In only its second year, the just-concluded Montclair Film Festival lived up to its quippy tagline: “It’s like Sundance. Only Jersier.” And never moreso than with its closing-night feature, Concussion, written and directed by Montclair’s own Stacie Passon and acquired for distribution at, yes, the Sundance Film Festival by Radius/TWC (it’ll hit 25-50 theaters and VOD in early October). Passon’s bracing debut feature stars the luminous Robin Weigert—best known as Calamity Jane on the late, great Deadwood—as a lesbian housewife who suffers the titular injury and (not necessarily as a result) begins working as a high-priced escort out of a loft she’s rehabbing in Manhattan.
Like many of the films that came to the Upper West Side of New Jersey (as Montclair is rightly known) via Utah this year, Concussion boasts an impressive ensemble of faces familiar to fans of quality TV, including Sons of Anarchy‘s Maggie Siff (as an ostensibly heterosexual local mom who patronizes Weigert’s services), Damages‘ Ben Shenkman (as her Goldman Sachs-banker husband) and The West Wing‘s Janel Moloney (as a pregnant pal).
Another terrific drama, The Spectacular Now, deservedly won a Special Jury Award for Acting at Sundance and the leads—The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley (as a straight-arrow high-schooler) and Project X‘s Miles Teller (as the raging teen alcoholic who seduces her)—will no doubt earn most of the praise when it hits theaters.
But the cast is rounded out by a trio of TV vets—Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk as Teller’s boss at a mens’ clothing store, The Wire‘s Andre “Bubbles” Royo as his sympathetic math teacher and most spectacularly, Friday Night Lights‘ Kyle Chandler as his long-estranged dad. In a single on-screen scene, Chandler creates an indelible portrait of a pathetic dirtbag, the antithesis of Coach Eric Taylor.
Another longtime small-screener, Boston Legal alum Lake Bell, casts a couple of her Childrens Hospital costars, Rob Corddry and Ken Marino, in her first film as a writer-director, the highly amusing showbiz comedy In a World… (another Sundance fave, hitting theaters in June).
Bell also stars as the daughter of a legendary movie-trailer voiceover artist (A Serious Man‘s sublime Fred Melamed) who ends up competing with her dad and his protégé (Marino) for a gig that will revive the late Don LaFontaine’s titular tagline. Corddry’s subplot—he plays Bell’s brother-in-law, who endures a marital crisis with her hotel-concierge sister (well-cast SNL vet Michaela Watkins)—feels a bit too much like a sitcom B-storyline, but the performers (also including standups Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro and Jeff Garlin and the too-little-seen Geena Davis) consistently lift the material to grade-A status.
In a World…‘s world-class roster also encompasses Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman, who stars in yet another Sundance-to-Montlcair transplant, The Kings of Summer. CBS Films has chosen to embargo reviews of the film until closer to its May 31 release date, but suffice it to say Offerman, real-life wife Megan Mullally, Community/Mad Men‘s Alison Brie, The Big C‘s Gabriel Basso and, believe it or not, Hannah Montana‘s Moises Arias (who’s poised to be the film’s breakout star) all live up to the title, which was changed from the original, somewhat misleading but less generic Toy’s House.
Finally, the Western Dead Man’s Burden—which received a limited theatrical release over the weekend after screening at MFF on Tuesday night—also benefits from a stellar lead performance from a TV star, Nashville‘s Clare Bowen. The Aussie actress-singer leaps off the screen as a post-Civil War wife who guns down her father in the film’s opening shot, then must deal with the ramifications when her presumed-dead brother (Barlow Jacobs) returns to their homestead. Another first-time filmmaker, Jared Moshe, cited Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, John Ford’s The Searchers and the films of Budd Boetticher among his influences in a post-screening Q&A, and he does his cinematic forefathers proud.
All these films put together can’t hope to match the $175 million Iron Man 3 earned in the US alone during its opening weekend, but the fact that I could see them in Montclair makes me even more proud to announce that I’m planning a move to the town this summer. And while I’m busy relocating, Fretts on Film will take a vacation while critic-proof box-office behemoths dominate theaters. I encourage you to seek out the films I’ve reviewed as they roll out in theaters over the next few months, and I’ll see you in the Fall, when the silly season of movies is behind us and there will be more serious films to consider.
What films are you looking forward to seeing this summer? Post a comment!
I didn’t think much of Three Amigos! when I first saw it in 1987. I was a PC college student too easily offended by the stereotypical Mexicans—even though Steve Martin’s silent film star acknowledges them as clichés—and didn’t find Chevy Chase’s and Martin Short’s silly sight gags intellectually challenging. But after interviewing Martin, Short and cowriter-producer Lorne Michaels for a recent freelance piece and chatting with them about the film, I decided to give it another chance. And you know what? I was wrong.
