Monday, September 15, 2014
DAUGHTER DAWN REMEMBERS CLAYTON MOORE ON HIS 100TH BIRTHDAY
Dawn and Clayton at the Cowboy Hall of Fame 1990
The first time I saw Clayton Moore in person was the day he got his star at 6914 Hollywood Boulevard, on the Walk of Fame. His is the only star of the more than 2000 which also names the character that brought him fame.
In 1996, my wife and I actually got to shake his hand. It was at a book-signing for his autobiography, I WAS THAT MASKED MAN, written with Frank Thompson. It was at the biggest bookstore in the San Fernando Valley, Bookstar. Once a movie theatre, the line stretched from Moore, seated at a table in front of what had been the screen, all the way through the orchestra, across the lobby, past the box-office and onto Ventura Boulevard. (Incidentally, if you’d turned right on Ventura, then left at the next corner, Laurel Canyon, you’d be at the entrance to Republic Studios, where Clayton had been ‘King of the Serials.’)
While we waited for our turn to meet the man we’d both grown up watching portray history’s greatest champion of justice, we were struck by the number of men in line, in military and police uniforms – in front of us was a CHP officer with his helmet dangling from his arm. The atmosphere was electric – voices all around us announced that watching Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger had inspired them to go into the Army or the police department. I spotted a friend in line, an attorney who happens to be one of Tex Ritter’s sons. When we got to the head of the line, we got our book signed, a chance to say ‘thanks’, a big grin, a strong hand-shake, and strong eye contact – through the mask! Who could ask for more?
I am indebted to my friend Maxine Hansen at Gene Autry Entertainment, who thought that Clayton’s daughter Dawn and I should meet.
Clayton (r) in Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Country
HENRY: Your father is so associated in the public mind with the Lone Ranger that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s not the 100th birthday of the character; it’s the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the man who portrayed him. Tell me something about your father that we fans of the Lone Ranger wouldn’t guess.
DAWN MOORE: What most people don’t know about Dad is that he had an incredible sense of humor. He was really a big kid; he was irreverent, and kind of whacky, and liked to have a good time.
HENRY: Besides playing the Lone Ranger, your dad played a wide range of roles – I particularly liked his villains. How did he like playing a bad guy? Did he have any favorite non Lone Ranger roles?
DAWN: You know, he did actually, because when he got the role of the Lone Ranger he was told in no uncertain terms, that he was to mimic (radio’s Lone Ranger) Brace Beemer’s performance, and mimic his voice. And the Lone Ranger was stoic, and was not to laugh or smile or be light-hearted in any way. That was challenging, and several seasons into it, he actually said, ‘I’d like to smile.’ And if you watch the progression of it, not only does his horse-back riding improve, which he also readily admitted, but he actually smiles towards the end of the series run, which he wasn’t allowed to do at the beginning. He very much enjoyed playing heavies, because that’s when he’d kind of break loose. (When the Lone Ranger would be in disguise in an episode) he enjoyed playing the prospector, he enjoyed doing the Mexican bandito, he enjoyed the padre; this was much more fun for him than just sticking to the one role consistently. And that role, let’s face it, was an unemotional man.
Clayton as the Old Prospector
HENRY: Yes, nothing upset him, and nothing made him particularly happy, as you say, until a few seasons in. It’s funny, because you really see that with George Reeves playing SUPERMAN too, that he was stoic and humorless for the first few seasons.
DAWN: And you can see what that did for Reeves.
HENRY: Didn’t do him any good. I loved when your dad did The Old Prospector and other characters. Those roles were so much fun and he did a lovely job of them.
DAWN: Well he, in fact, had The Old Prospector voice on the answering machine at our house. And often he would, if he didn’t know who was calling, or depending on the kind of mood he was in, often answer in the Old Prospector voice.
HENRY: How old were you when you realized that your dad was a hero to millions of kids? How did you find out?
DAWN: I didn’t watch the show; the show was off the air by the time I showed up. It would have been in re-runs in the 1960s, and in any case, I wasn’t interested – I was watching the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. And because he was in a costume and because he was in a mask, he was rarely recognized in public, so I had a normal childhood; he had quite a bit on anonymity. So therefore I didn’t know he was famous for a very long time. I was probably almost nine when we were shopping for a television, and the saleswoman stopped him and said, “I recognize your voice. Are you The Lone Ranger?”
HENRY: As you said, the series was already in re-runs when you came along. Were your friends aware of who your father was? Did your parents have many friends in the business?
DAWN: Kids in school; you know, mostly I got teased. I remember being teased quite a bit. The fun thing was, when I had a birthday party, Dad would be Dad when the kids arrived, and at some point in the middle of the party, he would make a personal appearance as The Lone Ranger. And then he would disappear again, and come back as Clayton Moore. And the kids never were the wiser, because they were too young to get the voice thing. That was fun – that was very fun. But at school it was more about kids looking for things to tease you about. About my father’s friends; he didn’t really hang out with other actors. He hung out with the grips and the stuntmen, and the behind-the-scenes guys. Because he was a guy’s guy, a man’s man. And he really wasn’t interested in hanging out with the stars. My mother would always kind of ride him about that. ‘Why should I hang out with actors?’ He was not interested.
