I know what you’re thinking: you’re the biggest Civil War buff on the planet, right? You consider yourself a hardcore fanatic, who eats, sleeps, and breathes Civil War. Well, maybe there are a few things for you to ponder before you declare yourself king. Reenactors notwithstanding, because those people really are in a world of their own, this list is designed to draw the line between the casual reader/enthusiast and the obsessed!
Part of the reason why I started “The Copperhead Chronicles”, many postings of which having to do with more of the politics than the actual upcoming Civil War film that led to its creation, and have posted articles like this, was to expand our knowledge on a subject that very rarely gets any mention, or taught in schools, if not for maybe a one sentence fragment in the biased history textbooks we make our young students slave over. This subject is a general anti-war, anti-Lincoln movement in the northern states, more specifically falling to a political group known as the Copperheads, which will have prominence in Ron Maxwell’s film, slated to begin production this month. Many in this ultra-politically correct world cannot fathom any northerner being against the so-called “Great Emancipator” or his little war, and unfortunately, many do not even get the chance to give it much thought. Proponents of the Copperheads have been buried and kept out of sight in the historical record. George Brinton McClellan, an eventual governor of New Jersey, the ill-fated, egotistical Union General who ran for president against Lincoln in 1864 as a Copperhead supported candidate, has been relegated to nothing more than a caricature of how to not conduct a military campaign. Meanwhile, another one of the movement’s leaders, Clement Vallandigham, has become just “that guy who accidentally shot himself to death while trying to prove a point in a courtroom in 1871″.
Many thanks to a regular commenter here on this blog, “Gettysbuff”, for passing along this poem. It was written by an anonymous soldier in the 6th New York Heavy Artillery. It is a rare look we have at some disillusionment in the Union ranks, as here we appear to have a soldier that is both a Copperhead and a fighting man, which is pretty ironic. It seems he is a little annoyed at the fact that his army is losing so many men, the result of poor leadership, and he has been called out and insulted for speaking out against the war. We never really think about this much, at least with Union soldiers. Often times we see portrayals of the Confederates being the ones who are frustrated and reeling, but that is not the case here. However, it is noted that even with all of these feelings, he still returned to the army, because above all, even with disagreements, saving the Union is his ultimate goal. Below is the explanation of the poem, as well as this soldier’s now immortal words:
Lincoln, To Appomattox, and Copperhead are just a few names of Civil War film or television projects being thrown around this winter, with filming either scheduled to begin or end somewhere around this coming spring and summer. However, there is another one that is flying under the radar, titled, 1863, which is something that we will be following very closely on this blog, along with Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead. Because the only information of this new project has come from this blog, I thought it would be best to actually conduct an interview with the screenwriter and producer, Justin Dombrowski, an enthusiastic and energetic Civil War buff who has been so busy lately that the “clutches of hell” would not allow for this interview to have taken place any sooner.
There may be people wondering why they should get excited about this venture, because there are no major names surrounding it as of yet, and they might not have heard of the writer. All I can say is, have faith. This project has legs and will be hitting pre-production before you know it. The very experienced actor and historian, Ed Mantell, who helped me to identify several World War II uniforms a few weeks ago, is also on hand as a co-producer. I have read the powerful script, and I will speak for most when I say it is going to come as a pleasant surprise when all is said and done. I speak to Justin on an almost daily basis, as he has filled me in on the goings-on behind trying to get a film off the ground. This has been very enlightening for me personally, because I have seen the tremendous amount of work that goes into making even a lower budget, independent film, much less a $50-million Hollywood epic. For this interview, I had the pleasure of asking Justin a multitude of questions concerning what goes into writing a screenplay, what his inspiration is, and much more in our conversation below:
While I have not been following the production of Lincoln as much as I would like to be, I do have a source on the cast that says the production is in need for Civil War reenactors in their twenties, for filming in November. He tells me that he met two during rehearsal yesterday that really wanted to work, but were older than the specific need. For anyone that has studied the Civil War, this is not surprising, as most of the soldiers were young men and boys, which only added to the tragedy as casualty figures came in. If you are interested in taking part, please visit the Virginia Film Office website for more information, and you can apply by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, but please, only apply if you fit the need required.
This could be a great opportunity for young reenactors to work with one of the greatest directors of all-time, Steven Spielberg, as well as an all-star cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, as well as Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and Hal Holbrook, among others.