Maybe it helped that I watched it with my kids (who are fans of the trio from Martin’s Pink Panther remakes, Chase’s sitcom Community and Short’s turn as Jack Frost in The Santa Clause 3, among other more recent projects) and enjoyed it vicariously through them. It’s harmless good fun—as Michaels pointed out, “It’s the only real movie I’ve ever written, and it’s hardly edgy and dark.” Here’s are Martin’s and Short’s memories of making the film.
What was the process of writing Three Amigos! with Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman like?
It was really nice. We did it at my house in Beverly Hills when I had a house in Beverly Hills, and Lorne would walk over from the Beverly Hills Hotel and wasn’t quite ready to work—he had to read the trades first [laughing]. It was a joyful time for the three of us because Randy was writing the songs, but he also pitched in on the script. I was at the word processor—it wasn’t a computer then, it was a word processor. I’m not kidding, if I wanted to move a paragraph, we would walk away and go sit in the living room. It would take maybe 5 minutes. But anyway, that’s not important. We would go to lunch at the Grill, and it was really nice. We had a good time. And then we actually went to St. Barts and that’s where we actually cracked the script. I think we even threw away the original script and started fresh, as a matter of fact.
What do you remember about making Three Amigos!?
I remember Lorne would come in for certain weekends because he had just returned to Saturday Night Live so he wasn’t on the set all the time. I first got wind of the project—I have this kind of Rain Man memory—but it was May of ’85, I had finished doing Letterman, I went up to Lorne’s apartment, we talked about lots of things and then he gave me the script for Three Amigos! And then there were lots of meetings and lots of prep time—we didn’t start shooting that until January of 1986. Lorne was pretty immersed in Saturday Night Live so when he was able to be there, he was there. I remember Lorne and Steve and I playing golf in Tucson. I remember Lorne had never played golf, and was brilliant at the top and then by the end of the ninth hole, was horrible—and Steve and I can’t play either so every time we gave him a note, he would get worse.
Te gusta Three Amigos!? Post a comment!
A quick dispatch from Night 2 of the Montclair Film Festival. I didn’t learn a lot I didn’t already know from the documentary Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (airing on PBS’ American Masters May 20), but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Director Robert Trachtenberg poses some interesting questions to the writer-director of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and other comedy classics. For example, “When did you first become aware of Hitler?” (the Fuhrer is a recurring character in Brooks’ work, not just in “Springtime for Hitler” but also his remake of the World War II farce To Be or Not To Be with his late wife Anne Bancroft).
Brooks is unfailingly entertaining in new interviews as well as vintage clips from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The David Susskind Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show (doing The 2000 Year Old Man with Carl Reiner). And there are enlightening comments from Reiner and his son Rob as well as such former collaborators as Barry Levinson (who cowrote and played the bellhop in High Anxiety), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), Richard Lewis (Robin Hood: Men in Tights), Bill Pullman (Spaceballs), Steven Weber (Dracula: Dead and Loving It) and more. Gene Wilder, Bancroft, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman contribute via archival interviews.
I’d never heard the story of Richard Pryor offering Brooks cocaine during their first script conference on Blazing Saddles (Mel declined, explaining “never before lunch”) and Make a Noise reminded me I haven’t seen Brooks’ second film, The 12 Chairs, so I’ll need to rectify that soon. The documentary is an amusing hour-and-a-half retrospective of Brooks’ brilliant career, including his work at Brooksfilms producing such off-brand gems as The Elephant Man, Frances, My Favorite Year and The Fly. And it disproves the title of one of Brooks’ worst films, Life Stinks. He’s had a pretty great one for 86 years and he’s still alive and well and loving it.
Later, I caught a new U.K. heist flick, generically entitled Wasteland. The feature debut of writer-director Rowan Athale, it feels overly familiar—particularly if you saw SNL‘s British crime drama parody Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro a few years ago—and the accents are initially indecipherable. It’s the story of an English lad (Clash of the Titans‘ Luke Treadaway) freed from prison after a drug conviction who plots with three mates to get revenge on the thug who set him up. There’s nobody in the cast you’ll recognize aside from Timothy Spall (Harry Potter‘s Wormtail) as a possibly sympathetic cop. But as the story unspools (and your ears adjust to the actors’ tongues), you may get caught up in the hypnotic visuals and music.
Tonight I’m off to Night 3 of the MFF to see the promising revisionist Western Dead Man’s Burden. I’ll report back afterwards, pardners.