Clayton is a villain in Gene Autry's 'Night Train to Galveston'
HENRY: Did you ever watch the show with your dad?
DAWN: I didn’t ever watch it with him, and I didn’t watch pretty much anything that he was in with him until we started working on his book, so this was not until the ‘90s. And when we did start working on his book, I did make a point of going through every one of the serials even, and I have both audio and video of the two of us watching that together, and his comments.
HENRY: I loved him in THE PERILS OF NYOKA.
DAWN: That was his first one, 1942. And that in fact was the inspiration for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
HENRY: Oh yes, when you watch it, it becomes very obvious.
DAWN: I’m thrilled that you know that. It’s almost identical, including the characters. The only thing that’s different is that in PERILS OF NYOKA, the star is Nyoka. But the doctor, and all the other characters – it’s all there. I don’t think Speilberg ever copped to it, but I know Lucas did. Do you know if Speilberg ever did?
Kay Aldridge, Clayton, Billy Benedict in
'Perils of Nyoka'
HENRY: I don’t remember him doing so, but he certainly said he did a great study of the Republic serials before making it. He was certainly copping to owing a huge debt to the genre.
DAWN: Dad actually brought that to my attention. I don’t know who brought it to his attention.
HENRY: In his autobiography, your father describes adopting you as, “…the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” How close were you and your dad?
DAWN: Dad was a big kid, and because of that he really was a fun father. He was not a disciplinarian. That fell to my mother. So naturally, what does that do to any kid? The parent who was not the disciplinarian becomes your friend. So in hindsight I realize my poor mother really got the short end of the stick on that deal. Somebody’s always the bad guy, and it was never my father. He enjoyed those roles, but he would never take the bad-guy position in real life. I would also say he was encouraging. He was not judgmental, which in a parent is an extraordinary thing. He thought I walked on water. He always praised anything, any stupid little thing I did got tremendous praise. Buuuut… and here’s kind of a fun flipside of that. Because he was such a good athlete, and I’m sure he learned what I am about to share with you from his own father, he didn’t ‘let’ me win anything that we did together. If I won fair and square, that was great, but he would not just give it to me. We played tennis together, and I‘d be running from one side of the court to the other, and he’d be standing still. And I got so frustrated I can remember one time saying to him, “Why don’t you just let me win one?” And he said, “Because you’re not going to learn anything by me letting you win.” He taught me how to dive. He was an excellent swimmer – he used to swim with Johnny Weissmuller at the Hollywood Athletic Club. And obviously he knew, from being a trapeze artist, how to be graceful in a dive. So he taught me how to dive, and he would rate me. “That’s a 7, that’s an 8, that’s an 8 and a half – try again.” He was encouraging without being judgmental, and that’s a good thing when you’re young, and still living at home, and you come home drunk. (laughs) That’s another sign of great parents; I knew when they were disappointed in me. They didn’t have to go into a long verbal dissertation about it; it was very clear. He gave direction and encouragement and
guidance when needed. He was a buddy; he was a friend.
HENRY: Were there any other things you two liked to do together?
DAWN: He used to take me fishing. He had two brothers; there were three boys in his family, and he was very close to his father, so he did all the same things with me. We went fishing. When he would practice using the bullwhip, I would be the one standing there with the cigarette in my mouth. Now of course, the cigarette was a rolled up piece of paper. And my mother was mortified – and sure that he was going to hurt me in some way, accidentally of course. But I was having great fun. When he was home, he engaged me in everything he was doing. Some people’s parents come home from work, and they need some downtime. But because Dad was home all the time, there wasn’t that separation.
Clayton and Dawn at Pat Buttram's 1959
HENRY: Were there any particular friends from the Lone Ranger days – actors, directors, writers, that stayed friends after the series had finished?
DAWN: You know, if they didn’t have children, then I wouldn’t remember. My father remained very close to his Army buddies. And they were not actors. He remained close with them until they all started dying off in the 1970s and 1980s. There were four of them, Dad was one of the four, and they would get together with their wives. That I remember very distinctly. But that is another good example of my father being down to Earth, and being more interested in befriending people who were not in the industry.
HENRY: Somewhere I have in the back of my head that your father and Rand Brooks were good friends. Is that right? (Note: Rand Brooks and Clayton Moore worked together in 1940’s THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO, and seven Lone Ranger episodes)
DAWN: That’s absolutely right. I never associate Rand with THE LONE RANGER because Rand, having been in GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939 (note: he played Scarlet O’Hara’s first husband) was already doing very well before my Father arrived. They were best friends; they were very very close friends. Rand spoke at Dad’s memorial service, and was very moving.
HENRY: What were your father’s interests or hobbies outside of acting?
