And I hope all you dads out there have a wonderful Fathers Day!
Saturday, June 20, 2020
THREE FATHERS DAY WESTERN PREMIERES! CASPER VAN DIEN’S “WARRANT” INTERVIEW, KEVIN COSTNER ON “YELLOWSTONE” CHARACTER’S APPEAL, “A SOLDIER’S REVENGE” AVAILABLE NOW, PLUS WILLIAM CASTLE DOUBLE-FEATURE REVIEW, GREGG PALMER ESTATE SALE!
KEVIN COSTNER ON “YELLOWSTONE” AND THE APPEAL OF THE DUTTONS
On Sunday night, Fathers Day, Kevin Costner returns to the Paramount Network for a third season of Yellowstone, the contemporary Western family drama that pits the Dutton family against the government, developers, American Indians, and anyone else who’d try to wrest away control of their humongous ranch. It is the most beautifully photographed show on the air today. Co-created and largely written by Taylor Sheridan, who brought you Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River, it’s a highly entertaining, slick, loud update of the Dallas type of TV drama, and the body count is truly amazing.
On Tuesday I took part in a virtual screening and group Q&A with Kevin Costner, presented by Deadline Hollywood, and moderated by Peter Hammond. I had already covered much of what was discussed in my interview with Costner for True West magazine (you can read it HERE), but there were a couple of interesting questions about what he takes away from the role of John Dutton, and the appeal of the whole Dutton clan.
"It's a dysfunctional family, and what your take away is that if you don't pay attention, your children can go in (all) directions; and nobody's perfect. I want to try to avoid that kind of drama in my own life. And I probably don't need to be killing anybody in my life either. But what do I take away? Maybe just the joy of knowing that I have been able to do things that other people wish that maybe they had been able to do. I'm really aware of how lucky I've been.
“I think people enjoy watching a level of dysfunction. They enjoy hearing outrageous things come out of somebody's mouth in a really critical moment. There are moments in time we wish we were saying what these characters are saying. All of us are confronted with daily issues and we usually have to walk away from them. And it's only in walking away when we decide what we wished we would've said to somebody who really deserved it. In Yellowstone, we actually get to say things to people that I think people (at home) wish they could say to somebody else. I think one of the reasons why Yellowstone has caught air, is that we live in a world where, when we have problems, people turn to their lawyers to solve it. We turn to our agents to arbitrate a problem, to PR people to try to clean something up, when there's really nothing to clean up, when really in our own life, I'd like to confront the person who is really bothering me personally. We put so much distance between being able to find a level of justice that we feel is appropriate for somebody who is really bugging us. To be honest, I think that people would like to arbitrate their own problems. So when we see somebody like John Dutton arbitrating his problems, sometimes we can live precariously through people like that. I wish we could do that; I wish I would've said that; I wish I would've smacked that guy myself. I think that Taylor captures that level of escapism. It's tapping into a nerve where we wish we could solve some of our own problems. That might feel really good to tell somebody who's been bothering us really what time it is.”
‘A SOLDIER’S REVENGE’ NOW ON SALE AND READY FOR DOWNLOAD!
You may remember that back in March I told you about A SOLDIER’S REVENGE the post-Civil War tale of a former Confederate soldier, Frank Connor (Neal Bledsoe), whose PTSD has made him unable to adapt to civilian life util the unwanted responsibility thrust upon him by a chance meeting with two desperate children leads him to uncover a gun-running scheme operated by former friend and comrade-in-arms Briggs (Rob Mayes).
This week the film arrived in your choice of DVD and Blu-Ray at Walmart, Best Buy, and all of the major VOD platforms, including Apple and Amazon. If you missed my interview with Director Michael Feifer (or are just dying to read it again), go HERE. And you can order it direct from its distributor, Well Go USA Entertainment, HERE.
HOLLYWOOD STORY and NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED
A Blu-Ray Double-Feature Review
Director William Castle is so beloved for his delightfully schlocky horror movies – Homicidal, Straight-Jacket, I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are – that few fans realize what a range he had. As a producer, he brought you Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai, and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. As a director of B programmers at Columbia, he honed his considerable skills on The Whistler and Crime Doctor series, gave Robert Mitchum his break with the noir When Strangers Marry, and directed a slew of Westerns (HERE is a link to the 8 film collection, Fastest Guns of the West, from Mill Creek Entertainment).
Bookending his 1950’s Westerns are a pair of noirish stories that Mill Creek has beautifully restored and released as a Blu-Ray set, Hollywood Story (1951) and New Orleans Uncensored (1955). Hollywood Story, scripted by Frederick Kohner (who penned Deanna Durbin musicals, created Gidget, and also wrote the first screen version of Donovan’s Brain, 1944’s The Lady and the Monster), and Frederick Brady (a prolific early-TV writer), it’s the story of independent producer Larry O’Brien (Richard Conte), who is looking for a story to film, and stumbles into the true unsolved case of a director who was shot while making a film, just at the dawn of talking pictures.