Everyone was feeling the love at the opening-night gala for the 2nd Annual Montclair Film Festival—including guest of honor Darlene Love, star of the new documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom, about the highs and lows of being a backup singer, and local New Jersey resident Stephen Colbert, whose wife Evelyn is one of the fest’s organizers. I chatted with both at the after-party, held at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater.
I saw you here last year at the first Montclair Film Festival. How does this one compare?
It’s great. It’s longer, there are more films. It’s already selling out like mad. I’m so happy. I love arts festivals. I was an arts-festival kid. I got started by working at the Spoleto festival [in South Carolina], which was music and dance and that kind of thing. I love that Montclair’s got this now. When I was a kid, I’d go see these things and think, “Oh, maybe I could do that.” And hopefully there are kids out there who feel the same way. That’s not the only reason to do it, but it’s a big part of it–that the community can meet the artists. It’s a great way for people to come together. It’s a great party. Who doesn’t love a springtime party?
Your wife called upon you to do a fundraiser for the festival with Jon Stewart at the Wellmont Theater. What was it like interviewing him onstage?
I loved doing it in Montclair, but I’d never interviewed Jon and he’d never interviewed me. The thing was, I probably know what Jon does better than anyone else, because I do the closest thing to it, and the hardest thing for me was not to ask questions that were too inside baseball. I had my research department write my first 10 questions. I said, “You know about him, but you don’t know him. I know him really well. I’m afraid I’m going to ask questions that mean nothing to the audience.” So I had to slow down for the audience.
Twenty Feet from Stardom hasn’t been released yet, and it’s already impacting your career. After 26 years of having you sing on his Christmas show, David Letterman has invited you to sit on the couch for an interview this year.
Can you believe it? When I go on, I want everybody to watch it, because I’m going to go, “Oh, David! This couch is so wonderful!”
How do you think the film will affect you once it’s actually out in theaters?
I don’t know. I’m going to hide in their house (motioning to her tablemates). This is my sister and one of my best friends. Between you guys, they’re not going to be able to find me!
This is not your first film, though. You played Danny Glover’s wife in the first four Lethal Weapon movies.
This is going to do more for me than Lethal Weapon ever did. You know why? Because this tells a story about how you can start and just keep on, if you believe in your heart what you’re doing. Lethal Weapon was a story about Lethal Weapon. But this is about how you can do it. Hang in there! I tell people all the time, “Why anybody would want to be a preacher, a president or a singer, I’ll never know!”
So why are you a singer?
I do believe it’s a gift, and I think I should share it. And the only way you can share your gift is to perform. And I’ll do that until I can’t do it anymore!
Keanu Reeves once seemed on the verge of an excellent acting adventure, but as he approaches his 50th birthday next year, his cinematic career has mostly turned out to be a bogus journey. He started out as convincingly surly teenagers in films ranging from Tim Hunter’s dark River’s Edge to Ron Howard’s sunny Parenthood. But the dude-speak intonations that served him so well in the Bill & Ted movies started to limit his range, as he seemed wildly out of place (and time) in period pieces like Dangerous Liaisons, Much Ado About Nothing and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
He made a surprisingly credible action hero in 1994′s Speed, then wisely passed on the franchise’s waterlogged sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control. By 1999, he’d found the mind-blowing role that would redefine his career, Neo in The Matrix, but he probably should’ve skipped the muddled sequel and three-quel. He gave his best performance to date as a violent, wife-beating drunk in Sam Raimi’s The Gift. But he hasn’t done himself any favors with his head-scratching choices since, whether it’s weepy romances (Sweet November, The Lake House), warmed-over sci-fi (The Day the Earth Stood Still), rom-coms (Something’s Gotta Give) or generic action flicks (Street Kings).
He’s all but vanished from the big screen in the past half-decade, appearing only in obscure indies like The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Henry’s Crime. Now another of these “art” films, Generation Um…, is arriving on VOD in advance of a theatrical release. And it’s certainly not going to turn around his downward career trajectory.
Reeves stars as a New Yorker who embarks on a night of drinking, drugs and sex with a pair of younger women (Adelaide Clemens, of The Great Gatsby and the Sundance Channel’s hypnotic new drama Rectify, and Bojana Novakovic). He steals a video camera and turns it on them, leading to various amateurishly shot revelations. Plus, there are long scenes of Reeves eating a cupcake, wishing himself a happy birthday, and sleeping. (You may join him in a nap.) Most of the snail-paced movie’s wisdom, courtesy of fittingly unknown writer-director Mark Mann, is along the lines of “Shit doesn’t mean shit unless it means shit to you.” As for Generation Um…, this shit doesn’t mean anything to me.