That’s all for now, folks. Just wanted to lend a hand!
While I do not want to jinx anything, the first half of this twelve week-long course that I am teaching could not have gone any better. The students I have genuinely seem to be interested in the material, and I can tell because they ask questions throughout. Having taught CCD, either as a substitute or regular teacher for nearly six years, it really is not as hard as you think to be able to tell if a student cares. As you may gather, not many cared about the religious themed material I used to teach, and it got so boring that in the end, I stopped using the book all together, and instructed my students at the time to not even bother bringing there’s to class, a big no-no for an after-school Catholic program. That was my first taste of teaching, and I guess you can say that it was not a horror story as others might tell you. After all, it was a volunteer job, and I have a personal motto that states very simply, “I don’t do what I don’t want to do.” In other words, unless it is for my paying job (which thankfully involves hockey and no complaints), if I am volunteering and am being forced to do something that I don’t like or think is wrong, I’m just not going to do it. I learned a lot in those six years, such as what teaching methods will and will not work, and I must say it has helped me along the way.
Let’s get real here: not one student I ever taught over there ever really cared about religion. I have also been down that road, and still am, to a degree, so I related to them. That is why I decided to change everything around in my last year. I taught lessons on exorcisms and mysteries of our religion, such as the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail, which I, along with my students, actually found interesting, mainly because it was something different. Then when January came around, I tried a five-week lesson called “Religion and the Civil War”, which was really my only way to tie in and teach my favorite subject. I figured, “Well, the generals were religious. Bingo, now its relevant!” The students also enjoyed this, at least that’s what they told me to my face. When that was done, I asked what else they wanted to learn about that religion figured into in some way, and they said the Holocaust. So that’s what we learned for the next three weeks. This was the only time I ever really felt a connection, and actual brainwaves being put to work.
At this school, with the Civil War elective, the students are completely the opposite. Again, I don’t want to jinx anything, but they are well-behaved and actually want to learn, which as any teacher will say, makes things go a lot smoother. I have several students who have been to battlefields and forts, a few that have read books on the subject, and even one who has seen Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. Just by the questions they are asking, I can tell that they really want to learn more. As of last week, we have finished the major battles and campaigns through Antietam, and this Wednesday comes a lesson on Fredericksburg. Because classes are only 40 minutes, and my lessons are designed to run that long, I was upset that at first, because I did not think I would be able to show any of the scenes from G & G, which pretty much go right along with what I teach about the battle. Then I thought for a moment: this is a private school, we can do things differently here. So I asked the principal for permission to keep the students after class for an hour (this class is the last one of the day, so it works out), if they get a permission slip signed by a parent, and show all the scenes involving the battle of Fredericksburg. She said yes, and I handed them out two weeks ago. Last week, 10 out of the 12 students brought them in with “Yes” circled, and the other two say they are bringing them in this week. So, I guess they really do care if they are willing to stay in school for an extra hour. I also said they could bring in snacks, and one of the parents even volunteered to have her son bring in stuff for the entire class.
One more thing before I wrap it up, and that is during week one, when I was showing them pictures of some of the generals, they were really taken aback by the extreme (and sometimes comical) facial hair that some of them had. As a joke, I said that if anyone could grow a beard by the end of the trimester, they would get extra credit points on their next quiz. Immediately, two of them tried to explain that the peach fuzz they had on their lip was a beard, which did not sell me, but three weeks later, a student walked in with an enormous fake beard on. It was really quite funny to see, so yes, he got some bonus points on that week’s quiz.
In honor of the 150th anniversary, this blog is going to keep the Civil War related goodies coming for the foreseeable future. With the release of Gods and Generals now less than a month away, I envision a lot of discussion on this board about the film we have waited eight years to see, in its entirety. Until then, please load up some photo paper into your printers and enjoy this little feature I was toying around with. How cool would baseball cards of our favorite Civil War generals be? Perhaps a company will produce a special series down the line, but until then, we have these two, of Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman, both front and back:
In perhaps my favorite quote of the thousands that have echoed to us in the last hundred and fifty years, Lee perfectly grasps how most generals felt during the War. In the glory of his victory at Fredericksburg over Ambrose Burnside’s Union Army, and seeing wave after wave of Federal troops cut down by Longstreet’s infantry at the stone wall of Marye’s Height, Lee uttered his most famous line. Basically what he is saying is that war would be enjoyable (even fun) if so many people did not have to die.