DAWN: For the most part, his hobbies all involved athletics. He swam almost every day. He would be out for very long walks. He would go for camping trips on weekends – he always had some kind of motor-home or camper. Some kind of vehicle that allowed him to get away. To this day – why I continue to save it I don’t know – I have all his camping equipment, his fishing gear, and sleeping bag and Coleman stove, and I’m never going to use it as long as I live. But somehow, that is more who my father was. It was more important to me even than saving a lot of his Lone Ranger memorabilia. People ask me, when I’ve had these various auctions, “How can you part with these things?” And that is not who my father was to me. My father is in the fishing reel and the tackle box, and I remember him showing me how to get a worm on a hook. Those things are my father. The Bohlen gun rig is a character, and part of my father’s job, but that’s not him to me. So the difference in what I choose to keep, and what’s not as important to me, and should go out for fans to enjoy and be stewards of – the mind-set is a little different.
HENRY: What triggered your father’s decision to ‘become’ the Lone Ranger, and never appear in public without the mask?
DAWN: He never appeared, working at any kind of a performance where he would be the Lone Ranger – he didn’t show up or leave without being in the costume – so-as not to dispel the mystery and ruin the mystique. But he’d really found something that made him feel good about himself. That’s really what it drove down to: he fell in love with the character, and he said many times that it made him a better person. And when you look at the Lone Ranger Creed, you can pick out any one of the tenants, and see that it is still completely relevant eighty years later. And very powerful stuff. He read it; he took it to heart. He thought, this is a way to live a better life. It meant something to him, and he made choices every day based on the creed. It’s hard to be perfect (laughs). He certainly didn’t achieve perfection by any means, but the fact that he made the effort to is certainly more than most of us would ever try to do.
HENRY: Yes, to have a code to live up to every day is taking on an awful lot.
DAWN: It is taking on a whole lot, and I think my father wasn’t particularly religious, but in lieu of that, that was his religion.
HENRY: Much of your father’s later Lone Ranger work, like the Aqua-Velva and Pizza-Roll commercials, was tongue-in-cheek, and he had to play it stoic for the joke to work. What was your father’s sense of humor like?
DAWN: He loved doing those commercials because they were so tongue-in-cheek – he was totally in on the joke; he absolutely ‘got it.’ If you came to the house you would have been encouraged to put the mask on, you would have been encouraged to put the hat on or the gun-belt on. It was a lot of fun for him – he never really got out of being ten years old himself. There he was playing a character that any kid would want to be, so why wouldn’t he want to do this for the rest of his life. Dad’s sense of humor -- he thought it was hilarious that they had just bought two plots at Forest Lawn, and how beautiful it was up there. So when we had guests visiting from Minneapolis, and they wanted to tour around and see all the sights, we went there of course, and he thought it was just hysterical to lay down where his plot was, and make them take a picture. And they wanted to play along, and my mother was mortified – “Clayton, get up out of there!”
HENRY: By the 1980s, most active actors of your father’s era were making the rounds of LOVE
BOAT, FANTASY ISLAND and MURDER SHE WROTE. Was he approached for this sort of show? Did he consider them, though it would have gone against his intention to only appear as The Lone Ranger?
DAWN: You know, I don’t know exactly where the line got drawn with him. Garry Marshall approached him to come on HAPPY DAYS, because The Lone Ranger was Fonzie’s hero, and Dad turned that down. I was surprised at that because it perfectly fit in with who he was, and his portrayal of the character. I mean, he appeared as The Lone Ranger on LASSIE, and other shows, so it was interesting to me that he turned that down, and another actor had to do that.
HENRY: It was John Hart. (Note: When, after a few years, Clayton Moore wanted a raise, he was fired and replaced by John Hart. After one season the producers rehired Moore for more money.)
DAWN: It was John Hart? I didn’t realize that. What did make sense for me was to turn down Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson asked him a record three times. Dad’s position was, ‘I’m not going to sit there, on that kind of a format on that kind of a show, in a costume and a mask, and a gun-belt – it’d look absolutely silly for a full-grown man. And I’m not going to appear as Clayton Moore, because that will destroy the mystique.’ Carson asked him again and he said no, same reason. Jay Silverheels did appear, and I believe he was in costume, and I think that reinforced Dad to say ‘I won’t do it.’ That makes perfect sense, because he wanted to continue to maintain the mystery. So that’s why he only took the commercials, which allowed him to continue the mystery. He did ED SULLIVAN, and my Dad never said a bad word about anyone except Ed Sullivan. Ed did not go along with the program, meaning he didn’t go along with the joke, he couldn’t interact with him the way he needed to. My guess is he didn’t want a repeat of the Ed Sullivan experience with Johnny Carson. He was smart in how he crafted the balance of his career that way, and what he chose to do and what he chose not to do. In hindsight he did a good job.
HENRY: I recently met Michael Horse, who played Tonto in the 1981 THE LEGEND OF THE
LONE RANGER. And when I re-watched the film, there was a role in it, of a newspaper publisher, that I thought would have made an excellent cameo for your father. And when I saw the credits, I was stunned: it was played by John Hart. Was that ever offered to your father?