What’s next for Reeves? He’s getting in touch with his half-Asian roots (“Keanu” means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian, as every magazine profile of Reeves in the ’90s informed us), making his directorial debut with the martial-arts flick Man of Tai Chi, which he shot in China, and the long-delayed 3D samurai epic 47 Ronin, which was filmed in 2011 and is now scheduled for release at Christmas 2013. And he recently gave his blessing to a remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 cult surfer pic Point Break. Might he be lobbying to reprise his role as wave-catching undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah? At this point, that could be his next big break.
Can Keanu Reeves recapture his mojo? Post a comment!
Among the murderers’ row of character actors in the great new Jackie Robinson biopic 42, none stands taller than Christopher Meloni. Which is ironic, since Leo Durocher—the famously fiery Brooklyn Dodgers manager he plays—stood only 5’9″. But the SVU veteran embodies the skipper beautifully. Here, my New York Daily News interview with Meloni goes into extra innings.
What made you want to play Leo Durocher?
For whatever reason, I had a good feel, a good vibe for the guy. But I must say that when I auditioned for Brian Helgeland, his words didn’t hurt any. He really wrote a very beautiful piece. And I felt what Leo stood for and what came out of his mouth was really pretty—it was easy to like the guy from what came out of his mouth so I connected to it, thankfully.
What did you know of him before you got the role? What was your impression of Leo Durocher?
What did I think? Real character. Larger than life. When you’re a New York player and your name reverberates throughout the times—I didn’t know specifics about Leo, but he was part of a New York baseball. Like Babe Ruth—you know; Willie Mays—you know. But Leo—what is it about him? So once I got to dig a little deeper, I’m so glad that I really enjoyed how much I liked the guy. He reverberated.
It must have been disappointing that you didn’t get to follow the whole season through. You had to follow the facts of the story, but the facts were that Leo was suspended and he wasn’t really there for the majority of the season.
And I’m sure that Leo absolutely felt that disappointment far more than I, and I thought what I felt was very profound. And I carried this with me—it wasn’t Jackie Robinson. And there were rumors that they butted heads, and the more I got into it—and I talked to Jackie’s widow—that was not the truth. But the thing that I thought was very poignant and very heartbreaking was the fact that Leo moved on and he dealt with Willie Mays. And Willie Mays spoke at his funeral—I mean, Willie Mays loved that man. Even though he loved publicity and he was kind of a showman, he walked the walk and he truly did mean, ‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, yellow or a zebra,’ and I think he beared it out with his relationship with Willie Mays.
So you truly think that he wasn’t a racist, and it wasn’t just that he was taking advantage of the situation that Jackie would help the team? You think that he was really standing for something, as well?
I think that it would have been very interesting to see how his relationship with Jackie—maybe he could have helped Jackie with the transition. I think Jackie was a really profoundly great individual. But I really think that it shortened his life….he could have helped. So I think those were my feelings as I delved into the times and the situations and the personalities.
What sense did you get, either from talking to Rachel or from reading up on it, on how Robinson felt about Durocher?
She was very sweet. I said, ‘What was Leo like?’ And she said, ‘Oh Leo was a rough, he was a tough man, he was a rough man, but when it came to the ladies or say polite and civilized society, as opposed to the baseball field, he could turn it on.’ He knew what audience he was playing for, he knew what waters he was swimming in, how to modify/modulate his behavior. Make no mistake, the baseball field was rough—these were bad men, these are tough guys. And then I brought it up—I said, ‘I heard they kind of butted heads.’ And she said, ‘No, they respected each other.’ And I get that. There are a lot of relationships like that—I’ll curse you out and I’ll butt heads with you, but that’s all that means. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect you. It might mean that I think more of you.
Leo was so outspoken—they called him Leo the Lip and he was always clashing with the umpires. It seems like he was kind of an outsider in his own way. Do you think he identified with Jackie on that level that he was necessarily easily accepted by people on the baseball diamond?
Absolutely. Jackie’s a black guy—that’s obvious he’s a lightning rod. But Leo also fomented that sort of atmosphere around Leo. And for whatever reason—maybe that’s just how he got his juices going.
He sounds Billy Martin, in a way. I was reading that he would get fired, and then hired the next day. It sounded very familiar.
Yeah. The Yankees—the Yankees are the Yankees and they’ve always been the Yankees. Who were the Brooklyn Dodgers? They were the bums. So it’s that underdog mentality, that junkyard dog mentality that I think we all identified with.