Considered a hero by some and terrorist by others, this quote from Sherman is one of my other favorites. Infamous for his campaign where he marched from Savannah, Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean, burning and destroying everything in his path, he knew what he was doing was cruel, but he realized that this might have been the only way to put an end to the war that claimed over 600,000 lives.
These cards were photo-shopped in a 2.5 x 3.5 inch format, just like sports cards are. If you really would like to print them out and copying from here is not working, please email me and I will send you the file. Gluing the two sides back to back will produce a real card feel. Enjoy!
I was originally going to put something up tomorrow, but with two classes and the NHL Playoffs rolling around, I wanted to write something now while I have time. For many of us, this anniversary will be a once in a lifetime commemoration, because some of us may not be around for the 200th!
So here it is, the countdown just hours away from completion. Some have spent the last few years coming up with ways to remember this monumental anniversary of the most important and tragic event in America’s history. The war that started out as a glory-hunting quest quickly became a bloodbath, with 600,000 American soldiers being killed over a four-year span, and an additional 2,000,000 more being wounded. I have only been counting down for the last few months, but it has probably been some of the most enjoyable time I have spent blogging on this website. I can safely say I have never met so many interesting people than I have with reenactors, history buffs, and enthusiasts alike in covering the Civil War. From actors to extras, to humble historians like me, I am deeply grateful to be able to write for you all, and be able to correspond about our favorite historical subject.
4:30 a.m tomorrow morning will mark exactly 150 years ago to the minute that Confederate forces under General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard opened fire on Major Robert Anderson’s Federal forces occupying Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The barrage itself lasted more than 34 hours, and surprisingly did not result in a single death on either side, though there were 15 casualties. In fact, the only two soldiers to die that day were killed on accident, when after Anderson surrendered the fort, he asked permission to fire a cannon salute before lowering the flag. His request was granted, and when the salutary shots were fired, the cannon exploded and killed two gunners—the first deaths of the American Civil War. This spirited little attack was seen as an act of war by the American government, and prompted President Lincoln’s calling of 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion.
The great irony of the attack, which would only foreshadow similar ones, was the relationship between Beauregard and Anderson. While at West Point, Beauregard had Anderson as a professor, and the two remained close friends to the point where their families even knew each other. When the Creole southerner sent Anderson a letter, begging him to surrender so he would not have to fire on his friend, his wife baked a pie and sent it along. Anderson accepted and ate the desert, but declined the surrender. This was the beginning of old friends fighting old friends, and even brothers fighting brothers.
Politicians on both sides thought that the war would be a brief one, perhaps a day or a month. The North yelled, “On to Richmond!” and felt that if the two armies converged, the South would see their might and surrender their arms without even firing a shot. The South felt that “one Johnny could lick ten Yankees” and that the North had no chance. This willingness for glory and war has to be the saddest and most traumatic example of what happens when cooler heads do not prevail in American history. How anyone can look at this picture below, of a dead 14-year old Confederate soldier and think war is glorious, is beyond me.
Here he is, lying dead in a trench. What is his name? Where did he come from? Did his family ever receive word of his death? Do we know anything about him? No, all we know is that this boy, dead in a trench, a result of the Battle of Spotsylvania, fought for something he believed in, whether or not you can agree with the Confederate point of view. How this country did not learn from this, and continues to fight wars to this very day is mind-boggling.
The archives of the Civil War are littered with such pictures, some of which are not as saddening, and some of which even eclipse the depravity of this great conflict. We must thank the likes of Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, among others, who took the first pictures in North American history, of dead bodies on a battlefield. For the first time ever, the general public could witness the horrors of war. Antietam would be the first of such battles, with areas such as the Dunker Church, “Bloody Lane”, and Cornfield being the first pictures taken.
And so with this anniversary now upon us, let us take time to not only remember those that fought and died, but to celebrate their bravery. We must all ask ourselves if we could march shoulder to shoulder across an open field, and face the fire of a thousand rifles aimed at our heads. For most of us, the answer will be “No”, and for some, they would think they are brave enough. I am in the middle, and cannot say what I would do, though I would like to think I would be able to. All we can do now is keep their memory alive, to look back on a time and group of men that history textbooks today give merely a footnote, a terrible injustice. It is up to us, to inform others of what these brave soldiers did, and how what they accomplished helped shape the nation we have today. Take the next four years to visit battlefields closest to you, or maybe make a road trip out of it. Unfortunately, it is not likely that I will get to Manassas in July for the anniversary of the first battle of the war, but I will be visiting Antietam and Gettysburg, no doubt, though I will shy away from visiting on the exact dates—the towns will be swamped with tens of thousands of spectators.
To the souls of all who died in these four terrible years, rest in peace.
There are many reasons why I will never forget this interview with Patrick Gorman, one being because we conducted it close to midnight. Because of conflicting schedules, me coaching hockey and having classes, and Patrick tied up with auditions and work, we decided to just get it done, even though it was so late. This is also the first time I had ever conducted an interview through Skype, and Patrick turned on his camera so I could actually see him. It was almost like watching a television special, because he was very candid and actually seeing him made it like a real conversation.
Patrick played Confederate General John Bell Hood in both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, and the two of us almost met about ten years ago, as I explain below. Having gotten his start in the Robert Redford film Three Days of the Condor in 1975, he has since been in over sixty films, television specials, and episodes of popular shows such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Ghost Whisperer, and The Drew Carey Show. For someone as accomplished as him, it was hard to believe how nice and easy going he was. We ended up talking about hockey when the interview was complete, after he asked about how the team I coached is doing (and you know me, I’ll talk hockey with anyone!). He asked me to email him a few questions the day before, so he could get ready, but once we began talking, it was about twenty minutes before I even go to ask one, and that is great—for some reason, interviews always go better when you don’t get to ask the questions you initially jotted down. Patrick ended up covering everything I wanted just on his own, and kept me laughing from start to finish with his stories and observations. He even offered to send me an autograph!
PG: I recently got Skype for rehearsals for a vampire film I did in Montana. (laughs) And you know, I’m here, they were there, and we had to rehearse some of the scenes before we went to film, and that was the first time I used it.
GC: It’s very good for interviews or just conversations. People have business meetings from home now. They can just sit in front of the computer rather than go to the office.
PG: Yeah, and you have to get a camera too. They don’t cost hardly anything.
GC: Smile right now, I’ll take your picture and have that for the blog.
PG: (laughs) Alright!
PG: So, Greg, you have a blog? What do you do, you write Civil War stuff?
GC: Actually, it started out as just hockey, and I thought I could survive only on that, but then when news of the Gods and Generals Director’s Cut came out, I started covering that and adding more Civil War articles, and hits went from about 200 a day to more than 500.
PG: Well, I just got on the Facebook myself. I did a film a few years ago, a USC thesis film, but it was a real fancy, complete production—ten days on location in Pennsylvania, and I didn’t take a camera or have any production shots. Now they were all very young people and I asked if anyone had any shots because I wanted to have some for souvenirs. They said, “We’re going to put everything on Facebook.” and I said, “Face-what?”. Eventually I got on there, and what happened is that I started getting these friend requests from Civil War reenactors, which is nice because I know a lot of them, and I was invited back to Gettysburg the first year after for the big reenactment. Everyone else was working but me, so I was the only one that showed up (laughs). But I had a great time, and made a lot of friends.
GC: I actually wanted to tell you something about a reenactment—you and I almost met ten years ago. I was ten years old and just becoming a Civil War buff, and my parents gave me a trip to Gettysburg for my birthday, since I was born on July 2, the actual anniversary of the battle. I had a camera, was sitting up in the bleachers, it was about a hundred degrees out, and they announced on the loudspeaker that an actor from the film would be there. I didn’t know who it was, and I just took the picture, but just a few weeks ago, when I was looking through the photo album, sure enough, it was you, in your Confederate uniform. (Pictured below)
PG: You will have to send me that or make a copy of it, and I’ll autograph it and send it back to you!
GC: I definitely will!
PG: Yes, please do, because they are fun to have. These reenactments are a lot of fun, and I have always been a history buff. Most serious actors are, because you never know who you are going to play, or what time in history it is, and so ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated with history. The Civil War has always been interesting because I had ancestors that were a part of it, and I grew up playing with a Yankee infantry officer’s dress sword, and I had a .36 caliber Colt revolver with “CSA” carved on the grip. So I grew up playing with those artifacts, and I hate to say it, but I have no idea what happened to them. I left home, I was in the military, in Europe for several years, and by the time I came back, all that stuff was gone. It’s a crime, but anyway, the Civil War, it is neat to have a picture of that.