DAWN: He was not offered any part, but in any case, had he been offered that, he would not have accepted it. His take on (the story for the movie) would have been totally genius. He understood that the Lone Ranger was a young man in his late teens or early twenties. And the way to have transitioned from the fan stand-point, and it would have made a fantastic story-line, is to have him hand the mask down to the next generation onscreen. Literally, shooting from behind, have him take the mask off and hand it to the next Lone Ranger. That would have been fantastic, and the story is a great conceit. They did a fantastic job when Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster did MAVERICK. It was smart and funny and irreverent, and there was that great wink, how they folded in James Garner. And they didn’t take the role away from Garner, he was Maverick, but the father. But no, (my father) was not offered anything, and he would not have taken the bartender had he been offered it.
HENRY: What is your father’s legacy?
DAWN: As I continue to hear from fans, his legacy lies in what the fan-letters say. This was during his lifetime, in addition to the letters I continue to receive, and what you can find on-line on chat-boards and tribute sites. The letters are from policemen, and firemen, and teachers, all of whom say they chose a career in service because of him, because of his portrayal. Not just because of the Lone Ranger, but because of Clayton Moore, and how he chose to live his life. That is pretty powerful stuff. This is not just an actor portraying a role for entertainment’s sake. This is how someone who has been able to transcend the entertainment value, and influence young peoples’ lives at a time that they are sponges, and they absorb something positive and carry it forward into their adult lives. And they are serving other people, protecting other people. I think that’s very powerful, and it’s important to me to share that on my father’s birthday.
Next week I’ll have my coverage of Cinecon’s tribute to Clayton Moore. Below is a video of Clayton Moore receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
‘LONE PINE’ CELEBRATED AT WEDNESDAY’S ‘COWBOY LUNCH @ THE AUTRY’!
On Wednesday, September 17th, Rob Word’s third-Wednesday-of-the-month Cowboy Lunch at the Autry will celebrate the legendary Western movie location, Lone Pine, located several hours north of Los Angeles on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada. The sun-scorched desert, eerie rock formations and Alabama Hills have made it a favorite film location since the silent days, much used by Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and hundreds of others – it even stood in for India in GUNGA DIN!
Among the guests expected are Mariette Hartley, who starred in Sam Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY; William Wellman, Jr.; Robert Sigman of the Lone Pine History Museum; and author Dick Bann. Incidentally, October 10 – 12 is the 25th Annual Lone Pine Film Festival – I’ll have details in the Round-up next week. As always, Wednesday’s is free, tho’ you have to buy your lunch. Lunch starts at noon, the talk starts about one, but if you want to be sure to get a seat inside, gets there early!
To whet your appetite for the luncheon, here’s a look at the WILD BUNCH LUNCH, where stuntman Gary Combs describes working for Sam Peckinpah:
‘SILVER SPURS’ FRIDAY AT SPORTMEN’S LODGE!
2012 finale, featuring Wilford Brimley, Anne Jeffreys,
Delores Taylor, Bo Svenson, Louis Gossett Jr.,
Tom Laughlin and Ben Murphy
There are still tickets available for the 17th Annual ‘SILVER SPUR AWARDS’ banquet this Friday night, presented by The Reel Cowboys. Reel Cowboys President Robert Lanthier gave me an update on presenters and honorees. Master of Ceremonies will be Israel Boone from the DANIEL BOONE series, Darby Hinton, who will soon be seen in the Western mini-series TEXAS RISING! The first Lifetime Achievement Award will be represented to Clayton ‘The Lone Ranger’ Moore, represented by his daughter Dawn Moore. The Jack Iverson Founder Award will be presented in honor of Cactus Mack by former child star Tommy Ivo. Dan Haggerty will present an award honoring John Payne. Wyatt McCrea, son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, will present an award honoring director William Wellman. Roger E. Mosley will present to stun-man Bob Minor. Patrick Wayne will present to Stephanie Powers. Rich Little will present to Ruta Lee. Among the folks expected to attend are Hugh O’Brien, Trini Lopez and Tab Hunter.
A portion of the proceeds will go to the John Tracy Clinic, which helps young children with hearing loss. For the best seating, VIP tickets are $175 on-line and $195 at the door. General seating is $125 on-line and $145 at the door. To learn more, and to buy tickets, visit the official website HERE.
ALMERIA FEST NAMES WINNERS!
The Almeria International Western Film Festival was held this week, and here are the winners:
Best Film – 6 BULLETS TO HELL
6 BULLETS cast and crew take to the Apollo Stage
Public’s Choice – LA FLOR DE LIS
Best Short – THE GUNFIGHTER
LIE ABOUT YOUR AGE!
