'Waco' takes on Texas cult story: 6 things to know
It’s a role so disturbing that Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch nearly backed out of doing it. ‘Waco’, a retelling of what happened in 1993 when the FBI surrounded a Texas compound that was housing a religious sect led by David Koresh (Kitsch), a man claiming to be their prophet, has arrived in the Middle East at last. As of this month, it airs every Monday on Paramount on OSN. (It’s also available on their streaming service, OSN Play.) The six-part miniseries, which stars Michael Shannon opposite Kitsch as Gary Noesner, the head of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, first aired in America last year. Here are six things to know about the wild ride that is ‘Waco’.
1. It’s about the 1993 standoff between the FBI, ATF, and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas
The series is based on the bizarre, almost two-month siege of a Texan ranch, which housed the Branch Davidians, a religious sect, and their leader, David Koresh. The group were headquartered in the 77-acre Mount Carmel Center, located 13 miles away from Waco, Texas. A search warrant of the property was obtained because the group was suspected of possessing illegal weapons and explosives. But when the ATF — that’s the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — first attempted a raid on the compound, a deadly two-hour gun battle broke out, killing four government agents and six Branch Davidians. A 51-day siege by the FBI followed, resulting in 76 deaths. The tragic 1993 incident is widely referred to as the Waco siege.
2. Playing a cult leader sent Kitsch into a spiral — and he nearly dropped out of the project
Kitsch nearly backed out of ‘Waco’ a month and a half before the series began filming, feeling like he was in too deep. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he said: “You spend eight hours a day in this 1,000-square-foot apartment in Austin playing guitar and reading about this tragedy every single day. It just started to really weigh on me. I had no outlet. And I was probably just scared [expletive]less and panicked.”
The ‘Friday Night Lights’ actor even approached executives about it. “I didn’t get sleep that day and was feeling vulnerable, and [I] was just like, ‘Hey, I wanna know the process of the repercussions if I pull out right now, because I don’t know if this is a story I want to tell.’”
It was only after beginning to understand the root of Koresh’s motives did he feel more prepared to take on the role.
3. Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company were removed from the series credits
Even though they were involved in production, the Weinstein Company was erased from the credits of ‘Waco’ and another Paramount series, ‘Yellowstone’. The announcement came after sexual abuse allegations were levied against heavyweight Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Paramount Network president Kevin Kay called Weinstein’s actions ‘disgusting and disheartening’. “I want to say definitively that Harvey Weinstein has never been part of the creative process. Until a new name of the company is announced, Weinstein Co. will not be listed in the credits for either show,” said Kay.
4. ‘Waco’ received mixed responses from critics, but the cast was praised for their performances
Some critics found the series to be too sympathetic towards its protagonist, Koresh, while others criticised its unambitious and straightforward storytelling. However, there were also those who raved about the series, dubbing it ‘powerful’ and applauding the strength of its star ensemble. “In every case, the actor elevates the material, raising passable storytelling to a more compelling and charismatic level,” wrote the A.V. Club critic Alex McLevy.
5. ‘Waco’ was nominated for three Emmy Awards overall
Despite dividing critics, ‘Waco’ was nominated for two awards at the 70th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards — one for its sound mixing, and one for its sound editing. The skilled John Leguizamo also received an Emmy nomination for playing Jacob Vazquez, the ATF agent who moved next door to the compound to sniff out intel on Koresh and his followers.
6. A companion to the series called ‘Revelations of Waco’ exists
‘Waco’ is a dramatic retelling of the Waco siege, based on two biographies — ‘A Place Called Waco’, by the Branch Davidian survivor David Thibodeau, and ‘Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator’, by federal agent Gary Noesner. But for those who want a deeper delve into the story, ‘Revelations of Waco’ is a companion docuseries that spotlights and interviews the real-life survivors and agents involved in the 1993 incident. It first became available on YouTube in January and February of last year, during the initial airing of the miniseries in America.
Don’t miss it
’Waco’ premiered in the UAE on January 7. It airs every Monday on OSN’s Paramount channel at 12am, and repeats on Fridays at 10pm and Saturdays at 11pm. It is also available on the on demand service, OSN Play.