Tim Matheson recalls the moment that President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981.
The Killing Reagan star, who plays the late 40th U.S. president in the Nat Geo TV movie, remembers that he was shooting the film A Little Sex along the Hudson River in N.Y. when news broke about the attempted murder.
“I was shooting a movie with a director named Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth’s father, in New York City on the Hudson River. It was so troubling because — I didn’t vote for him — he was such a nice, old guy. Why — who would shoot him? They must be demented,” Matheson said about the attempted assassin, John Hinckley Jr. “It was sad and we were all very happy that he wasn’t killed and that he recovered so quickly and it was a tremendous boost for his presidency. It was right at the beginning.”
Although Matheson, 68, didn’t vote for the late president, he recognized that he was a “beloved figure in American presidential history,” specifically “in the last 30, 40 years.”
Matheson, who strays away from impressions, said that impersonating the actor-turned-president was one of the most difficult parts of taking on the role.
“I think the trap for me in a part like that is to do an impression and try and do a caricature, so I was mindful of that and I wanted to be presidential and be Reagan-esque, but I also wanted to find out what was really going on. And our story was more about Ronnie and Nancy,” he told PEOPLE.
Killing Reagan premieres Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel.