OnlyOnAOL: How Cynthia Nixon got into character as Nancy Reagan

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By: Donna Freydkin

Let's be very clear. Cynthia Nixon has about as much in common with Nancy Reagan as candy corn does with olive oil. Both are foods. That's about it.

And that's why when she was offered the role of the first lady in "Killing Reagan," based on Bill O'Reilly's book about John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate Reagan in 1981, she signed up. The movie airs Sunday on the National Geographic channel.

Tim Matheson plays her husband, actor-turned-governor-turned-president Ronald Reagan. When they wrapped, he gave Nixon a pillow embroidered with the words first lady (watch our interview with Tim Matheson above).

"I was excited by the idea of playing her. I don't look that much like her. She's such an interesting character. She's so fascinating. People have such disparate views of her. To some she's America's sweetheart and to some she's Lady Macbeth. It was interesting to learn about her and their lives together," says Nixon.

Playing her was illuminating, to say the least. Nancy is famous, or infamous, for those red suits, the perfectly coiffed hair, her war on drugs, and her reliance on and belief in astrology. Plus, her unwavering loyalty to and love for her husband.

"Nancy tried so hard and she wanted to be perfect in everything," says Nixon. "She was strong and opinionated."

'A Quiet Passion' - Official Competition - 60th BFI London Film Festival"Killing Reagan" Washington, DC PremiereTo prep for the part, Nixon first had to alter her exterior. If you've met her, you know she looks nothing like Nancy.

"I lost some weight. That was really important. Getting the period right with the clothes. She was so thin. Her clothes didn't dwarf her. Her femininity – she was a strong person in some ways and a fragile person in other ways. I got fake nails. I did all the things. Her husband was such a masculine ideal to her. She was this tiny feminine little thing," says Nixon.

And while Nixon is firmly team Hillary, she appreciated the insight into the spouse of the 40th president, who died in March 2016.

"What surprised me the most was what a struggle life was for her. That was interesting for me when I was playing Eleanor Roosevelt too," says Nixon, referring to her role in the 2005 drama "Warm Springs."

"I really disagree with so much of what the Reagans did and what the administration was about. I do admire what he did with Gorbachev. I don't admire them economically. I don't admire how they chose to wage the war on drugs or their response to the AIDS crisis," she says.

"I do think it's important to remember that perhaps Trump aside, as a notable exception to almost everything, people who go into politics are almost always earnest people. They want to help. They want to make a difference. Donald Trump aside, people don't go into politics because they're power hungry."

If Nancy Reagan was alive today and following the election, muses Nixon, "I think she'd be horrified. I don't think she would vote for Donald Trump. He would revolt her so much. One of the things that made Ronald Reagan as successful as he was, was that people felt he was a nice person. He tried to make people comfortable. He was folksy."

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Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD
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Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
Cynthia Nixon at AOL BUILD in November 2015. 
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