Right. And the fans must have identified with him. The Brooklyn fans must have loved him for the same reason that he was one of them in some way.
Yeah. I mean, 5’9, 160 pounds, never a great hitter—very good fielder and shortstop—but always considered mehhh. You know, he’s just the underdog, I think.
Were you at all concerned with your physicality being larger and more muscular than Leo’s was? Was there anything you could do to counteract that?
No. When you see Leo, he’s only two years past his prime. He played up until he was 42, and here he’s around 44. He was a player/manager there for a while.
So you were there the day Rachel Robinson came to the set?
Yeah. It was fantastic. What a wonderful spirit she possesses.
So I know you weren’t able to actually shoot it in New York. What was it like to shoot down South, but channel the New York energy of that time?
Oh well, as soon as you walked into the stadium, what they did between costumes and the set design—and I haven’t seen the film, but in post—but even without CGI, you just looked around and the guys dressed in white, selling peanuts…oh man, it was such a wonderful…it was so easy to be in that place.
In terms of 42, why do you think this story is still relevant and still important today? I know your kids are a little young, but is something that at some point, you’d want them to see and learn something from?
Yeah. And I think in this day in age, everything is very quick in the media, and I think a sense of history sometimes gets lost because everyone is just so overwhelmed with the here and now and the latest and greatest. And I think a film like this—this is a big word sometimes—but it’s an important film. I think it’s important because it showcases who were are and what our nation is—the bad and the good of it. There’s greatness in this nation and in this story, and there’s also profound sadness and disgrace. And there you go—that’s what makes our country great—is that we can confront these issues.
Will you be lining up to see 42 this weekend? Post a comment!
Lucas Black has been one of my favorite actors ever since he was a kid, on CBS’ American Gothic and in Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade. He’s matured into a fine grown-up actor, while retaining the Southern drawl that sets him apart from his peers, in films like 2009′s Get Low (opposite Robert Duvall and Bill Murray) and the terrific new Jackie Robinson biopic 42, in which he plays shortstop Pee Wee Reese, whose embrace of the Major League Baseball’s first African-American player helped make his breaking of the color barrier a bit easier. I was pleased to find when I interviewed him for today’s New York Daily News that Black isn’t acting when he plays a Southern gentleman on screen; he’s one of the most endearingly humble actors I’ve ever met. Here’s a longer version of our chat:
How did you end up getting the role of Pee Wee Reese?
I went and auditioned in front of the casting director and then several weeks later, [writer-director] Brian Helgeland wanted a meeting, and I talked with him, and I actually auditioned again in front of him. It’s been a while since I had to go through a process like that, but this was a role that obviously I cared about and wanted to be a part of this movie and this story so it was well worth it.
Why was it so important to you?
Well just cause it’s got such an impact on the history of our nation and the history of baseball, and I just feel like it’s such a good story and a well-written script that it would be a fun project to do.
What did you know about Pee Wee Reese before you were cast in the role? Did you know much at all about him?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t know hardly anything about him. But it was awesome to be able to learn about him and to portray him as a character and what he did for the game of baseball and how he was as a team captain, and how he accepted Jackie Robinson into the team. That’s what appealed me about the character.
How did you do research about him? Through books? Or did you talk to people who knew him—family members or things like that?
No, I didn’t talk to any family members, unfortunately. I would like to have. But most of it was through Rachel Robinson’s book that she had written about Jackie, and on the Internet—things like that.
Did you get to meet Rachel Robinson at any point?
Yes, we did. Yeah, she came to set for one day, and that was tremendous experience, meeting her and just her sharing some things with us there on set, and having her there and just seeing how well she was doing at her age was amazing. That was a special moment. We all got to meet her and got our picture made with her. It was a pretty big day. It was pretty hot outside, but we were actually shooting during a spring training day—there were a lot of extras there—she was a trooper, man. I think she’s 90 years old, and came out.
Did she tell you anything specific about Jackie’s relationship with Pee Wee?
No, she didn’t really get into details. She asked me if I had spoken with Pee Wee’s folks—Pee Wee’s wife actually passed away about a month before we started shooting, which was a disappointment because that would have been nice to meet her, but his kids were alive. She thought it would be nice to get in touch with Pee Wee’s kids just to let them know that he’s been represented well in the movie so I felt good about that.
What did you find out about how Pee Wee was accepted by the Brooklyn fans? He was a Southerner, like you, from Kentucky. Did they embrace him as one of their own right away or did he have to win them over?