And more people start dying when O’Brien pulls together all the survivors who were associated with the film, a terrific cast that includes Henry Hull as the screenwriter, Paul Cavanagh as the aging leading man, and lovely Julie Adams as the daughter of the leading lady (you can read my interview with the late Julie Adams HERE), plus non-comic performances by Jim Backus and Fred Clark, and Richard Egan as the cop. Clearly inspired by the truly unsolved murder of Director William Desmond Taylor, this is Castle’s Sunset Boulevard, and he peppers the film with cameos by silent stars like William Farnum, Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, Helen Gibson, and Elmo Lincoln.
The story and performances are solid, but in a way, the biggest star is the locations. Though a Universal film, it was mostly shot at the quaint old Charlie Chaplin Studio on La Brea, plus scenes during 1950’s Santa Claus Lane Parade on Hollywood Boulevard, and in the chic, now gone, restaurants in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, all captured in wonderfully crisp black and white by Carl E. Guthrie. Edited by Virgil E. Vogel, it’s a pleasure from beginning to end.
New Orleans Uncensored is, sadly, not in the same league. An expose’ of longshoreman’s rackets in New Orleans, this poor man’s On The Waterfront is ploddingly plotted. It is cast with a mix of non-actor government and Union officials playing themselves, badly; and cultured actors like Arthur Franz, William Henry and Stacy Harris laughably miscast as tough-guys. Beverly Garland and Helene Stanton are pretty to look at, and Michael Ansara and Mike Mazurki are believably tough, but not enough to save this bore. On the plus side, like Hollywood Story, its location work features landmark’s like Café du Monde. I recommend the set, but Hollywood Story is the fun one. You can order it from Mill Creek HERE.
WESTERN ACTOR GREGG PALMER’S ESTATE SALE
Big, handsome, intimidating actor Gregg Palmer died on Halloween, 2015, at the age of 88. The son of Norwegian immigrants, he was a cryptographer during the Second World War. Afterwards he became a radio announcer, then decided to give acting a try, was a contract player at Universal for a while, and much more successful after he decided to freelance. Although he acted in all genres, he’s best remembered for his Westerns. He did four with his friend Audie Murphy: The Cimarron Kid (1952), Column South (1953), Murphy’s autobiographical To Hell and Back (1955), and The Quick Gun (1964).
Wardrobe test from Column South
He was particularly lucky to become part of the John Wayne stock company, and do six films with the Duke: The Comancheros (1961), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), Rio Lobo (1970), The Shootist (1976), and the one he’s best remembered – and reviled – for, Big Jake (1971). He’s the one who shoots John Wayne’s dog!
Last weekend there was an estate sale at his beautiful Hollywood Hills home. I was happy to pick up a couple of his scripts, from episodes of The Lawman and Gunsmoke. But I’m sure glad I didn’t have my heart set on a mug. Starting in the 1960s (I think), John Wayne famously commissioned a commemorative coffee mug for each movie, with a personalized mug going to each and every cast and crew member. They had four, Gregg’s mugs from Big Jake, Chisum, Undefeated, and Rio Lobo. I asked to see them, and they handed them to me in a shoebox. How much, I asked? $5,000. Each. I gave them all back. I told my daughter one would make a great Fathers Day gift, but I think I’m getting a necktie.
In case you’re interested in seeing what they had, I’m including a link to the estate sale HERE, but it’s just for your curiosity; the sale is over.
CASPER VAN DIEN ON ‘THE WARRANT’, WESTERNS, AND A LITTLE MOVIE CALLED ‘STARSHIP TROOPERS’
INSP’s The Warrant premieres on INSP on Saturday night. The new Western stars Neal McDonough and Casper Van Dien as former Union soldiers who now find themselves on opposite sides of the law: McDonough is a lawman, and Van Dien runs a band of outlaws still fighting the Civil War. And just to be clear, although Van Dien’s character is nicknamed The Saint, there is no connection with the Leslie Charteris detective stories. In the previous Round-up (the last Round-up sounds too ominous), I interviewed McDonough (HERE).
Here is my interview with Casper Van Dien. I told him that it was a beautiful day to be quarantined in Los Angeles, and asked him where he was.
CASPER VAN DIEN: I'm in Florida and it's just beautiful down here. I moved out of California.
HENRY PARKE: You're happier in Florida?
CASPER VAN DIEN: Yes, I am.
HENRY PARKE: Let me just say at the outset that I've always enjoyed your work. When I told my daughter at the interviewing you today, she said to ask you about Starship Troopers and I had to admit I hadn't seen it, so I watched it yesterday afternoon. What a picture!
CASPER VAN DIEN: Oh yeah! That's actually just like a Western in space. That's was a fun movie to do. And your daughter told you to see that? That's awesome.
HENRY PARKE: I particularly loved you riding on the back of that huge bug and throwing the grenade into it.
Van Dien and a bug in Starship Troopers
CASPER VAN DIEN: It's almost like the hull of a boat but upside down, on top of a Caterpillar truck, moving around on four pistons, going side to side, backward and forward. And I think the reason I was able to ride it at such a high speed -- and I did it for three days, like 12 hours a day -- was because I ride horses. So I think that helped. I also sail, and I surfed a little but, so I had a couple of different things that helped me to be able to stand up on that. I mean, I fell down a lot, and had wires attached so I wouldn't fall off because I was twenty-five feet up in the air on this thing while it was going. But it was a blast to do.
