HOLLYWOOD — It isn't so much the fact that "America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story" is a bad TV movie — which, by the way, it is — that makes it distasteful. It's that this is the latest in a long series of biopics that fictionalize history and make it appear to be fact.
For that matter, it's the latest in a long series of TV movies about Kennedys to do that.
Frankly, "Prince" is pretty lightweight stuff. But it's more in the mode of "E! True Hollywood Story" than A&E's "Biography" — gossipy expose, not history. But that's not something you'll get those involved in the TV movie, which premieres Sunday at 6 p.m. on TBS, to admit.
"We adapted Christopher Andersen's book that was very carefully researched," said executive producer Bonnie Raskin. "We did tremendous annotations. We had copious amounts of research (including) hundreds of articles (and) tape interviews that we had compiled along the way. None of it was frivolous."
Yes, but Andersen's book didn't include many first-hand conversations. And certainly he had no access to private conversations between Kennedy (played by Kristoffer Polaha); his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Jacqueline Bisset); or his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy (Portia de Rossi).
"We're doing a movie and you do take license in some areas, as 'A Beautiful Mind,' 'Hurricane,' 'Amistad,' you take license," said director Eric Laneuville. "It is extrapolated from material and research. And some of the dialogue is real — overheard."
Extrapolated is, of course, a nice way of saying fictionalized. Which is itself a nice way of saying "made up."
"Obviously, a lot of the dialogue is written by a writer who did research," Laneuville said. "But at the same time it is a movie and we take license."
And that is a nice way of saying that they're exploiting the tragedy of JFK Jr.'s life in the pursuit of ratings.
SPEAKING OF FICTIONALIZED: This is the second time Bisset has played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Sort of. She starred in the 1974 movie "The Greek Tycoon," a thinly veiled adaptation of the relationship between Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy.
"Well, actually, this time I tried to play her," Bisset said. But in "Tycoon," she originally attempted to play Jackie, but the producers insisted that any resemblance between Kennedy and Onassis and the characters in the movie was purely coincidental.
"It was a bit of a joke," Bisset said. "But as a result I just played it as it was written and didn't do any accent or any research."
There was one thing that the actress brought from "Tycoon" to "Prince."
"The only thing I had in common was the sunglasses that Halston made for the ('Tycoon') character, which I used again on this one," Bisset said.
MOTHER FIGURE: Including this latest project, Bisset has now played the mother of Jesus, the mother of Joan of Arc and the mother of John F. Kennedy Jr. in TV movies. To what does she attribute this coincidence?
"My age, dear," said the 58-year-old actress.
REAL-LIFE ENCOUNTER: Former "Ally McBeal" co-star Portia de Rossi met the woman she plays in "America's Prince."
"I was at a White House correspondents dinner and happily minding my own business . . . and I felt a very sharp tug on my ponytail," de Rossi said. "And I turned around and Carolyn Bessette was standing there with a big grin on her face. And she said to me, 'What, are you trying to look like me?' "
Turned out Bessette was a big fan of "Ally McBeal."
"So I got to talk to her for about an hour that night and again, on a different occasion, we got to talk. And I met both her and John Kennedy Jr.," de Rossi said.
"I was so incredibly flattered to think that I could resemble her at all. I thought she's just such an elegant, beautiful woman. And I think my ego accepted the role before I really thought about it."