Making The Case: HBO’s ‘All The Way’

Robert Schenkkan
In an on-going series, Jazz Tangcay makes the Emmy® case for All the Way to win the Outstanding TV Movie Emmy with a little help from writer Robert Schenkkan. Over the next week, the writers of AwardsDaily TV will pour out their hearts and minds to try and convince Emmy voters to follow their expert opinions.

HBO’s All the Way

Metacritic: 78
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Number of Nominations: 8
Major Nominations: Television Movie, Lead Actor in a Limited Series / TV Movie (Bryan Cranston), Supporting Actress in a Limited Series / TV Movie (Melissa Leo), Direction (Jay Roach, who directed Cranston in Trumbo)

Robert Schenkkan grew up in Austin, Texas, close to Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch. Schenkkan’s father at the time was a key figure in bringing public media, TV, and radio to the southwest. His father sought permission from then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson to bring public media to the area. LBJ backed a bill that created a corporation for public broadcast. He was a respected figure in the Schenkkan household, and Robert felt a connection to LBJ and wrote about him.

All The Way was originally commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012 with Jack Willis originating the role of LBJ. In 2014, All The Way opened on Broadway with Bryan Cranston in the role and won the Tony Award for Outstanding Play and Best Actor.

This past May, Schenkkan adapted the play for television. All The Way premiered on HBO with Cranston reprising his role in as LBJ. Cranston’s on-screen resemblance to President LBJ is uncanny, and his ability to capture the drawl, right down to Johnson’s slump posture, is a sight to be seen. One wonders how much research Cranston did to capture the mood, be it LBJ’s fierce spirit or fury. He gives us a full view of the character.

The HBO drama covers the first year of LBJ’s presidency following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Writer Schenkkan needed to be selective with what he covered as there wasn’t enough time to cover it all. “I was interested in LBJ’s relationship with the Civil Rights Movement and how they crossed, how they parted and in the end how they were able to achieve that incredible success,” he said.

From the first day, LBJ was thinking ahead, thinking about his election. He wasn’t the one the people had elected and was critical of himself. The arc is geared towards the election, and the path to re-election was critical. What we see in the show is LBJ’s passionate fight for a cause that was polarizing the South as well as a man who wants to move America forward.

We’ve seen representations of LBJ many times, but this incarnation is deserving of an Emmy win. The experts currently have All The Way ahead of the other political biopic, Confirmation starring Kerry Washington, in the Outstanding TV Movie category. Cranston might have won the Tony Award for the role of LBJ, but he’s up against Courtney B. Vance who fully inhabited his portrayal of Johnnie Cochran in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Vance will most likely be taking home the Emmy statue on Emmy night thanks to an equally brilliant performance and the probability of a sweep for the Ryan Murphy-produced limited series.

However, there are many fine moments in All The Way. Some of the best include those where LBJ sits with Lady Bird (Melissa Leo) or when he walks down the hallway of the White House. There’s also an awkward exchange with his daughter. Of that particular scene, Schenkkan said the scene was included for the TV adaptation. What you see is a moment where a father truly loves his children, but he doesn’t know them at all. Steven Spielberg, who also produced the TV movie, had advised Roach that the best way to capture the president in intimate moments was by being the most desperate of places when there was no hope. It shows.

Another fine moment occurs between LBJ and Frank Langella who plays the opposition, Senator Richard Russell. “I love you more than I loved my daddy. But if you get in my way, I’ll crush you,” Johnson says to him.

It’s moments like that where Schenkkan’s script reminds us that politics is a game of chess, but all the moves are clever and politics is war. On these scenes, Schenkkan, who is an executive producer, collaborated with director Jay Roach and said, “I’ve never worked with anyone who was so open. He’s such a generous collaboration and a great director. I learned an enormous amount.”

These scenes are moments you will remember when talking about the movie. All The Way excels at humanizing characters such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and LBJ.

Ultimately, All The Way is a great film packed with history, great performances that show true character filled with compassion and courage. So, with over the 1.1 million who tuned in when the show aired in May, let this be your Emmy choice for Outstanding TV Movie.

 

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