We are going to kick off the awards season on a light note today, because the next two awards to come are rather bleak and sarcastic. This year could have very well been the year of the interview, because I was never busier than when tracking down various cast and crew members for my coverage of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut release and premiere, and a little bit later with my blogging for the upcoming television mini-series To Appomattox. Aside from that, I tried to stay on par with my normal hockey coverage, though that took a back seat for quite a long time. I would have loved to nominate everyone that I had a chance to speak to, because each one was very special and informative in its own right, but I have narrowed it down to the following below, based on popularity, total reads, and feedback. The Mallon interview, though it took place in December of 2010, will be included here, because it would be unfair to leave out the one that started it all, when referring to G & G—that and the fact that it was highly memorable! Winners will be announced on December 31. Happy voting!
To read excerpts from the nominees to refresh your memory, please scroll down. If you would like to read the entire interview, click the link.
GC: Out of all the roles you’ve played, obviously to me, you will always be General Hancock, so what first attracted you to take his role for Gettysburg in 1993?
BM: I was delighted to be offered it. Ron Maxwell came to see me at Cafe Beckett in Hollywood at the time, and we were sitting there talking and he hadn’t told me yet what he wanted me to play, and there’s this friend of mine, an Apache, who was wearing a Civil War general’s hat which was navy blue. Ron laughed and said, “I like your hat.” This friend of mine just puts the hat on my head and Ron thought this was very funny because he was going to offer me the role of this Union general and I didn’t know it yet. My friend then said to me that he wouldn’t take the hat back because it looked so right on me. So Ron thought this was all very amazing because here he was, about to offer me the role of a Union general and I was already wearing the hat.
GC: When you write a novel, how much research do you do and how long does it typically take you?
JS: The research is usually twice as long as it takes to write the book. I typically read 50 to 60 books for each book that I write, and it has to be original source material—the diaries, the memoirs, the letters, the collections of writings of the people who were there. That is a big lesson I learned from my father, stay away from modern history and modern biographies. That does me no good at all. If you’re getting into the heads of a character, and you’re speaking for a real historical character, you better get it right because a lot of people out there will get pretty upset about that. I had somebody actually say to me, “How dare you put words in the mouth of Robert E. Lee?” Well, okay, that’s a challenge and if I dare do that, or put words in the mouth of George Washington, or “Black Jack” Pershing, or Eisenhower, or Adolf Hitler for that matter, I had better believe that those words are authentic to that character because if I don’t believe it, neither will you. Then the book deserves to lose credibility. That’s the point of research, to feel that before I even write the first word, feel as though I know the character and that I would speak for them. Once the reading is done, the other part of it, is again, a lesson I learned from my father, to walk the ground. To go walk in the footsteps of people, see the hillsides, see the battlefields, see the homes, the grave sites, whatever there is out there for me to see, and it’s not that it’s mystical—I don’t go to battlefields and look for ghosts, but there really is something very powerful about walking the same ground as the characters I’m writing about. That’s a crucial part of the research as well. Once that is done, only then do I start writing, and typically, it takes me five to six months to write a manuscript because I’m doing it full-time.
GC: In each film, your character works very closely with Robert E. Lee. In “Gettysburg” you worked with Martin Sheen, in “Gods and Generals” you worked with Robert Duvall. What was it like working with those two great actors?
BB: Actually, I had known [Martin Sheen] before, I had met him several times, and my ex-wife [Melissa Gilbert] had actually worked on a movie with him, so I had the chance to know him pretty well before we started. He’s just an amazing man, he’s a sweetheart and a true humanitarian, he’s a religious man, and just a good guy. I loved working with him, and I was pretty young at the time, and very subtly he would help me—he would say, “Oh, you’re working too hard, don’t work too hard”, because I was so eager to please (laughs). He would give me little tidbits like, “You don’t have to work too hard on this line here. Just take it easy.” And of course there’s Robert Duvall, and there is not an actor in the world who doesn’t want to work with him because he’s such a genius. I learned a lot by watching these guys. They’re both fantastic actors, and just to be in their presence, to work with them, and to watch how they approach the material. And I think both Lee’s approached the material very differently, which was interesting to see as well. You had two different actors with two different performances playing the same role—it was pretty fascinating to watch.
GC: Now, when did you first get involved with the film Gettysburg?
PG: Here’s the story behind that, and it’s weird. The year before I got the part was one of the worst career times of my life. I was newly married, for the third time, and that was great and going fine, but I wasn’t working—my career just tanked and was going nowhere, to the fact that I had to go back and get a regular job to go in between. I hate to say it, but I was a messenger for studios that I had worked at. People didn’t recognize me because I was a function, a messenger; I wasn’t the actor. In fact, I delivered things to some casting offices that I worked for and they knew me but did not recognize me. So my wife at the time, and she was in the production business, my ex-wife now who I am still good friends with, is the assistant to the producer on Entertainment Tonight, and she said, “You’re not taking care of business, you’re not contacting people.” And I opened up, right at that conversation at the table, Variety, and there was a picture of Robert Duvall [who was originally going to play Lee], the film was in pre-production. Because it was Duvall, who was and is one of my favorite actors, and I said to myself, “I want to work with him”, and it’s the Civil War, come on! I got to be right for something in that! So what I did was, I took a picture, and at that time I had shaved my head and was letting it grow out and letting my beard grow, and in the picture, I don’t exactly look like Hood (I don’t really look like him anyway), but that picture had something, something of a look, and I took this picture and the resume, and I delivered it myself to the casting director in the office. A couple of days later, my agent called me and said that he got me an interview for The Killer Angels film script. I read for Armistead, which was the part I wanted, but they wanted me for Hood, which I read for, and I did a really good reading, and they called me back and said I got the part, which was great. The interesting thing was, later on, the casting director Joy Todd said, “When we saw your picture, we just prayed that you could act.” I was able to capture something of Hood, though I don’t really resemble him. He was called the “Blond Giant”, he was probably 6’2” or something like that, with really broad shoulders, and I’m barely 5’10” and don’t have broad shoulders, and I was twice his age, but I did get something of his persona. That’s how I got involved: I wanted to work with Duvall and as it turned out, Martin Sheen played Lee, but I did get to work with Duvall in Gods and Generals.
GC: How did you first get involved with the movie Gettysburg back in 1993?
LK: Well, I have a cousin, the one that I played the part of, General William Barksdale, and I had always been interested in the Civil War, and I heard they were going to do a movie on the battle of Gettysburg. So, I talked to the author of The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara, on the phone and I enjoyed speaking to him very much. He was a very stimulating person and he told me about Ron Maxwell who was going to direct it. I phoned up to Maxwell in New York, and we made an appointment. I did not tell him of my relation to Barksdale, and I talked with him and we had a wonderful time and there was a great deal of mutual interest. It was then when I told him of my relationship to General Barksdale of Mississippi, and he asked, “You’re his cousin?” and I responded, “I am.” and he said, “You look like him.” Then he said, “Just a minute”, and he went into this closet and came out after a while with this great big picture of Barksdale. He was the only Confederate general at Gettysburg who did not have a beard or a mustache, and again he told me that I looked like him, and I said, “I’m complimented”. He then asked me if I would like the part! (laughs). It took a long time to be produced but I had the part, and I played it again in Gods and Generals, which followed it.
GC: What was it like having to wear that beard?
BB: That was probably the hardest part of all of it, having to wear that beard. I was with the makeup department a little more than two hours every day just for the beard alone. I had my hair dyed too. That beard was laid on with these panels of webbing, and then hair by hair, and you may laugh, it was put on, but it was Yak hair. Your beard hair has a little different texture than the hair on your head, sometimes its a lot coarser; I know mine is, and I’ve got a white beard now. The hair is also much stiffer. So that’s what it was, Yak hair. He wore a very long beard, which I think was about to there (points to an area on his chest). It was awkward at first, like when eating lunch, it was often that I would find half my lunch in my beard. I’ve worn my own beard myself, so I know. At lunchtime, I would have them take off the mustache part. That was probably the longest time because it was so extensive, but I was happy with it because they were really trying to reach for an authenticity. It’s a unique period in history with men’s facial hair. Prior to that, men didn’t wear beards. All our colonial forefathers didn’t wear beards. Then somewhere around the mid-19th century, facial hair started coming in, like we have in the 20th century. Now we’re back to what you guys are wearing. It’s funny at that time, being out on such long, arduous campaigns, after a while it was a drag to have to shave. Imagine a cold shave, with not necessarily having hot water available, and a straight razor. There were clean-shaven officers and men too, sort of like the times we are now living in.
GC: One last question, and it has been beaten to death, I know, so if you don’t want to answer it, that’s okay. The Last Full Measure, any chance at all that it will be made?