Well, I’m not real sure, but I know he was well-received and well-liked. He was the team captain, and he was smaller in stature—that’s not the reason that he was called Pee Wee, actually. He was well-liked by the team, and I think it was more his personality and being charismatic when he had interviews or on and off the field—I don’t know how he interacted with the crowd, but I feel like his personality was a lot of the reason that he was well-received and well-liked. And plus, his play on the field and toughness.
Now, the big moment where Pee Wee puts his arm around Jackie and has his picture taken—how important do you think that was historically in terms of making Jackie Robinson acceptable to the white public?
Well, absolutely. I think it had a huge impact, and the main reason too is because a lot of the fans loved Pee Wee Reese and looked at him as an all-star baseball player and a person, and for him to make that gesture was really a shock to a lot of people and it kind of made them think differently. They figured it a guy like Pee Wee Reese was going to accept this man on his team and play baseball with him that maybe they might need to think a little differently, too. It was a huge step and that was kind of the first instance of a white player accepting a black player in baseball. And that’s why I figured they’ve got two statues—one in Brooklyn and one in Cincinnati still standing—because that was such a huge moment in the history of the game.
The line in the film where you say to him, ‘Maybe we’ll all wear 42 tomorrow.’ Pee Wee apparently didn’t say that. Another player did. But Brian decided to give that line to Pee Wee. Were you aware that it was not historically accurate when you were doing the scene? Do you think it matters?
I did not know that. I’m glad he gave that to me because I really like that line.
It’s a great line with the whole idea that the number is retired forever. So I know that you’ve played football and golf and basketball—have you ever been a baseball player prior to this movie?
Oh yeah. I played baseball growing up. Baseball and golf were my two best sports, but really, I grew up playing baseball more than any other sport.
I played pretty much every position, but my main position was probably catcher and I played a lot of shortstop when I was little, and every now and then, I’d play centerfield, but usually catcher and shortstop were my main positions.
Did you have to sharpen your skills to play this role?
I did. It was really strange getting used to the new glove. The first week I was like, ‘I’m glovin’ every ball and everything is just bouncing off.’ You really had to teach yourself to have soft hands and to give into the ball. It reminded me a lot of today’s training where we use the mitts and use both hands to receive a ground ball—it reminded me of that because that’s how big the gloves were back then. They’re so small. I sent a picture that they took of me catching one of the ball, and people back home were like, ‘Are y’all playing with softballs? What’s the deal?’ because the ball looks so huge in the glove. And I’m like, ‘No, that’s the little bitty mitts we have.’ So that took some adjustment, and those old cleats took some adjusting too. We’re spoiled these days with the equipment that we got. They were tough back in the day.
Do you have a favorite baseball team?
Yeah, I follow the St. Louis Cardinals. I live in Missouri. I’ve been here 10 years. My wife is from here.
Did you root for them growing up, too, or was that something you picked up since moving to Missouri?
I did root for them, and then my family started watching the Atlanta Braves when they were a team in Atlanta because they were a little bit closer to us than the Cardinals, but my dad and grandparents, they all watched the Cardinals growing up because basically, that was the closest team for us in Alabama until Atlanta came. So yeah, I’ve been following them for a long time, but I’ve become a stronger fan obviously since I’ve moved here.
Do you have a favorite baseball movie, aside from 42 obviously?
Well, I like The Rookie a lot. My wife would be mad at me if I didn’t say The Natural, but it’s probably not my favorite. But I like The Rookie. I like them all, but probably The Rookie stands out the most. I’ve worked with Dennis Quaid—I like him a lot.
It was a real treat.
Were you nervous?
No, not really. I just had the one scene with him really. It was a treat to be able to work with him, and to see his character come to life. I really like how his character was written, and to watch him perform—it was a pretty neat experience.
I thought he was great in the movie. I really thought it was one of the best things he’s done in a long time.
Yep, yep. That’s good to hear.
Chadwick Boseman—he’s relatively unknown taking on a big role. We’re you able to help him in some ways because you were in that position yourself at one point? At a younger as than he was, but did you find yourself helping him?
Oh man, not at all. I didn’t have to, to be honest. When I saw that he was playing Jackie, probably like everybody else, I was like I hadn’t really heard of him. I had heard of some of these television shows he’d done, but he did a phenomenal job and such a hard worker. So really the only thing he got from me was just encouragement because I’d come up to him and say, ‘Man, I love what you’re doing. You’re doing such a good job and hard work.’ He got after it, man. He wanted to be there for all his baseball scenes and do most of all the running and all the hitting. It was impressive because his character—as much turmoil as he has to go through and then to get there emotionally, and then to be able to go out and perform on the baseball field and have fun and be gritty and run and slide, that was a tough role. He got after it, and I was just there to be a cheerleader, that’s all I was.