As the attached WSJ article explains, LONGMIRE, one of the best and smartest series in years, and an unqualified hit, was cancelled because (a) A&E doesn’t own it, and they want to own more of what they air (understandable) and (b) because polling has shown that the median age for the show’s viewers is 60! Our geezer-bucks aren’t good enuf for ‘em, even though we have more of ‘em than the young farts they’re coveting! I’M SHAVING 20 YEARS OFF MY AGE FROM NOW ON, WHENEVER I’M POLLED ABOUT ANYTHING! PLEASE JOIN ME IN THE BIG LIE! Jack Benny was right all along! Signed, Henry C. Parke, age 39. http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/why-a-hit-tv-show-got-canceled-its-fans-were-too-old-1410451057?mobile=y
THAT’S A WRAP!
Have a great week, and I’ll see you here next Sunday!
All Original Contents Copyright September 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Sunday, September 7, 2014
On Saturday, September 13th, Lifetime will premiere ‘DELIVERANCE CREEK’, an original Western movie written by Melissa Carter, directed by Jon Amiel, produced by the tremendously successful novelist Nicholas Sparks (if you missed my review last week, go HERE )
Set in the South during the Civil War, it focuses on Belle Gatlin Barlow (Lauren Ambrose), a woman whose husband has gone off to war, leaving her to manage their farm and raise their three children. Between an amorous lawman she encourages (after all, her husband might be dead), and amorous banker she discourages, Union soldiers and runaway slaves, who returns to complicate her life but her brother Jasper Gatlin, a Confederate guerilla soldier, portrayed by Christopher Backus. Certainly by 21st Century p.c. standards he may not be the most morally and ethically upright man in the tale, but guess what? He’s the most interesting, both because he’s the most complexly written, and because Christopher Backus has a star’s innate ability to draw the eye, and make you care.
I first met Christopher back in 2011, on the set of the Western YELLOW ROCK, when he was the well-dressed member of James Russo’s gang, who were trying to enlist the help of Michael Biehn in finding a lost father and son. In DELIVERANCE CREEK Backus has been promoted to running his own crew, trained by Bloody Bill Anderson and Quantrill. He’s tal and handsome and charming and dangerous as a diamondback. And if DELIVERANCE CREEK goes to series, which it should, his part will grow and grow. On Friday afternoon I had the chance to talk with him about how his career began, Jasper Gatlin, and his hopes for the future.
HENRY PARKE: Hello Chris. We actually met a few years ago, on the set of YELLOW ROCK. And you were the only one I never really got to talk to. Every time we started, you were needed on-set. So I had to wait until your next Western.
CHRISTOPHER BACKUS: I remember that. Well at least it wasn’t too long, and I’ve got another Western on my résumé.
HENRY: At what age did you know you wanted to become an actor?
CHRISTOPHER: I was late to becoming an actor. I had graduated high school, and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was 19 or 20, never in a high school play or things of that nature. But as I got older, I was out of sports, and all the creative genes I’d been hiding kind of wanted to come out.
HENRY: Was there any incident that triggered it? Any moment that you knew?
CHRISTOPHER: It was just sort of chance. I was struggling with what I was going to do, and casting director Christian Kaplan asked if I was interested in reading for a film, PEARL HARBOR or PANIC ROOM – I can’t remember which one was first. He thought I had the right look and asked, want to come in and give it a shot? Just through the process of preparing for it, I realized how I liked being lost in someone else, bringing this imaginary character to life. Obviously I didn’t get either job, but it didn’t deter me from trying to figure out how to get to the next level; I was just winging it at that stage.
HENRY: I understand you were born in Orange County. Did you grow up ‘around the industry’?
BACKUS: I was born in Long Beach, and spent my early years there. But it seemed like a far-off
planet – the differences between Orange County and Hollywood are pretty significant. And ultimately I spent most of my youth in Kansas. My father passed away, and we moved to the Midwest. So then I was thousands of alien light-years away from Hollywood, living in Kansas.
HENRY: Was it pretty rural?
CHRISTOPHER: No, I was in Overland Park, right on the border with Kansas and Missouri, south of the downtown area, where jazz was popular. I remember being young and going and listening to jazz, and thinking that was the coolest thing that I had ever done. I remember right before we moved to Kansas I had this image of moving into farmland. And I had told my mom that if we moved to Kansas, my one deal was I got to build a FIELD OF DREAMS baseball field in our back yard. But our backyard was not farmland. So one day I plan to build a baseball field in my back yard, on my property.
HENRY: Your first credit on IMDB is a guest shot on WILL AND GRACE in 2004. Was that really your first?
CHRISTOPHER: It was; that was my first job, and it was a good first job to get. At that time WILL AND GRACE was one of the most popular shows on television, and to work to with Eric McCormack and Debra Messing and Sean Hayes – it was just one of those experiences that you’ll never forget. It’s your first gig, and you’re intimidated, and I never thought I was particularly funny. So during the table read you kind of goose everything up. And Eric McCormack came up to me after and said, “Kid, you’re really funny when you’re not doing it. Relax and you’ll be fine.” And he kind of put me at ease. I’ll never forget, that changed my perception of what a table-read was. That was a great introduction to the business, WILL AND GRACE.
HENRY: What’s been your favorite role so far?
