By Candace Havens
There were so many mistakes made on the Branch Davidians and with law enforcement during the Waco siege. Much of that is explored in the new six-part, limited series WACO, premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Paramount. Taylor Kitsch plays cult leader David Koresh, and stars along with Michael Shannon, Melissa Benoist, Rory Culkin, John Leguizamo and Andrea Riseborough to name a few.
Executive producers John Erick and Drew Dowdle were working on another project when the discovered something that made them want into Koresh’s past a bit more. “We actually came into the project researching something totally unrelated, and we came into this looking like maybe this character’s backstory – maybe he grew up with this, like, evil cult in Texas and he was crazy, says John Erick. “David Koresh did all these horrible things. David Koresh kind of had this coming to him. But it never occurred to us to think, ‘Well, what about the other people in there, who were innocent of anything, who were good people trying to live a life they thought was positive and, like, the correct way?’ So, it was a real surprise for us. We said it’s surprising how little we have known about what actually happened inside that house. And then the second part of it was finding Gary Noesner’s book and saying, like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s surprising how little we knew of what was happening behind the scenes with the FBI also.’
“We kept saying we wanted to do the ‘no bad guys’ version of this,” John Erik adds. “We want to see it from both sides from the inside. And to see how this would look from the inside instead of, like, how it looked coming through the news or blown up in an extreme version of itself. How would this have looked? How would this have sounded reasonable from the inside? And that’s kind of how we dealt with the statutory rape and that kind of stuff. The child‑abuse charges, we hint at some of that, but we didn’t find that a very conclusive – Drew and I have spent now four‑plus years on this, and some of these things felt very overblown and very sensationalistic. And that was one.”
Portraying Koresh wasn’t the easiest thing Kitsch has done, and he learned a great deal while working on the role. “I’ve never kind of played anybody like this or remotely close,” says the actor. “…There are still things that I’ll never have answers to, and I don’t think any of us will, with Dave and this whole incident. But you’ve just got to keep digging and not bring your preconceived ideas or your own revelations through it, you know. These guys gave me recruitment tapes and literature and more videos and listening to tens to hundreds of hours of phone calls with Protective Child Services, with Meisner, and then I could start to really formulate who Dave was, without just going to one thing that someone told me that I should feel.”
WACO airs Wednesdays at 10/9pm CT on Paramount Network. Watch premiere episode here through your cable provider.