Well, you’ve done a football movie with Friday Night Lights. You did a golf movie with Robert Duvall, Seven Days in Utopia. It is it just a coincidence that you’ve worked in the sports movie genre a few times? Is that an area that particularly interests you as an actor?
Oh man, I’m so blessed. I’ve always loved sports. And just growing up in Alabama, that’s a main focus for us Southerners, is going out with a ball in your hand. So to be able to play these roles in sports films is just a blessing. I’ve been lucky and it’s so much fun just to be involved with the team aspect of the sport, and to portray a team on film is just as much fun. There’s as much camaraderie between the actors as the players—that makes the job a lot more enjoyable. I’ve been lucky to be in those sports movies and heck, I hope it continues and I’m in many, many more.
So how did you originally get into acting? The War was your first film, and you didn’t have any real training as an actor. How did you get cast in that film?
Well, my mom, she heard about the audition on the radio—they were just having open calls all over the Southeast because The War had like, I want to say 11 kid characters, and Jon Avnet was the director, he wanted kids that had never acted before, and so they all had to have Southern accents so basically the casting directors went all over the Southeast, and I went to one of them and they picked me out of a crowd of like 3,000. Then I went and auditioned in front of the director and they gave me the part so that’s kinda how I started. And after that, I got a small agency in North Carolina, and through them, I got the audition for Sling Blade, and right before I auditioned for Sling Blade, I actually did a TV pilot called American Gothic, but in between the pilot and the series, I got the part for Sling Blade, and after Sling Blade, that was kind of the career starter because it was such a big film and a classic. After that, it just kind of went on from there.
It must have been daunting to take on the role in American Gothic—you were really the lead in some ways in that show. You were untrained, you were a kid—how did you handle the pressure?
Oh man, I didn’t think about it. I got to give all the credit to how I was raised, to be honest, because I didn’t even think about pressure. I didn’t even know what that was, and even if I did, I probably laughed at it because my parents taught me that everybody’s equal so I really never was star struck or even thought about a judgment from others, and even if I knew they were judging, I really didn’t care. I’m just lucky I had that aspect in me as a young kid and I never really even thought about it.
What did you think when you were making Sling Blade? Did you think it was going to be as huge as a phenomenon as it would become? Or just some small little movie that nobody would ever see?
I had no idea. I had no clue. I didn’t even know what an independent film was. I didn’t know was a small movie is or a big movie. I just thought it was kind of fun being able to act with Billy Bob acting like he was [laughing]—saying lines with him. He didn’t tell me he was going to act that way, and I guess he wanted that element of surprise that we had in that first scene together at the laundry mat. I knew how it was written, but I didn’t really know exactly how he was going to play it so that was a unique experience and one I’ll never forget. But I just had fun with it, and never really did put any pressure on myself because it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. It’s like playtime, to be honest. I have an older sister—she’s 19 years older than me—so when I was young, she always had something going on with the camera, as far as playing doctor and I was the patient—she was working on me or she wanted me to sing something with her and putting wigs on me—so that like playtime to me so it didn’t matter. When I was a little kid in a movie, I felt like it was the same thing.
Billy Bob is a big Cardinals fans, too. Did you ever tak baseball with him?
Yes. He goes to the games a lot. I’ve seen him on TV—they usually show him. He played a lot of baseball when he younger. He was a really good pitcher.
You’ve worked with Robert Duvall three times now. Is he a mentor to you?
Oh absolutely. He’s awesome. He still calls me. I feel like he calls me every month. We just had a conversation about a week ago because he’s doing a movie called The Judge, and he’s playing the judge in the movie and I read the script, and we talked about it. But yeah, he’s an amazing guy. I love him to death. It’s so unique to talk to him and see his passion for good stories and good characters and still have his wits and witty about him at the age of 82. I mean, he’s wide open. I hope I’m as energetic as he is at the age of 82.
I loved Get Low, by the way. What about working with Bill Murray? You hear so many different stories about how he is to work with—that he can be kind of difficult or he can be hard to read. Did you hit it off with him?