GC: Normally I try to be professional, and never ask for an autograph, but since you offered, I’ll never turn that down!
PG: Listen, because of this Facebook, I get about 40 or 50 friend requests a day.
GC: You still haven’t got to mine yet. I must be on backlog. (laughs)
PG: I am 600 behind, and I have to accept them all individually because I don’t have a fan club manager. I’m not a star, I’m a journeyman actor, but among the reenactors, I’m a star! (laughs) That is very rewarding because I wanted to become a star, I still want to and be a millionaire and all that, but I’m just a journeyman actor. I had a good experience with the reenactors because when I arrived for the pre-read at Gettysburg, what I would do was get my horse and put my spurs on and practice getting on with the saber and the whole thing, and I would go out and visit the reenactment camps because they were there living the life they did in the day and I would put on my General Hood accent (speaks with southern accent) and I would go out and visit them, and talk to them, and I’d be invited to the fireside to have a few beers or some wine and talk, and I got a lot of stories and a lot of feelings. I had read everything I could about Hood, at least what was available at the time, but then I got a lot of anecdotal stuff, and atmosphere from the reenactors that I never could have gotten from any book. By the time I went before the cameras, I was really very comfortable in Hood’s skin, and so I owed a lot to them. They invited me back, and it was so much fun, getting to ride on horseback and saluting everybody and leading the troops, actually participating in a couple of cavalry melees, it was like a childhood dream.
GC: Now I have read, perhaps it was even on your website, that the scene you were in, right after you got shot when you are lying in the hospital, took several hours to film even though it is only about five minutes in the movie. Why was that?
PG: It’s even less than that. That particular scene was interesting and the most difficult one for me. It was a short scene and it was filmed in the real barn, and I was on a door that they used as a stretcher, and of course Hood is on laudanum and is drifting in and out of consciousness and is in a lot of pain. The difficulty of playing that scene anyway, when you’re on drugs, it is easy to lose focus and all that is necessary for dramatic stuff that needs to be in the scene, and on top of that, in the middle of almost every take, a bird would swoop through because it was a real barn with lots of nests and lots of animals like horses and cows, so we knew there would be sound problems. It took about seven hours to film that scene, and it was exhausting. We did so many takes, and I don’t even know how many takes there were—it was the most I had ever been involved in. It was over 30 or 40. And I had gotten a lesson from Gene Hackman, who had said, “Never get comfortable in a scene”. Before that scene I thought that I was going to be laying down and kind of out of it, so I picked up a rock outside and put it in my underwear, right on the crease, and so every time we started to do the scene I would roll over on that rock so I would get a sharp jab, and that kept me focused. I think the scene worked very well. Ironically, I was very emotional in that scene than the take that they used. I wanted to show, because Hood was a fighting general and a combat guy, someone who went in front of his troops and everyone loved him—a fierce man, and I wanted to show that other side of him, because he did love those troops and he let down his guard. He is not so much the macho guy. Ron Maxwell kind of fought me on it because he did not want me to be as emotional, and of course, he was right, because if you remember in the film, the scene preceding this is the one with Chamberlain and the Irish sergeant, and it’s a very emotional scene, and you never follow an emotional scene with another emotional scene, so I learned that lesson too late, but the take that he used worked anyway. That’s a little history for you, because not that many people know about that, except every reenactor whose ever talked to me! (laughs)
GC: That’s why I love these interviews, because you find out these little stories, like what you did with the rock. I know actors do strange things to make a performance, and that is just very interesting.
PG: If you’re sitting in a chair or next to a piece of furniture, you lean on the edge of it; many actors have put rocks in their shoes. Charles Laughton did that in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but he did it for his character, cause of the way he had to walk, not so much to keep him focused, but those are little tricks and they’re not without value. They’re artificial in a way, but they serve their purpose.
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: Every actor from these movies that I have talked to has each had such a different way that they were discovered and hired to be in the film. Yours was like a freak accident. You open up the page, and there it is.
