When preparing to take on the role of John Wilkes Booth, Irish actor Anthony Boyle reminisced on his first introduction to President Abraham Lincoln’s killer — an episode of The Simpsons.

Outside of watching The Simpsons, Boyle also read a few of Booth’s letters and James L. Swanson’s book “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” to get a better understanding of his character. Swanson’s book eventually became the basis for Apple TV+’s new limited series, Manhunt, which premieres Friday

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., held a screening of the show’s first episode Wednesday, followed by a discussion with a panel of the artists who brought the show to life, including Boyle and Swanson. Hamish Linklater, Lovie Simone and Patton Oswalt also attended.

“When [Booth] was younger, he was rambunctious, he was funny,” Boyle said during the panel. “As he got a little bit older, this racism became a cancer in his brain.”

Manhunt’s first episode introduced the audience to Booth, who assassinated Lincoln during a play at Ford’s Theater in 1865. His actions came after the Confederacy — which Booth supported — surrendered in the Civil War. During the panel, Beletsky said it was important for the show to avoid glamorizing Booth. She also discussed the challenges associated with writing a conspiracy thriller and crime show that takes place before the study of forensics.

“I thought all those scenes that we’ve seen hundreds of times, it would be really fun writing them in a way where you can’t lean on the things that we’re able to lean on now for storytelling,” Beletsky said during the panel.

While the show is grounded in Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent search for Booth, the story’s real focus is on an unsung hero: Edwin Stanton, played by Tobias Menzies. Stanton served as Lincoln’s war secretary and led the manhunt to find the president’s killer.

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The show’s use of time jumps from before and after Lincoln’s assassination were a bit confusing. This was not helped by jarring tone shifts in the first episode.

One scene would show intense, gory violence and then the next would employ tongue-in-cheek comedy. Deciphering the first episode’s tone was difficult, but that creates a viewing experience that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

Upon first introduction to Linklater’s Lincoln, his voice sounds a bit comical. Linklater really leaned into the nasally aspect of the president’s sound, but this thankfully wears off as the episode continues. He shared during the panel that he was “very scared” to take on the role. 

“I tried to throw out everything I thought I knew as fast as I could,” Linklater said. “I think the point is to show the guy who had relationships that would motivate this chase and then the continued fight for reconstruction, which Stanton carries on.”

Oswalt, who took on the comedic role of Union Army spy and detective Lafayette Baker, shined in the discussion. Oswalt shared that the worst part of playing the role was the beard glued onto him in the heat of Savannah, Georgia.

“They cut out the rat that lives in my beard that tugs it and guides me,” Oswalt joked, referencing his role as Remy in Ratatouille. “They couldn’t afford the CGI, it was a bummer.”

Oswalt also quipped that Lincoln was the “Taylor Swift of his time” because he could project his voice to crowds of thousands.

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Simone, who plays Mary Simms, the first Black American to testify during the assassination’s conspiracy trial, was vocal about the importance of telling Black history. She emphasized how difficult it was to take on a role where the subject had been erased.

“You’re using what little bit of information I had to do a lot, which is what Black people do all the time,” Simone said.

The Library of Congress was a fitting location for this show’s screening. Being surrounded by historical artifacts and sitting just a short walk from the places the series centers on was an immersive experience.

Despite the subject matter taking place 159 years ago, the show holds more significance today than what initially meets the eye.

“I really hope that people see how clearly we have been way closer to the brink than it seems we are now. This country is this slow motion explosion, and our best leaders have been the best demolition experts that can manage that explosion and still move forward,” Oswalt said. “People are not ready for history when it happens.”