Dr. Quinn can tell Van Dien's up to no good
HENRY PARKE: So that just goes to show that The Warrant is not your first Western. But then again you did a Western Western even before Starship Troopers didn't you? I'm thinking of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.
CASPER VAN DIEN: Yes, I did a Dr. Quinn. Cattle Drive (1994); I was a cattle rustler. And then they came to me after two days of filming, and said they want to make this a two-part special. Can you work next week? That was a lot of fun for me. And then I got to do Aces 'N' Eights (2008), which was with Ernest Borgnine and Bruce Boxleitner. Which was a lot of fun to do as well. It was co-written by one of the guys who wrote Pale Rider (1985), Dennis Shryack. That was fun Western to shoot, too. I loved meeting, working with Ernest Borgnine, just being on set with him and hearing his stories. He was quite a character.
HENRY PARKE: Terrific actor. So, you had experience with horses?
CASPER VAN DIEN: I did. I had my own horse for a while, and I love riding. I rode for years over by the Equestrian Center in Burbank.
HENRY PARKE: Growing up, were you a fan of the Western genre?
CASPER VAN DIEN: Yes, very much so. I loved John Wayne, John Ford films. I just love Westerns; I watch them all the time. Edward Neumeier, who wrote Starship Troopers, and Robocop (1987), he is a huge John Wayne, John Ford fan. And we do little homages to them in that movie. We did things from They Were Expendable (1945) and Westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). When I was reading the scripts, because I read all the different versions he wrote for that, and it was just amazing, because he'd write these different homages to different John Wayne and Ford films. And I was like, oh my God, you did that? And he's like, yeah: you remember everything! But it was fun for me because I just love old Hollywood and John Wayne's my favorite actor. So I love being a part of that. It was just a blast to be in The Warrant, because for me it's just like a wholesome, old fashioned Western.
HENRY PARKE: From Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers to the Saint in The Warrant, you've played a lot of characters with a military background. I read that you attended military school.
CASPER VAN DIEN: I did; I went to Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida.
HENRY PARKE: Did that experience help you playing characters with a military background?
CASPER VAN DIEN: I think it helped. I grew up in a family with a lot of men who served in different branches, Marines, Air Force, and I was in the Coast Guard as well. My grandfather, my father, my grandfather that I didn't get to meet was in the Navy, too. My brother-in-law was in the Army up until recently, and my cousin was in the Army Air Corps. My dad's a Navy pilot, so I grew up in that lifestyle. And I think it was a great, solid upbringing and helped me playing each character, and also just being an actor. So I attribute that a lot to military school and military family.
HENRY PARKE: You've played a wide range of characters, even a werewolf recently. But considering Johnny Rico and Tarzan especially, I usually think of you in good guy, hero roles. With that in mind, how did you like playing the villain in The Warrant?
CASPER VAN DIEN: I think The Saint, he has a lot of depth, and a lot of history. The way he's written, there was probably something a little bit askew with him from the beginning. But the tragedy that happens, the man he turns into, I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I think that helped me be able to play the character.
HENRY PARKE: That tragedy, of course, is the death of your son from a Confederate bullet, and you go AWOL to seek revenge. The scene where John Breaker has brought you back, and is lecturing you about how you shouldn't be going after revenge, and you break down. Your scene is, to me, the dramatic high point of the picture.
CASPER VAN DIEN: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. That scene was the one that really sold me on the picture. And when we were doing it, there was a Vietnam vet there, a relative of the guy who was in charge of our guns. He left the set while we were filming. And later he said, I'm sorry, I had to leave. You took me back to a place where -- I don't cry. But I did twice, once was for the guys in Vietnam, and the loss of my wife was the other time. I was sorry I, just had to leave, and I just want to say thank you. I appreciated that a lot. You know, you get older, you live through losses, and divorces, and life experience that helps you bring more depth to certain roles. You're not grateful for some of the things that happen in your life, but when you get to certain scenes in a movie, you can hit something like that, and where'd that all come from? You can feel it. I guess you learn to appreciate life's journey in doing that. But yeah, that scene was a day. My wife was, was there on-set, too, and she was just like, I was nervous, afraid that you were just going to be really destroyed. Afterwards I was okay. When you're doing a physical thing, all the fights and things, at the end you're just physically tired. But when you something where you cry, and you really go there, that's more draining. You get more exhausted from something like that.
HENRY PARKE: You also have some physically demanding scenes. You have a lot of good fighting. Did you enjoy that?
CASPER VAN DIEN: Yeah, and Neal really wanted to go with it. When you have an actor who steps up like him -- I'm a huge fan of Neal -- he's a really solid actor, and he really put everything into it when we were doing a fight sequence. We had so much fun doing it.
HENRY PARKE: With Neal as the hero and you as the villain, did you feel like you were playing each other’s parts?
CASPER VAN DIEN: Usually I would play the John Breaker role, but when they offered me The Saint I was really grateful for the opportunity. There's a lot to that character. You know, 32 years as an actor right now, and when somebody says something like, that's the highlight of the movie, that means a lot; I appreciate it.
HENRY PARKE: Any other people that you worked with on the shoot, that were memorable? Any other memorable events?