Oh man, yeah. I had a blast with Bill Murray. It was a learning experience because he likes to try anything on film. It doesn’t matter—if it’s crazy out there, he’s gonna try and see where it goes—so I like that because it kept me on my toes and to be able to react from what he’s doing. And I think it made me better as an actor. So that was kinda a unique experience, and something that I take from that. Not that I was scared to try anything, but if I have some sort of an idea, like, ‘I wonder how that will come across on film or I wonder how that will play for my characters?’ Bill Murray, he wasn’t scared to try. Just off the wall something he says, or something he looks, he just wasn’t scared to try. So that was a learning experience for me to see a veteran like him and as experienced as he is to do things like that, he had no fear. That’s usually what we try to learn to do in life anyway, and same with playing sports—you gotta be fearless—so that was pretty unique to see. It’s a good learning experience. But we had fun.
We did play golf together. He always wanted to ride with me—we had separate cars, but he liked me and my wife, and he was like, ‘You guys just ride with us!’ And he would turn the radio wide open and we would sing the whole way home from the set to the hotel. It was a good time. One time, I got back earlier, it was before dark, and I came down with my clubs, and he was still down at the coffee shop getting a drink, and he said, ‘Where you going?’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s a driving range down the road. I was just going to play and hit some balls.’ And he said, ‘Well, hang out, I’m going with ya.’ And we went and we hit like 30 balls and he said, ‘You want to play par three?’ And I said, ‘I don’t care.’ So we went and played, and I’ve seen him play on TV, and I’m a pretty serious golfer, like I play competitive tournaments when I’m not working, and I’m constantly working on my game. So I didn’t know what to expect as far as how seriously he took the game—I just thought he would be out there joking around—but he really loves the game. I mean, we went out and played the par three, and he made two birdies in a row and I could tell that he was serious and having a good time. So that was cool to see and fun to be able to play golf with him.
So it seems that when I look over your career, one of the things that I respect the most of you is that you’re always associated with very high quality projects—literary projects. All the Pretty Horses, Cold Mountain, things like that. is that coincidence? Is that luck? Or is that intentional?
Well, I’d say both to be honest. I’m real fortunate to be able to work in some of those projects and the people I’ve worked with, but I’m also kinda picky of what I do, and a lot of those characters I like, and the reason I like them is because they’re written well so I’d have to say both because some of those I kind of didn’t expect to come way and they did and I was able to get the part. So that part was probably luck. But the other part, as far as me wanting to pursue them and wanting to be a part of them, wasn’t luck. Some of the stuff that maybe I’ve turned down or not shown as much interest in maybe opened up the door when I did have those other projects come on that I was able to pursue.
I take it that you haven’t changed your accent at all and you don’t really want to for any roles. Does that hamper you in any way for the types of roles that you’re considered for?
Well, yes. If I had to answer that honestly, I’d have to yes. Most of the time, if I play a role, it’s a Southern character. But I don’t have a problem with that. I have thought about trying to play a character without a Southern accent, but I’ve had such a good career with it and I feel like I’m a person who sticks to his roots and I take pride in that. But if the right character comes along and I feel like it’s worth it to change my accent for the role, I may give it a short—it’s not like it’s out of the question. But I’ve had fun being able to say that I’ve had the career I’ve had with the Southern accent that I have and stick to my roots.
It seems like you’ve never played the stereotypical dumb, Southern hick character. Is that also a conscious choice on your part that you don’t want to represent your part of the country that way?
Not really. I don’t mind. I can make fun of myself so if there was a comedic character out there, and I had to be in a comedy and make fun of some of the Southern culture, that wouldn’t bother me because I don’t take none of that to heart—I think it’s pretty funny myself the way some people stereotype us.
Do you know what’s next for you? Do you have anything lined up?
No, I don’t. I’ve just been reading scripts, but nothing really serious. And playing a little golf and enjoying life right now. I can’t wait to see 42. I haven’t seen it yet.
I really enjoyed it.
I appreciate that.
So you’re in your thirties now.
Yeah, I’m 30—yep.
You’ve got a kid.
Oh absolutely, yep. I’ve always joked around with other people about being a man, and I tell them I’m not a man yet until I get married and have a kid. Well, by God, I’ve done that. I’ve got another on the way so really excited about that.
Oh you do? Congratulations! When are you due?
Thank you, I appreciate that. August.
Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Or you going to find out?
Yeah, we just found out today. It’s a little boy.
Oh you’ve got one of each! That’s perfect! Lucky you. That’s wonderful.
Yeah, I know it. We’re lucky, we’re blessed.
Absolutely. So why have you never chosen to move to Hollywood or New York? Why do you stay in Missouri?
Well, I got to feel like it’s the way I grew up and the way I was raised. I feel like pretty much that I would go insane if I lived in a big city. I’m not a big city guy. I grew up in a small community and I love being outdoors and love being in the woods. I’m a hunter and fisherman and a golfer so I stay outside constantly. Being surrounded by concrete buildings is not my taste.
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