PG: There it is. I said, “I got to get involved with this film”. I had ancestors that fought on both sides, and I’m one of these actors that has always been in costume films, even when on stage, I have always been in costume. Costumes and me just go together, and that’s the same for lots of actors, but I’ve always been very comfortable in period stuff. Of course, I have done a lot of period plays and films, television too, and I like it a lot. I knew I had the face for this role, come on! Another interesting little story about when I arrived for the table reading for Gettysburg, I hadn’t worked with any of these actors and there were a lot of them at this long table read, and in between there would be a break. Tom Berenger, who I never met before, I noticed he had brought a bunch of boxes and he was taking out swords and giving them to the different generals, and I thought, “Oh gee, that was neat that he went to the props department, and went through the trouble. That was really nice of him.” Well…he hadn’t gone to props: on his own dime, he had went out and bought, for every general in his corp, a sword and engraved on the blade, “To…”, and in my case, “To General Hood, From General Longstreet”. The blades were all 1862 blades—the hilt and scabbard were reproductions, but it was an actual blade. That had to cost him hundreds of dollars, at the very least. That was the best present I had ever gotten, and he did that for everybody. Tom really made the Confederate officers’ corp bond together. Every Friday night at the Farnsworth House in Gettysburg was the Confederate officers’ club, where we all got together for dinner, drinks, and a lot of fun.
GC: One other thing I wanted to ask you about, and I brought this up to Bo Brinkman, was the beard situation in Gettysburg, and how people tend to poke fun at them. Yours looks really good, so I can’t tell if it is real or not.
PG: Well, mine looked good because it was real. Here’s the thing I always say about that, and I understand what people say, especially about Berenger’s beard, which was very expensive and it looked bad, I know it looked bad, but listen. In defense of us all, well not me, I had my own beard and it looked great (laughs) even though it wasn’t long enough. But anyway, if you look through the Mathew Brady pictures or any history book, and you look carefully at the beards on half the bearded men, they look fake, they look phony, they look like bad theatrical beards. That was the odd style they had. So I say, “Come on guys, give us a break here.” Just look at the pictures. There were a lot of funny looking beards…there were a lot of funny looking people too. (laughs)
GC: How long did it take you to grow the beard?
PG: I already had a short beard when I got the part and they wanted me to shave it to make the long beard, and I said, “Look. We have a couple of months before we begin filming. In two or three months, I can have a really good beard.” They almost made me shave it, but I insisted on keeping it. The beard was not as long as Hood’s was, but the actor in me was saying this: We have two pictures of Hood, one pre-Gettysburg and one after, when he had put on weight towards the Atlanta Campaign, after he had lost his leg and the use of his arm, and I’m saying, he could have trimmed his beard, because I had a new uniform. The pictures of his uniform before Gettysburg didn’t look very sharp or very tailored, but in the film I had a new uniform. Now, my justification was that he was in Richmond and was courting this woman who was the belle of the city, and he had asked her to marry him a couple of times, and she was playing hard-to-get, so I figured, he got a new uniform and trimmed his beard, so he could ask her to marry him. That was my justification. Whether it’s historical or my imagination…it could have happened. We don’t know. But back to the hair thing, it’s tricky. Just last week, I had grown my beard out, and was letting it grow and got a couple of jobs. I am going from general to god now, because I played Poseidon in a commercial (pictured below), but I had the beard and I think that is partly why I got the part. I have played a lot of kings, and I can play that regal style, the leader. And so, I get the job, and when I go to prosthetics to get armor and stuff like that, they shaved my beard. They then put on this huge, long, beard with a wig and everything, and it actually looks great. I’ll send you a picture of that, just for fun. But it’s better to have your own hair. I’ve done films with facial hair, and if you’re on horseback and in the sun and sweating, it’s always a problem, especially with the mustache.
GC: I would like to ask you now about Richard Jordan. I don’t know if you had the chance to really work with him, but he was such a great actor who unfortunately passed away right after filming completed.