CASPER VAN DIEN: Well, I loved working with everybody on this movie. I mean, Steven R. McQueen, who's the grandson of Steve McQueen. I really loved Gregory Alan Williams, my sidekick or my partner or whatever. He's an actor who's been around a while, and I really just wish I had had more with him, but I liked all the characters that they had. I didn't get to work with Annabeth Gish, but she's awesome. But you know, it's good to be in the movie with her. There's a lot of good people in there.
HENRY PARKE: You've certainly done a lot of contemporary stories, as well as futuristic ones and period stories. Do you have a preference?
CASPER VAN DIEN: I think I probably watch more old Westerns than a normal person, (laughs), so I would probably say I liked period best. Because I love history. I look at history of films. Our film industry almost went belly-up during the Great Depression, and the only thing that kept us alive were Westerns. I think of Star Wars as like a Western. Paul Newman and Robert Redford -- I got my daughter to watch them in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and she just loves them, and watched all of their films. There are so many wonderful Westerns, from Blazing Saddles to Tombstone to Shane. I just love watching them, and I'm thrilled to be a part of them. Director Brent Christy is a great guy, and I'd love to work with him again, and do more Westerns. He started out as a cinematographer, and he had such beautiful shots; I only wish we had more time, and I think everybody always says that on films. And I wish I was on it for longer, but I was thrilled to be a part of it.
HENRY PARKE: Now this is completely off The Warrant, but in Sleepy Hollow (1999), you worked with two of my absolute film heroes. No offense to Johnny Depp, but I mean Hammer horror stars Michael Gough and Christopher Lee.
CASPER VAN DIEN: Well, I didn't work with Christopher Lee, but Michael Gough was amazing. Johnny was amazing on that film, and I got to ride a horse in that one. And funny enough, when I went over to England (to film), my horse was the original Black Beauty from the TV series. Steve Dent was the horse coordinator on Sleepy Hollow, and the horse's name was Sam. And then when I did an Outer Limits, we did a scifi Western thing called Heart's Desire, and the horse in that was also called Sam; that was in Canada. I had a horse for two and a half years, I rode her every day, and she was Sam. So I've, I've had a lot of experience with Sams. I did another movie not too long ago called Roped. There were all these Cowboys around, but I wasn't a cowboy, which was frustrating. I'm not the lead, I'm the father of one of the leads. It was a lot of fun. Modern day, so they're all modern-day cowboys, which I don't mind either, but I like the old west. I like that genre; I like that time period. And The Warrant was fun to do because we had the Civil War, and we had Civil War reenactors. And they have all their authentic gear, and uniforms. That's a cool part of our history. (laughs) I mean, it's cool that we got through it.
HENRY PARKE: The country survived it. The reenactors are great to work with because they just bring so much knowledge onto set
CASPER VAN DIEN: And they love it. They love being a part of the movie. They want it to be authentic, and they have so much pride and that's awesome. Sometimes you hire extras, and they're not that into it. I mean, most people want to do a good job acting. But when it's reenactors, it's just another level of commitment. I once had somebody at a convention going up to me and asking what do you think of these people that come to these cons and dress up as characters? And I'm like, what do you mean, what do I think of that? That's what I do for a living. (laughs) That's my job. I think that's awesome. Here's these people that're doing their reenactments because they really love it. I think that's just beautiful. And I get to hang out with them, and they were really supportive.
If you don’t get INSP, or if you’d like to own a copy of The Warrant, you can buy it at Walmart, or direct from Mill Creek Entertainment HERE.
…AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Ida Lupino directing
And maybe it’s a little early, but check out my article in the July/August 2020 issue of True West magazine, about the fistful of women who’ve directed Westerns, HERE.
And I hope all you dads out there have a wonderful Fathers Day!
And I hope all you dads out there have a wonderful Fathers Day!
All Original Contents Copyright June 2020 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Friday, June 5, 2020
‘WARRANT’ STAR NEAL MCDONOUGH INTERVIEW, SCORSESE WESTERN FINDS NEW HOME, ‘GUNSMOKE’ 20-SEASON SET, TOUR THE ‘RED RYDER’ MUSEUM, AND MORE!
SCORSESE’S ‘KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON’ BITES THE APPLE!
Martin Scorsese is no stranger to making Westerns – back in 1998 he produced the Stephen Frears-directed film of Max Evans’ The Hi-Lo Country. But he’s finally set to direct his first Western, based on David Grann’s book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I. It’s non-fiction, set in the 1920s, and centers around a series of mysterious killing of Osage tribe members.
Marty & Leo in the library (with a candlestick)
Set to star Leonardo Di Caprio and Robert DeNiro, the book was the center of a bidding war, and when the dust cleared, Grann had pocketed $5 million, and the deal was set up at Paramount. But word is that when Marty and Leo came back with a new draft that that had Leo switch characters, from a hero to, to put it kindly, an anti-hero, Paramount froze: this is what they’ve committed $180 million to? The word went out that they wanted to spread the risk by taking on a partner, and now Apple as stepped up. Apple will make the film, and Paramount will handle the worldwide distribution. By the way, Scorsese has another film planned that will also be of interest to Western fans: a biopic of Teddy Roosevelt, starring Leo Di Caprio.
I UNBOX THE ENTIRE RUN OF ‘GUNSMOKE’ IN ONE SET!
As you collectors know, CBS and Paramount have been putting out DVD sets of Gunsmoke, season by season, for about fourteen years. They just released the final one, season twenty, and they’ve issued a giant mega set -- easily the biggest Western series set ever, with all twenty seasons of Gunsmoke! That’s 143 disks! They sent it to me, and all they asked in return is that I binge-watch them! Thankfully they haven’t given me a deadline, but I’ve promised to watch them all, and post about them as I go along.
And I decided to begin by making an unboxing video of myself checking it out – unboxing videos have been dominated by little kids opening toys, and nerds unwrapping phones long enough!
AIN’T YOU COMIN’ BACK, RED RYDER? A VISIT TO THE FRED HARMAN ART MUSEUM
Since hardly any of us are going anywhere lately, wouldn’t it be nice to take a little trip? How about a stroll through The Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado? Frankly, this article has been delayed for years.
Back in 2014, my daughter and her now husband were in Pagosa Springs, where they visited the museum of Fred Harman, the cowboy-turned self-trained western painter, who reached his greatest fame writing and drawing the hugely popular comic strip, The Adventures of Red Ryder, which featured not only Red, but his Navajo sidekick, Little Beaver.
...and Little Beaver welcome you!
Knowing it would make a good piece for The Round-up, Sabrina took all of the photos you see, and brought me back a Red Ryder t-shirt as well. The timing was perfect – I had just read a new book on the history of Red Ryder, and would run the review and the photo-tour together. Then the publisher pulled the book – some problem with Red Ryder Enterprises Inc., who owns the rights to the character. So I cancelled the review, postponed the article, and forgot about it, until a week ago, when I found the pictures again, and thought this would be a perfect time to run them.
But when I Googled the Museum, to make sure I had the address and hours correct, I was shocked to find this notice: Permanently Closed. Was it a Coronavirus matter, or was it really closed? I knew that Fred Harman, a founder of The Cowboy Artists of America, had died at age 79 in 1982, and his son, Fred Harman III ran the Museum with his wife, Norma.
The Dutchess was the third major character in the strip.
I got the full story from Bill Hudson, editor of the Pagosa Daily Post, an online community magazine. “Fred and Norma had been running the museum in memory of his dad. (They) were struggling to keep it financially viable, because those of us who remember Red Ryder are fewer and fewer. Fred passed away a few years ago, and Norma passed in 2019. Shortly after Norma passed away, the house-and-museum were sold to the Archuleta County government, and they’re currently in the midst of building a justice center that is not fully funded yet.”
The Ranch in its glory days!
If you look close, you can spot the screen's first Red, Don 'Red' Barry, 'Wild
Bill' Elliot, and Bobby Blake as Little Beaver.
Norma had donated five adjacent acres of land for the justice center project, which was expected to include a jail, Sheriff’s office and courthouse, with the understanding that the project will be called The Fred Harman III Law Enforcement Center, in honor of her husband, who was very involved in volunteering and fundraising for the Sheriffs department.
What most people know of Red Ryder today:
"You'll shoot your eye out!"
Zoom in close to see hundreds of
beautifully drawn horses.
Bill Hudson remembers that in the Museum, a replica of Fred Harman’s art studio had been built. “It had his drawing table and his inks, set out as if he had just left the room.” When the Sheriffs Office opens, somewhere inside, available to the public, will be a room, about 16’ by 30’, which will be that studio, holding a mini-museum of the art of Fred Harman. When I first reached Bill, I suggested wistfully that my travel piece had become an obituary. He thought, perhaps not. “Maybe it's just a downsizing.”
In addition to the photos, I’m including a 5-minute video tour of The Fred Harman Art Museum, and a link to the still-standing Museum website. Enjoy, but don’t try to order anything, because I don’t think anyone’s monitoring the site.
NEAL MCDONOUGH SERVES ‘THE WARRANT’
On Saturday, June 20th, the INSP network will premiere their newest original Western movie, The Warrant. During the Civil War, Union soldiers John Breaker (Neal McDonough) and Virgil a.k.a. The Saint (Casper Van Dien) are friends, both fighting with their sons by their sides. Breaker, a lawman in civilian life, is tough as nails, but would rather wound an enemy than kill him. The Saint has an abiding hatred for Southerners, who he considers traitors: he’d rather kill an enemy, and is not above going through the corpse’s pockets. When The Saint’s son is killed by a Rebel’s bullet, The Saint deserts, looking for revenge.
Four years after the war’s end, Breaker is a town Sheriff, and his son Cal (Steven R. McQueen), now a Federal Marshal, is on The Saint’s trail: leading a small but vicious pack, The Saint’s depredations against reconstructing Southerners are so brutal that unnamed men have placed a price on The Saint’s head, and the woods are full of dangerous bounty hunters. As John has no legal authority outside his town, son Cal deputizes his father – awkward! – to help bring The Saint to trial before the bounty hunters can shoot him down.
Writer Shea Sizemore, and director and cinematographer Brent Cristy are clearly aware that some story elements are well-traveled ground, and have found clever ways to vary them and make them fresh. There’s many a Western about a Confederate who won’t accept defeat, and keeps fighting a finished war, but a Northerner who can’t accept his victory is new. The fact that so much trouble comes out of John Breaker’s kindness, is original. As he says, “When you show a man mercy, he becomes your responsibility.”
One of the most intriguing surprises is the casting of the protagonists: from Justified to Yellowstone, Neal McDonough has made his mark as icy, heartless villains. Here he is the hero, and a deeply moral man. Casper Van Dien has long been the hero, from Starship Troopers to Tarzan and the Lost City, but here he’s the sinister Saint. He’s a bad man, but not totally lacking in humanity, and his portrayal of a father who’s just lost his son is startling raw and moving.
I had the pleasure of interviewing both stars, Neal McDonough, and Casper Van Dien, about this movie, and about their other films, especially Westerns. Here is my interview with Neal; my interview with Casper will be in the very next Round-up.
When I spoke to Neal, it was April 22nd, more than a month into our quarantine, mine in Los Angeles, his in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. We started out discussing the weather, which had been good in both places.
NEAL MCDONOUGH: It's been blue skies and 55 degrees every day. It's been just dry and beautiful. And then today, rain.
HENRY PARKE: Are you in Vancouver to film something?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: Well, no. My wife, Ruve, and I for years were trying to figure out a way how to get out of Los Angeles, because it was a difficult place to bring up five children on so many levels. Just the sheer amount of people, just getting through the traffic, getting to any practices or games or school. That was challenge enough. But I also wanted it a little more like how I grew up, back in the 70s; a more wholesome, less distractions type of place. We live 40 minutes south of Vancouver, right on the ocean. And it's just beautiful. It's a small town; feels like small town America. Small town Canada. It's nice people, earnest people here in Canada. I really enjoy it up here. The other reason is there's so much darn work up here. I was brought up here by Greg Berlanti to do Arrow. And then Arrow turned to Legends, and Legends turned to The Flash, and Flash led to five other television series: Rogue to Van Helsing, to Altered Carbon to Project Blue Book to The 100, and a couple of movies. So it's been a very busy four years since I've been up here, and it's been a blessing upon blessing.
HENRY PARKE: Now I've been enjoying your work since way before Minority Report. And I go in expecting to be scared and unnerved by you. You scared the heck out of me in Justified.
Neal in Justified
NEAL MCDONOUGH: Two years before that, I was fired from a show, for not doing a sex scene. They knew I wouldn't do it; it was in my contract that I wouldn't. And finally they say, if you can't do it we're going to fire you. I said I'm not going to do it, so go ahead. So they fired me, and for about two years I couldn't get a job. (Editor’s note: the ABC comedy/drama Scoundrels lasted eight episodes.) It was a really hard time for us. We lost our house, we lost cars, we lost all the material things that we thought were really important. I thought, I don't know how are we going to get through this. I prayed so hard, and all of a sudden the phone rang. And it was (Writer/Producer) Graham Yost. And Graham said, "Hey, you want to be the bad guy for a couple episodes on Justified? I said, “Yeah, absolutely!” And it was my comeback. It was like my shot at the title again, and I was so revved up to crush this role that literally, after the first take of the first scene, Graham says, “I think you're going to be around for the rest of the season.” I'm like, good: that was my plan. (Previously) Graham has written for me, for Boomtown and Band of Brothers, them to Justified. He knows how to write to my strengths, and we just had a heck of a time. It's when I fell in love with acting again. You take a lot of things for granted in life, and sometimes you need a good swift kick in the butt to make you realize, Hey buddy, you got it good. Don't take it for granted. And the ten years since I was in Justified, (my) career has been so fantastic. God has given me so much. I wouldn't be speaking to you right now if it wasn't for Graham Yost and Justified.
HENRY PARKE: I've got to say how much I enjoyed you in Yellowstone.
NEAL MCDONOUGH: Paramount submitted me for the best supporting actor Emmy Award, which was pretty flattering. I don't do this for awards; I do this to entertain people. But every once in a while, it sure is nice when someone says, hey, you did a really great job; I want people to notice that. I was blessed that God gave me a great talent; God gives us all talents and sometimes we don't find them; sometimes we don't look hard enough. But just because you get that cool talent, that doesn't make you special. You have to work hard at being a great human being. I was blessed to find out early that I was really good at getting in front of people and making them laugh or cry or make them angry or in some instances make them really frightened.
HENRY PARKE: Speaking of making people really frightened, which you're really good at, after so many heavies, what's it like to play a hero in The Warrant?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: I’ve got to tell you, when they sent the script to The Warrant, my agents -- I don't want to say passed on it -- but they said this is a really independent small film, and I'm not sure it's the right thing for you. I said, just let me read it. And after two pages I'm like, are you kidding me? Did you guys read this? This is gold! You know, the reason I play so many villains is because I won't do sex scenes. So, I have to figure out ways to keep working, to make money for my family. So when I have an opportunity to play a good guy who doesn't have to have those types of scenes, that doesn't happen often, because usually you're kissing a woman or you're doing whatever, and I'll only kiss one woman; that's my wife Ruve, and that's it. So when I read the script, I was like, this is literally another gift from God, because this is the character that I always love playing. Like from Tin Men or Band of Brothers, those heroic guys that are tough as nails, but that also have their heart on their sleeves and are driven for the good. But that don't mind getting their hands dirty, to do a few things to get the law correct. To play this character, John Breaker, it’s right up my alley. I'm playing my dad, and it's such an honor for me to do that. And the people at INSP, (Senior VP of Programming) Doug Butts and (Senior VP of Original movies) Gary Wheeler and everybody else, these guys have been so good to me. Gary was telling me the other day that The Warrant was (number one) watched new Western for six weeks in a row on Amazon, and at Walmart we sold out: they have to keep restocking it. I had no idea this would be successful for INSP. But I love what INSP does. They're faith friendly. They're telling stories of heroes, and in a time where people generally don't do stories about heroes anymore. There aren't many films you get to sit and watch with the whole family. I had the five kids about a week ago and I said, all right guys, let's sit down and let's watch The Warrant. And they didn't get up for a bathroom break once! I love, love, love The Warrant. I want to do part two, part three, part four, and part five!
Gregory Cruz, Neal, Annabeth Gish
HENRY PARKE: You said you were playing your father. In what sense?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: My father was a Sergeant in the Army; came over from Ireland. Immediately landed in Boston, walked into the Army office and said, "Make me an American." They said, "Okay, we'll ship you overseas for five years." That's fine. When he came back, my dad was a very driven, hardworking, do-the-right-thing kind of man. And he instilled that into all of us, I being the youngest of six. My dad my mom really (taught) me what was right and what was wrong and, my relationship with God. I was really fortunate to have my dad be such an integral part of my life. And this last couple of years I did Project Blue Book; there I am dressed up in military outfits and looking just like my father, and trying to tap into my dad. John Breaker is very much like my and like myself. So it was kind of easy for me to play Breaker.
HENRY PARKE: Is The Warrant your first period Western?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: It is my first period Western. I always wanted to do one. I did the mini series for Syfi called Tin Man, which was kind of a Scifl take on the Wizard of Oz, with Zoe Deschanel and Alan Cumming. I play the Tin Man (in) cowboy hat, duster, six-shooter. A law enforcement man back in the late 1800s was the take on my character. It was a lot of fun to play that guy. But an actual, true Western? This is the first one I've ever done, and boy, I can't wait to get back in the saddle again and do it again.
From Tin Man, Alan Cumming, Raoul Max Trujillo, Neal
as Tin Man, aka Wyatt Cain
HENRY PARKE: Did you grow up with Westerns?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: My favorite as a kid was The Rifleman. I couldn't get enough of it. I loved that and The Big Valley. My brothers loved Big Valley and I would watch it with them. And anything that John Wayne did, from The Cowboys to The Shootist; the movies that were later in his career, those were the John Wayne films that I cut my teeth on. I love watching INSP because they've always had The Big Valley.
HENRY PARKE: As a kid, do you identify with a particular brother on The Big Valley?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: Lee Majors to me was just like the coolest cat. My brothers were always, "I'm Heath," or "I'm Nick," For me it was more like, wow, those guys are just the dudes, more that than me trying to be any of them, because my older brothers say, no, no, no. We're these guys: you're too young. And they were right. My brother John says the reason I'm so successful as an actor is I get to steal from my brothers and my sister all the time, and he is absolutely spot on: the music I listened to was the music they listened to, the shows that I gravitated towards were the shows that they watched. The Rifleman and My Three Sons or The Big Valley -- those are the ones I want to make. And I think that Hollywood has really gotten away from making those kinds of shows because everybody wants to see crazy, on your edge, dark stuff. That's the landscape of television nowadays. And it's really too bad. I mean, when I was a kid, Sunday nights, the whole family, we'd sit around and watch The Wonderful World of Disney. They don't have that anymore. You know, for the last five weeks of this quarantine, my wife Ruve has been unbelievable in so many ways. When six o'clock comes, she's sitting us down around the TV and we're all gonna watch a family movie. And we've watched a family movie every single night for the last five weeks. And it's been kind of awesome. What's going on (Covid-19) is heartbreaking. But again, with every curse, you've to find the blessing and the blessing in this is that Ruve and I've gotten to spend an extraordinary amount of time home with our children. We're hunkered down here at home, and it's great for networks like INSP to be there for us.
HENRY PARKE: Doing a period story does have its own challenges. Were there any surprises for you?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: I didn't realize I was that good with a Winchester. (Laughs) No, I'm kidding. But it was fun. They said, what (kind of gun) do you want? I'm like, The Rifleman's my favorite show of all time. You’ve got to get me a Winchester. That one shot where I take off on the horse, I crank it with one hand, like Rooster Cogburn, I'm firing a guy off the roof. You know, just to be on a horse, firing that Winchester! I knew I was going to enjoy it. I didn't realize I'd enjoy it that much, being on a horse and filming. My dad grew up with horses in Ireland. On Sundays, after church, we'd go down to a place called Milford Farms. And as a young boy I'd be riding the smaller horses. My brothers would ride the bigger horses, but there I was pretending that I was John Wayne, riding around on my little pony, and it was so much fun. I'm not sure if anything really surprised me so much, except that I didn't realize how much I loved playing the good guy. I want to keep doing those, because when my family is sitting around watching movies, I want them to be able to watch my movies. A lot of the things that I do, they can't really see, but this they can, or a Project Blue Book, the kinds of characters I'm doing now. And I love that. I really do.