CHRISTOPHER: Honestly, it’s the one I’m talking to you about right now, it’s Jasper Gatlin. It’s one of those roles that you just cross your fingers and hope it comes across your desk. I enjoyed playing Jasper so much; hopefully I’ll get to continue to play it.
Christopher Backus in YELLOW ROCK
HENRY: Very few actors of your age have been in a Western, but you’ve been in two: YELLOW ROCK and now DELIVERANCE CREEK. Is it just chance, or is there something special about the genre for you?
CHRISTOPHER: There’s definitely something special about the genre. They both came up by chance, but you know, I’ve always liked Westerns. I grew up watching John Wayne with my father, and the great Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns, and to this day there’s no cooler man on the planet than Clint Eastwood. So when you’re young and watch those movies, they just stick in your head. When you decide to be an actor, you think you’d like to be in a western some day. So you just cross your fingers, and hope that one of those comes across. And I’ve been fortunate to get two, to rides horses; it’s one of those genres that speaks to you.
HENRY: Speaking of horses, you certainly look competent on a horse. Have you ridden much?
CHRISTOPHER: I had never ridden before YELLOW ROCK. It’s the old actor trick of, “Have you ever ridden a horse?” and you say, “Sure.” And then you spend the next four days figuring out who can teach you to ride a horse. And that worked out. But with DELIVERANCE CREEK, we did two weeks of ‘cowboy camp’ in between rehearsals when we were in Texas, and those guys really taught me how to ride a horse. And by the time that I left cowboy camp I walked away feeling like I was a cowboy. They treated me so well, and quickly, and the horses are so amazing, and I wanted to do them proud, for how much effort they put into breaking me of my bad habits. Because they sit in the back and watch Westerns, and they go, “Wow, he really doesn’t know how to ride; you can tell that he’s learning. He’s not comfortable.” So I really worked hard, and during our downtime on set, instead of going to my trailer, the other actor, Christopher Baker and I would go bother the trainer and say, “Could we borrow some horses and go riding around?” One of them would saddle up next to us, and the three of us would take off for half an hour, come back, shoot our scene, and then get back on the horses and go back out.
HENRY: You mentioned Texas. Is that where you shot?
CHRISTOPHER: We did, we shot it in Austin, Texas. So we lived in Austin and downtown. All of the locations were like an hour outside in all different directions, trying to find places that had no power lines and cars and had open fields. And it was pretty amazing how many unique locations were in Texas. The house where we shot in DELIVERANCE CREEK was actually built in the 1850s. And the center room was the only thing that actually existed; ten people lived in the house in just one room. The art department built on in the same style the extra rooms to make it a little more cinematic, so we could space things out. I’m tall, and so my hat would touch the top of the ceiling, which was sort of great for Jasper. I know that our fantastic director, John Amiel, loved that when I came in I had to duck through doorways, and tried to capitalize on that element of Jasper being larger than life when he comes back to Deliverance Creek.
HENRY: At Universal Studios, all the Western towns were built to ¾ height so all the cowboys would look bigger.
CHRISTOPHER: I didn’t know that.
HENRY: Is there any western actor of the past you look at and say, ‘I wish I had his roles.’?
CHRISTOPHER: Going back to the original 3:10 TO YUMA, the Glenn Ford part, you wish you’d get a part like that. And all of those Clint Eastwood movies, if you could carve out a career like that. My favorite western is THE LEFT HANDED GUN, with Paul Newman, where he played Billy the Kid. Paul Newman is my all-time favorite actor, and I thought he was just marvelous in that. I’ve seen it like fifteen times, and it was just so different from the Paul Newman we all know, just a brilliant acting thing.
HENRY: How did you get involved with DELIVERANCE CREEK?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, I read for it; I went and saw the amazing casting director from Junie Libby. I actually read for Cyril the first time I went in, who Christopher Baker plays. I got a call from Melissa (Carter, the screenwriter) and Jon (Amiel, director) – Jon wasn’t in the room when I read. And he said, “I’d like him to come back in and read for something else.” So then I read for Duke, and was trying to push my way towards Jasper. And the month of waiting, as the rest of the cast filled out, gave me time to prepare for Jasper, and it just worked out.
HENRY: You play Jasper Gatlin, leader of a pack of Bloody Bill Anderson’s guerillas, and the brother of Belle, Lauren Ambrose’s character. Jasper is charming, confident, and certainly a better man than some of those under him. But in today’s terms, he’s a terrorist. How do you try to make him sympathetic? Or do you care?
CHRISTOPHER: You do. I never looked at him as a bad guy or an outlaw. I felt that the Civil War had torn up the world, and if it wasn’t for the Civil War he might have been a farmer. But once you get into that battle, you can’t go back and ride horses and work on your property. That has been awoken inside of you, and he was a terrorist. Jasper is sort of loosely based on Jesse James. And history has been sort of rewritten to make him a Robin Hood, but he was a Southern vindicator of the Rebel cause; he was a terrorist to his dying day. And what I think makes Jasper unique is that in that time period those guys all lived in grey – from one town to the next there was no black and white. There was no good or bad. For example, Wyatt Earp would come into these towns and take over saloon as the sheriff. Couldn’t do that nowadays; a sheriff couldn’t come into a restaurant and say, “This is now my restaurant.” The first time I read it, I was trying to wrap my mind around Jasper, whether he was good or bad. And again with Paul Newman, in the movie HUD he says, “I’ve always viewed the law in a lenient manner. Sometimes I lean to one side, and sometimes I lean to the other.” And I thought that was what Jasper was. He leaned on either side of the law for whatever was good for him or the cause. And Jon and I talked about it. Not the law, but his moral compass. Jasper is a good man fighting for what he believes in. And history makes him wrong, being on the Southern side, but I tried to treat him as if he was justified in his actions and what he believed in. And hopefully you can see that he has both sides, good and bad.
HENRY: Did you do much historical research for your role?
CHRISTOPHER: I did. I’m a heavy researcher, especially when it comes to period stuff. Because the times have changed so much. And in DELIVERANCE CREEK we deal a lot with race and slavery, and in 2014, none of this makes sense. But you have to go back in time, you have to figure some sort of historical element to ground you, so you’re not playing the mustache-twirling bad guy in terms of race. Just because I am personally sympathetic to that cause, I can’t let that cross onto the screen. So the historical research was a big part of that. I’ve read THE GREY GHOSTS OF THE CONFEDERACY (by Richard S. Brownlee), INSIDE WAR (by Michael Fellman), which is still sitting on my desk, which is about the guerilla conflict in Missouri. My big research book was JESSE JAMES, THE LAST REBEL OF THE CIVIL WAR by T.J. Stiles; that was my biggest reference point. It also gave me a history of Jesse, in context with Bill Quantrill, because Jasper had ridden with Bill Quantrill before breaking off with Bloody Bill. I try not to watch any (films about Jesse James), because I don’t want to be influenced by anyone.
HENRY: You don’t want to be Tyrone Power’s version of Jesse.
CHRISTOPHER: Exactly, so I try not to watch anything. So to read those books, you can kind of create your own imagination around what these characters were. And mostly for me it was less about who that character was but more about historically what they did, what their causes were. And knowing that Melissa had sort of taken Jesse James’ trajectory for where the show would go, Jesse James became my lynchpin.
HENRY: I also got the feeling that Belle is based on Belle Starr
CHRISTOPHER: That is true.
HENRY: Jon Amiel has had a wide range of successes, from dark musicals, to comedies, to thrillers. What was he like to work with?
CHRISTOPHER: He was absolutely delightful –we’re still in constant contact. He is generous and comforting and collaborative. He just gives you this feeling that anything is safe and fair game. That you can say, “Hey Jon, I don’t think Jasper would do this.” It didn’t happen often, but a couple of times… That scene with Rose, there was supposed to be some romantic tension, and I said I don’t think Jasper would do that. I think he’s singularly focused on hitting the Union. And Jon had my back all the way, and ultimately everyone agreed with that. I think when you have a director who has your back, you feel like you can stand on the cliff and hang there, and know you’re not going to fall off. From the very beginning, we did this thing; I hadn’t done it before, I don’t know if this would ever work again. But Jon would send me and Chris Baker and Riley Smith to cowboy camp, and then we’d meet with him to do these rehearsals. And we never once opened up the scripts. But the first time he said, “Alright, Riley and Chris, you’re Jasper and Toby. You’re twelve years old, and you meet for the first time.” And we would act out these imaginary circumstances that he gave us. And every day that we came back for two weeks, we’d be slightly older in the story. We made up these ridiculous back-story things, to the point that at one of the rehearsals Lauren Ambrose, Riley and I are running across a busy street in Texas, carrying a barrel full of nothing, pretending that Riley had been shot with buckshot, we’re laughing and he’s screaming, and we’re running across the street, and it just bonded us in a way I don’t think we knew was possible. We went into day one of shooting as great, great friends, and I think that comes across on the screen. Riley and I don’t actually say much to each other, but I think you can tell that there’s a closeness, that we’ve been through stuff together, and Jon just set that all up. It was surprising, and so much fun despite the fact that we were nervous to do it on day one, that we couldn’t wait and see what Jon had in store for us next.
HENRY: A bloody Civil War revenge story is not the usual sort of project territory for Nicholas Sparks. What was he like to work with?
CHRISTOPHER: I met Nick a couple of times while he came to visit on-set. And he is just a supportive, fantastic man. Obviously he‘s a genius creatively, and no one does those romance stories like Nick Sparks. I think what’s great about this is he’s taken what he does really well and put it into a circumstance that no one expects, and said let’s go for this, let’s make it darker and gritty. I think it’s a smart move by Nicholas to let it fly a little bit, and open up to this world that has outlaws and rebels and guns. And I think Lifetime is a perfect match, because it’s unexpected, and I think it’s something that can really hit home for their audience, and bring in a large male audience, because it is a story told through a female perspective, but it still has all those male-driven western testosterone moments. And of course Nicholas Sparks is so talented; I just hope we work together forever.
