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Rob Lowe wants to be president someday (on film)

By Mike Ayers, Special to CNN
January 21, 2013 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rob Lowe recently starred in a Lifetime movie about the Casey Anthony trial
  • Lowe's also appearing as a political strategist in the indie film "Knife Fight"
  • The actor is attached to a role he says he's wanted to play for years: Ulysses S. Grant

(CNN) -- It's been a busy month for Rob Lowe.

His Lifetime movie "Prosecuting Casey Anthony" premiered Saturday with him as attorney Jeff Ashton. On Friday, Lowe will tread familiar territory when his indie flick "Knife Fight" hits theaters. The actor plays Paul Turner, a cutthroat political strategist who's trying to keep his candidates afloat amid self-sabotaging drama. Lowe also can be seen weekly as sad-sack health nut Chris Traeger on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," which is shooting its fifth season.

CNN recently spoke with Lowe about his projects, his personal thoughts on the Casey Anthony trial, his dream of playing Ulysses S. Grant and working with Matt Damon on "Behind the Candelabra," the story of Liberace.

CNN: In "Prosecuting Casey Anthony," you play Jeff Ashton, the trial lawyer. From your perception, what was the biggest factor in why he lost?

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Rob Lowe: It's a little bit like why the Titanic hit the iceberg. A bunch of little things had to go wrong for the big thing to go wrong. The one I focus on is the jury selection process itself. I think in many ways the trial was over before it began.

This is the first big trial in the era of Twitter and Facebook. Not only does information move at the speed of light, but public opinion coalesces at the speed of light through social media. The point is to get a jury who has no opinion. But the thought that they have no opinion when it's been all over social media, all over the public consciousness, all over cable news ... you have two types of people: Either they have no opinion and haven't been living in the real world, and what does that say? Do you really want those people on a jury? Or you have people who have been paying somewhat attention and have heard leaked evidence, which is everywhere.

Personally, I think they overreached with charging her with first-degree, special-circumstances murder.

CNN: What's the mental state like of a person who's tasked with prosecuting such a high-profile, nationwide murder case? For the moment, he becomes a rock star for people who love prosecutions.

Lowe: People went to Orlando just to be a part of this trial. Like it was Disneyland. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. People had T-shirts made that said "Team Ashton." To the uninitiated in the realm of the public eye, that's probably an unexpected complication that people deal with in different ways.

CNN: The case was somewhat reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson case in that it took on this sideshow circus element.

Lowe: The only difference that I would say -- and I'd say it's significant -- is unlike O.J., Jeff seems to be the perfect man for the job. This is his area. He's 12-for-12 in death penalty cases. He's the first guy to use DNA. And yet it didn't happen, which makes it sort of Shakespearean in a way.

CNN: Speaking of circuses, in "Knife Fight," you play Paul Turner, a political strategist. Do you have any empathy for people in these professions?

Lowe: Weirdly, I have nothing but empathy for people in those positions. I've been fortunate enough -- or depending on your political views, unfortunate enough -- to come into contact with everybody from every spectrum, from George McGovern and Michael Dukakis to Karl Rove. And at their core, they're all real patriots.

And they all really believe in what they perceive to be the greater good of our country. It's not this jaded, cynical power play. That's not my experience with those people. Now, do they use jaded, cynical power-play tools? Absolutely. And that's what my guy does in the movie.

CNN: The film explores "damage control" as someone's area of expertise. A hundred years ago, that notion wouldn't really exist.

Lowe: What appeals to me about it, is at its heart, it's about communicating. How do you communicate when you're going into a situation that's already a train wreck? When you look at Lance (Armstrong) or the football dude (Manti Te'o) -- is there a way to communicate their truth or lack of it in a way that brings a greater understanding? I think it's really fascinating.

CNN: Let's talk about "Parks and Recreation." Is Chris Traeger going to find happiness?

Lowe: Chris Traeger is absolutely beginning to finally find happiness. We're a few more episodes down the pike than the audience has seen, and he's going to have a -- as he'd say "literally" -- a life-changing opportunity for growth, love and happiness.

CNN: He's become such the sad clown of Pawnee (the show's fictional town).

Lowe: (Laughs.) I know. He's become the happiest sad person on network television. He embraces life, even when he's steering into a depressing skid. There's a part of him that savors it in a way that I think is sort of sweet and weirdly inspiring.

CNN: You've worked with some comedic giants over the years. Who on "Parks" do you learn the most about comedic deliveries these days?

Lowe: I don't even know where to begin. It's murderer's row. I've worked with a lot of people and I've come to realize that Amy (Poehler) is, without a doubt, the most astute observer of human behavior that I have ever worked with. And has the quickest mind in terms of comedy and the sharpest sense of timing. Without a doubt. I don't think anyone comes close. So that's huge.

Then you have somebody like Chris Pratt, who I almost think is the funniest person on the show, who can also be a romantic lead movie star if he wants to. You've got Aziz (Ansari), who has mined such a specific voice for himself that resonates for so many people, that is unique only to him.

You have Rashida Jones, who I believe could make Lena Dunham look like an amateur if given the opportunity. And I'm a huge fan of Lena's. Rashida's a crazy talented "voice of her generation" type writer. Her movie "Celeste & Jesse Forever" was amazing. It just goes on and on.

Nick Offerman? Ron Swanson is a once-in-a-lifetime character he's created.

CNN: It's been reported that you're working on a historical film, where you play Ulysses S. Grant. How far along is that?

Lowe: It's a big, expensive miniseries. Sony will be making it. I think the latest incarnation will be in conjunction with Reelz. It's something I've been attached to and wanting to do for a couple of years now. We're still waiting for the final OK, and I'm hoping it's a project I'd do on my hiatus, and it would be a dream project for me to play Ulysses S. Grant. He's a very underserved American hero and complicated, dark, flawed. When he died, America gave him the largest public funeral this country had ever seen. He saved the Union. I'm hopeful that'll happen.

CNN: Are you shooting anything else this year?

Lowe: I have a movie coming out in May with Steven Soderbergh directing and Michael Douglas and Matt Damon called "Behind the Candelabra." It's the story of Liberace.

Matt Damon and I would sit on the set in our makeup and costume and be like, "Dude, when people see us in this movie, it's going to be the end for both of us." It's the most outrageous, over-the-top, hilarious, demented and yet weirdly realistic and sweet movie ever made. And, I might add, it's so gay, it makes an average episode of "Glee" look like "The Expendables."

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