RM: This is where I find that I kind of laugh—I laugh at the people who should know better, who say with great authority, “This film will never be made.” Maybe they have a direct line to the Almighty, I don’t (laughs). I know that making Gods and Generals was miraculous, making Gettysburg was miraculous, like any of the films in that genre that we could talk about, whether its Glory, or you name the title, even The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are not films that are talked about. There is nobody at a studio meeting in Hollywood who goes into their weekly meetings and says, “Does anybody have a Civil War project today?” It does not happen that way. So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.
GC: Where were you when you heard the news that the scenes you filmed would not be making it into the theatrical cut? What was going through your mind?
CC: I think I was back in New York and Ron called me and I think he sent me a note. It was a long time ago, but it was nice of him to contact me and let me know. I have friends who have shown up at the opening of films thinking they’re going to watch their work, only to be shocked as they slowly realize they are no longer in the film. It could be an awkward moment trying to explain to your date, “I swear. I was in that movie! Don’t leave…”. Only two people in fifteen years of being an actor have contacted me personally with “bad” news. George Clooney let me know I didn’t get a part I auditioned for in something he was producing and Ron Maxwell let me know they had to cut the Booth subplot. It’s just the right thing to do and shows a lot of class. It sucked to be cut out, but I totally understood why. It’s the nature of the business. I have gotten pretty good at not personalizing what happens in show business.
GC: Lastly, aside from Gettysburg which you have invested so much time in, which is your favorite battle? Who is your favorite general? And why?
JDP: I dearly love Antietam. It’s so quiet and non-commercial there, a stark contract to many things about Gettysburg. Watching the sun set from Little Round Top is always awesome, but watch the sun come UP from the area of Burnside’s Bridge, and now you’re talking my language. The area of the Cornfield there always gives me goosebumps, and I can’t help when walking the length of the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) and just nearly tearing up as I look around an envision all those dead young boys of both sides that were in and around that. Because of my interest in the cavalry, another favorite field is Brandy Station. For us “Cav” folks, Brandy is the Motherload. There, the cavalry of both sides brought “Thunder on the Plains.” When I’m standing up on Buford’s Knoll or near Fleetwood Heights, nothing else in the world matters at that moment. If you asked others about my favorite general, they’d all probably assume John Buford. And they’re probably right. I admire the guy. Soft-spoken and reserved, but he’d dangle you from the nearest locust tree if he suspected you just didn’t smell right. I’d have loved to have been on a battlefield with him. I also like Winfield Hancock. Guy always had a clean white shirt on no matter what, and he could swear a blue streak said to have made flower wilt at his feet, and if any ladies had been present they’d have fainted dead away. His men felt invincible near him, and that fella would have been one to have shared a wee nip with. I bet he had stories. I also like to study the cads, the scoundrels. Speaking of having a whiskey with someone, Dan Sickles would probably be the ultimate party dude. And a fellow like Judson Kilpatrick fascinates me. Snarky, shrill, but hell-bent-for-leather. It’s why Sherman wound him up and turned him lose. Kilpatrick had a habit of getting just about everyone and everything around him send to Providence, but his personal traits are both confusing and fascinating. Truly, I like ‘em all. Everytime I discover an officer or common soldier with an interesting story, I just have to know more. That’s what keeps this so exciting and endless – there are quite literally millions of stories out there, and millions more to find. Among those millions of stories, our To Appomattox series will bring some of them to people’s living rooms – and hopefully their hearts. It is there that the seed of curiosity is born.
GC: After all the hours of writing this series, have you developed any personal favorite characters?
MFB: I was reared to believe William Sherman was insane and evil. After writing this, I’ve grown quite fond of the general and am very sympathetic to him. Back when this was a play, I approached Lee and Grant the way I was taught: Lee was the greatest American ever; Grant was a drunk and a butcher. I have no greater respect for an American hero than I do for Ulysses S. Grant. Funny, though, it’s the characters I couldn’t tell the stories of (no room) that have become my favorites. There’s John Sedgewick, there’s Nathan Bedford Forrest, and my very favorite, Gouverneur K. Warren. In the latter’s case, I’ve begun writing a play, a courtroom drama, entitled Inquiry based on the Warren’s Court of Inquiry that convened on January 7, 1880. Also, there’s a movie in the illustrious life of Dan Sickles.
Thanks for participating! To view the complete list of interviews, click here!
Upcoming Awards Voting
“Picture of the Year”
- Voting opens December 5th
“Idiots of the Year”
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