HENRY: About how long was the shoot?
CHRISTOPHER: We were in Texas for forty-five days, and I think we had twenty-five shooting days. We fit a lot in, in a very little amount of time, because when you add children and horses and animals and building towns and battle scenes, it was tight, but we made it.
HENRY: What was your biggest challenge in the making of this film?
CHRISTOPHER: The biggest challenge for me was dealing with Yaani King’s character, who is a runaway slave. Because it’s just not in my nature to judge anyone by the color of their skin. And to wrap my mind around it, that it was okay. She’s just amazingly talented, just this lovely person. And I told her I’m going to look at you in the show like a piece of furniture, like you don’t even exist. To wrap my mind around this idea that I was going to treat her like a piece of furniture was one of the most difficult things that I ever had to do. And I would end scenes and go over and just hug her, just because I felt so bad about it. That was the most challenging part for me, just mentally getting through that.
HENRY: What are your favorite memories of shooting DELIVERANCE CREEK?
CHRISTOPHER: There were so many amazing memories, and it really it all had to do with the cast and crew, from executives on Lifetime to Skeet Ulrich, Nicholas Sparks. We just bonded in a way that I think was really special. We ate dinner together every night, we hung out together. We had dinners every night with cameramen and sound-people. And we’re still good friends. On the 13th we’re all going to get together and watch DELIVERANCE CREEK when it premieres. As far as shooting it, every time I slid on that black hat, and put on the gun belt, and my gun was actually the gun, the dragoon, that Jeff Bridges used in TRUE GRIT. Every time I put that gun onto my belt, and I was Jasper, and I walked out of my trailer, those were just fantastic days. The moments of getting to be Jasper were just satisfying personally, career-wise, artistically – there was just something special about playing him.
HENRY: If it goes to series, what would you like to see happen with Jasper?
CHRISTOPHER: (chuckles) Melissa Carter, who is our show-runner, and I have had multiple conversations about story ideas. I’d like to see him hitting Union banks, seeing it as more of a targeted strike. I want to see the human side of him as well. Who does he open up to, who does he actually trust. I have some specific story ideas, but I think Melissa would kill me if I gave them away.
Wes Ramsey & Lauren Ambrose
HENRY: What do you have planned for the future that we should be watching for?
CHRISTOPHER: I’m in the final season of SONS OF ANARCHY, which premieres September 9th. DELIVERANCE CREEK and SONS OF ANARCHY do have these parallels if you just sub bikes for horses. And I’m in the live-action SPONGE-BOB movie with Antonio Banderas. I play Antonio Banderas’ father in flashbacks. I’m a famous Spanish captain that sets Antonio Banderas’ life on this course. And that was so much fun; to go from a bushwhacker to a pirate was pretty cool. I didn’t do any work with the sponge. And I do research, so I read the book, THE BLACK FLAG, an anthology of pirate stories, and then realized when I got there that I was in a SpongeBob movie.
HENRY: You and your lovely wife Mira Sorvino have four school-aged kids. Is it hard to juggle your careers and family?
CHRISTOPHER: It is. Like any other family when you have two working parents, it’s difficult. But we’re very supportive of each other, and we’ve been lucky as well that our schedules haven’t overlapped that much. She was in Vancouver shooting INTRUDERS. So I would fly to L.A. and do SPONGE-BOB, and on the weekends fly back. It’s difficult but workable, and we enjoy it. And every time I find myself complaining about how hard it is, (I remember) we’ve taken our kids to some amazing places because of the jobs we do. And the life experience that they get from being a part of that is pretty special when you look back on it. We took them to Egypt literally a month before it collapsed when Mubarak was ousted. And who knows when you’ll ever get back to Egypt to climb the pyramids. And they’ve done those things. In terms of DELIVERANCE CREEK, I have two little boys who ask me every day when we go to Texas and learn to be cowboys. It’s fun that they relate to that sort of thing. We love each other and we support each other and make it work.
HENRY: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
CHRISTOPHER: Wow – I’m not sure I’m good at anything else! My wife likes to say that I’m black or white – I’m all in or I’m all out. So for the last ten years it’s been all in on acting. I wish I was a musician, but I just play around on it. But if I could do anything else and be good at it, I’d be a musician.
MARK OF ZORRO LACMA Sept 9 1pm
On Tuesday, September 9th, at 1 pm, for a paltry four dollars, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present Rouben Mamoulian's brilliant film of Johnston MacCulley's delightful novel The Curse of Capistrano, THE MARK OF ZORRO! It is a feast to watch, starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and as wonderful a pair of villains as could be desired, Basil Rathbone and Gale Sondegaard.
Basil Rathbone & Gale Sondegaard
THAT'S A WRAP!
Next Sunday, would have been Clayton Moore's 100th birthday, and I plan to feature my interview with his daughter, Dawn Moore!
All Original Contents Copyright September 2014 by Henry C, Parke - All Rights Reserved