you first start thinking about really going for it?
I don’t think I really knew until I was 18, but I stumbled across acting around 9 and just enjoyed doing it at school. I realized for the first time in my life that some people did this for a job. It started coming into the sphere of my life from then on. Around 17 or 18, when we’re all thinking about what to do after school, I considered going to NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art] where Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving trained, and where all these fantastic and incredible Australian talent got their training. That was one option I considered, I guess.
You then appeared on All Saints, a long-running medical drama in Australia. Is it like E.R.?
E.R., yeah, or Grey’s Anatomy.
You were also on the Doctor Who spin-off, K9, and Home and Away, a soap that’s been airing since 1988. It has over 3,000 episodes now and counting. That show will outlive us all.
[Laughs] It is a soap. It’s huge in Australia and the UK. I didn’t realize this, but it’s much more known in America than I’d thought. I tried to avoid going on Home and Away for quite a few years. It’s one of those rite of passage shows for young, Aussie talent in the industry there. You just have to do your time on those shows. I avoided it for as long as possible, until just before I came across to America for the first time. I’d just finished a feature film called Teenage Kicks and they offered me this role that would require a couple months of work when most people would sign one or two-year contracts. And I needed the money, so I figured I might as well do it. So I did it for a few months and came over to America. It’s a very highly watched show in Australia.
It sounds like your version of As the World Turns. That show has a long list of famous alumni.
Oh man! Everybody’s been on Home and Away. Heath Ledger was on there. Liam Hemsworth was on there. I couldn’t list all the people who’ve come out of that show and gone on to do really, really well. I understand now that it does have a certain value to it. One thing that show is really known for is the pace. They shoot something like five episodes a week, all broken up. It’s the fastest show I’ve ever been on. You get one take—two if you’re lucky. For a young actor, it’s a great place to learn film technique and craft, just working, working and working to get the job done.
How did you get involved with 11.22.63?
When the audition came through, I saw Kevin Macdonald, James Franco and J.J. Abrams’ names. But what really got me excited was Lee Harvey Oswald, this man I knew about without actually knowing much about him. He’s obviously infamous and you know that even growing up in Australia. I watched the post-shooting interviews, and studied his way of talking and his mannerisms. He was fascinating straightaway. I had two days to prep for the test, so I focused on those most noticeable things about him, as well as this sense of abandonment and loneliness. I was very happy with the test, but I didn’t hear anything back for months, which happens a lot on these things. You don’t hear back or the show gets put on hold or whatever it is. Obviously, I did hear back eventually. They knew exactly what they wanted and just went for it, whether you were a big name or not. I think that’s what happened with my casting. It’s a big leap of faith they took. The cast is amazing. Cherry Jones and Lucy Fry bring such a great quality to the series as well.
Lucy Fry, who plays your wife Marina on the show, is also Australian. You both had to put on these accents: you with Oswald’s very particular speak and Lucy with her Russian accent.
We actually both had to learn Russian because there are quite a few scenes where we speak it. We had lessons with coaches for that. It’s an interesting asset to this job because, not only do you have to act, you have to get that language perfect. People out there know, so you have to strive to get that as close as possible. Fortunately for me, I had a little bit of an accent when I did my Russian because it’s not Lee’s native language. And his voice, which we were talking about before, isn’t general American speak. He had a very unique voice. I worked pretty heavily with a coach for a period of time to get that right. I also did a lot of work on it myself every day.
Constructing your own Oswald must’ve been an intensely creative experience because of the mystique. You’re piecing together this puzzle, an amalgam of facts, myths, and speculations.
It was a process because I didn’t know that much about him to begin with. Even watching the very first documentary on him, it’s like, “This is who I play! This is the man!” [Laughs] And realizing he’s much more complex, interesting and contradictory than you’d previously thought. It was shocking. It was exciting to know you’ve got a role that you can really sink your teeth into. Roles like this don’t come around very often. The process was interesting. It’s a dream, it really is.
You could say that about the show itself. This is not a play-by-play, historical account. It skews heavily towards fantasy. You could expand this story in so many different ways.
Absolutely. I really liked reading the book, but Stephen King is very hard on Lee and doesn’t really look at him as a person. We get to explore that in the series and try to find the context, the forces that shaped the guy and his actions. That was nice to do. To be honest, I would love to explore Lee’s story even further and do it again in some ways. I think we’ve just scratched the surface of him, his quirks, and where he could go within the story. He’s such an interesting person.
I obviously have no clue how this first run of the series will end, but if Jake does in fact stop Kennedy’s assassination, there’s so much room to play with Lee’s trajectory, assuming that he would’ve stayed alive as well. Are there talks about possibly continuing with the series?
Potentially, I guess. There’s a fault in time and it resets itself, so anything’s possible, right?
I can actually hear the fear in your voice when you say that. I can take a hint, Daniel.
Is that enough for ya? [Laughs]
It’s weird to ask you this seeing as that the show hasn’t aired yet, but apart from 11.22.63, what are you most looking forward to? Are you thinking about furniture right now?
I swear I’m not! I’m looking forward to finding another production of this scope and a role with this same sort of power that will challenge me. I don’t really like feeling comfortable. I like to know that there’s potential for failure. It’s about finding that film, that director and that role where you jump right in to see what comes out of it. I guess that’s where I’m going.