HENRY PARKE: In The Warrant, do you have a particular favorite scene or moment?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: I really like anything I do with Greg (Gregory Cruz), who played Bugle. We just had a ball. He's such a talented actor and he's such a great guy; to have him as my sidekick -- or me as his, like sometimes it felt like in the scenes -- was great. Originally the beginning of the film was supposed to be my voice doing the voiceover; talking about my daddy and the war and blah blah blah. And I told (Producer) Gary Wheeler, I think it might work better if Greg’s character, Bugle, does the voiceover. He's got that great voice, and it just seems more heroic opening it that way, instead of me kind of talking over myself. And it works so well;, he's so dialed in, and he's great on a horse, great with weapons, and his comic timing. I love the fight scenes. I loved riding the horses. I love the scenes with Steven McQueen, talking about life when we're holed up in that barn and then coming up firing. I love the action of that. That to me, harkens back to this great old Western sense of alright, it's you and me against a bunch of people who've got a lot more guns and ammunition than we do, but what the heck? We'll just go for it. And boy, that was just fun to play.
HENRY PARKE: One thing I found a really clever touch was that Stephen McQueen is playing your son, but you’re a sheriff, he’s a Federal Marshall, so for this particular job, he's your superior.
NEAL MCDONOUGH: That was a great moment. It wasn't the situation between me and Steven that made it so funny. It was the look on Greg's face that made it so funny. Again, you have that sidekick to work the humor; you need to infuse humor into these movies or else it just becomes kind of dry and forced. But that levity allows the drama to be that much higher staked. Brent Christy did a fantastic job directing, with the time that we had to do it, which wasn't a ton of time. We went so fast, but he wouldn't go to the next scene until he got exactly what he wanted. Luckily with Greg and myself and Steven, we were so prepared that a lot of times it's the first take.
HENRY PARKE: Casper van Dien –
Neal with Casper
NEAL MCDONOUGH: What a performance he did! We were talking about (casting) the bad guy, and (Producer) Gary Wheeler mentioned what about Casper? I knew he was such a great actor but I hadn't seen Casper in a while. And he's aged so well; he's such a striking-looking guy, that to have him play the villain, when you’ve seen him playing the good guys for so long. It was such a breath of fresh air. And from the first time we shook hands, there was a bond s between the two of us. It was interesting because this wasn't a film about the stereotypical good guy, stereotypical bad guy. These guys were kind of friends, and what he did was kind of justified because he was there to revenge the death of his son. But then he goes off the rails.
HENRY PARKE: If you'd been offered the role of The Saint instead of Breaker, if you guys traded roles, would you do it?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: Absolutely. The last 10, 15 years I've played so many villains that The Saint would have been easy. It's a lot harder for me to play Breaker because I had to tap into me. When I play villains, it's tapping into, okay, what's a fun thing here to scare people, and what's a moment that I can lift that eyebrow at the right time? But you don't have those bags of tricks when you're the good guy; it's your heart on your sleeve, and you're just letting it out. It’s, well what's my life really about? Am I doing the right thing? If I go out and get shot and killed, what happens to my son and my wife? There's a lot more at stake for the good guy, because the bad guy, if you shoot me, it's all over. What the heck: I'm going down with guns blazing. It's not the same thing as a good guy. Ruve and I met the very first day doing Band of Brothers. I was at home with my work every night, not just reading the lines, but living the character as the method actor that I am. After two to three months of dating, she's like, look: when you're done with work, you've got to punch that card and (be) done until you punch in the next day. Because if you're going to be like this 24 – 7, you're going to drive yourself, myself and everybody else nuts. I thought, are you crazy? I'm a method actor! But that may have been the greatest acting lesson I've ever had in my life. Because if you're not enjoying your life and living your life, you can't draw from anything.
HENRY PARKE: Are there any particular memories or anything funny that happened on the set?
NEAL MCDONOUGH: They said, we need to get someone for The Saint's son. My nephew Michael, had just graduated from college and is very artistic but also very athletic. I called Mike, I said, put yourself on tape, read the lines, and send them to me. I sent it to the producer, who said, wow, he did really good. And yes, he doesn't do much; he says a line and just gets shot. But he has such an expressive face, and it really worked. And my brother Bob came down, and we're all there to see him do what he did. Because it's hard for me to be away for five or six days. I'd fly back, be home in Vancouver for seven or eight hours, and fly back to Atlanta. When I'm away from Ruve and the kids, it really takes a toll on me. If it weren't for my brother Bob being there and my nephew Michael, it probably would've been a little bit more of The Saint in my performance than it would have been Breaker.
...AND THAT'S A WRAP!
If you haven't yet, please check out the June 2020 True West, which features my article celebrating Clayton Moore, and the 70th anniversary of the first Western TV series, The Lone Ranger!
All Original Contents Copyright June 2020 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved