April 09, 2018 10:33 AM

When Jason Clarke was tapped to play Ted Kennedy in the new drama Chappaquiddick — about the 1969 car crash that left Kennedy’s young passenger Mary Jo Kopechne dead at the bottom of a pond — the Australian actor’s first order of business was to perfect the late senator’s distinct Massachusetts drawl.

“The blessing of being an Australian is that you have to do an accent for every [role] so that actually makes you work,” he revealed to PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I picked up the phone and I called Tim Monich, who is one of the great dialect coaches of the world. We started breaking it down, talking about films, books, art, literature, finding the character through that. You have to find this man’s voice and you have to find that voice within you — the timber, the cadence and the rhythm and the way they construct a thought.”

Clarke, 48, was ahead of the game with his research because he’s long been a fan of the Kennedys and their speeches.

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick
Claire Folger/Entertainment Studios

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick

“The Kennedys were very particular in constructing thought,” he said. “I used to love listening to their speeches, particularly Bobby’s, the [“Day of Affirmation”] one in South Africa, and the one Ted did at Bobby’s funeral. It’s amazing oratory.”

For much more on Clarke and Chappaquiddick, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.

The actor also underwent a minor makeover to complete his Kennedy transformation.

“We decided not to go full prosthetics,” Clarke said. “But we had a wig, teeth—enough so that as soon as you see me, that’s Ted Kennedy.”

In addition to his work on perfecting the voice and the look, Clarke and Chappaquiddick director John Curran visited the accident site off Martha’s Vineyard.

“I’ve been a few times, we shot there as well,” he recalled. “John and I went out there in April, around the time the accident would have happened. It’s eerie. I jumped in the water and felt the current, it’s strong. It was strange to think that Mary Jo had lost her life there and this event had happened – right at the edge of America. It’s like you can feel the Presidency and the Kennedy legacy.”

Chappaquiddick is now playing in theaters.

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