PG: I often had dinner or breakfast with him. I had known Richard from New York. When I came back from France after six years (after I got out of the military), I studied theater and acted over there, and in French. I was a circus clown and a dancer. When I came back to New York, he was the leading actor with the APA Company, and I saw him perform a lot on Broadway and off-Broadway, and in the New York Shakespeare Festival, where I had also worked, so I knew him already, not as a buddy or anything like that, I was just familiar with him. Then during filming, we got to be very friendly and talked a lot. He was a wonderful man and a great actor. One of my favorite films he was in, was The Yakuza, with Robert Mitchum, directed by Sidney Pollack, who I have worked for. I had dinner with Richard sometime after he had the aneurysm, after Gettysburg was over, and he was alright—the operation was successful and they removed the aneurysm and he lived. He could no longer remember things, and he couldn’t write. It was almost like being dyslexic, or worse, and so the things that he did since he was a writer, a director, and an actor who had a great career, he couldn’t do them anymore. Now, I believe, and a lot of people have said this, that he willed himself to die. Someone closer to him might dispute it, but that’s what I think he did, because he had nothing left to do. Of course, the performance he left was a very touching, wonderful performance. It’s the role I wanted, but I was very happy playing Hood. It was more that was right for me, just as the role for Richard was right for him.
GC: Now I want to ask you about the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut. Do you have any scenes coming in?
PG: In the film Gettysburg, everything that I did stayed in the film and was not cut. In Gods and Generals, I did not have very much to do, and there was one scene, maybe two, at Antietam that I’m in that may be in the Cut. I have not seen the Director’s Cut for either of the films, so I don’t know.
(We then have a brief discussion about Blu Ray players, and how he feels he is in a new world because of such advances in technology . Patrick noted, “I feel better on horseback than with a cell phone.”)
PG: I noticed in your email that you wanted to ask me about working for Ron Maxwell, and I just want to say that Ron was amazing. You have to understand this, that Ron had The Killer Angels for 18 years. He had that and optioned it, and tried to get it done for 18 years—that’s mind-boggling to keep that interest for so long. Of course, without Ted Turner, he still might be trying to do it. Those two films will be his legacy, and they both wanted to do The Last Full Measure, but Gods and Generals lost so much money. I sat next to Turner all day, when we filmed the Vaudeville sequence that he made his cameo in, and so I talked to him for pretty much all day, and one of the things he said was, “If we break even, or even if we don’t lose too much money, as soon as we’re finished, we’ll start The Last Full Measure.” but of course, it lost a lot of money. I’ve often thought, even while we were filming it, that it would have made a better mini-series, like Band of Brothers, because there is so much information. It’s great for someone who loves the Civil War, who is an aficionado, and reenactors will watch anything, and even though I’m not a reenactor, I will watch anything on the Civil War…even some of the bad stuff they have on the History Channel (laughs). Some of their stuff is good, and some of it’s not so good. But anyway, it’s too bad, because to the general public, one bearded guy giving a speech to the troops looks like another bearded guy, unless you know who they are and what the situation is. The general public just went (makes motion of clicking “off” on a remote). They couldn’t go for it, but I understand that.
GC: What do you think was the biggest reason why it failed, if you had to pick one above all others?
PG: Well, that. There is just too much to cover. Gettysburg was much more successful in that the given circumstances around the battle concerned the personal relationship of those generals between one another. That’s why women rated that film very highly. Originally, the producers were afraid that women wouldn’t be interested, but that wasn’t true because it is really about the relationships of those guys, those generals. It was about that one event, and of course it’s a huge event, but that was the reason why it was successful, that’s my opinion. Gods and Generals covered the beginning of the war up until the battle of Gettysburg, which is so many events. You could make a movie about a hundred different events in that period of time. It was just too much for the general public to grasp.
GC: I agree. Even Jeff Shaara, who I also interviewed, said, “You can’t make a ten hour movie, but you can make a ten hour miniseries.”
PG: Yes, exactly, and they cut out so much. I was there when they were filming the John Wilkes Booth scenes and there’s more of the Antietam, just so many stories. One of the more difficult things, because I’m interested in it, is the average person who writes a script, whoever writes it, even a historian, can’t write a story about a battle—you just can’t write a story about a battle. I mean they did Gettysburg, but that’s not what sells it: it’s the guy in the line that is wounded, or runs away and hides, or the guys who get taken prisoner and have to work in the hospital. It’s that individual stuff that makes a story, the individual character, about those people, and the battle is just the given circumstances, and so the stories have to be about people.
GC: Now two weeks ago, when we first got in contact, you said you had auditions. Do you have any upcoming film projects?
PG: (laughs) Well, yes, I’m trying my best to get involved with this new project that’s in development called To Appomattox, [a miniseries].
GC: I was just on their website and that looks like it’s going to be a fantastic series.
PG: They’re going to cover a lot of stuff, and I’ve been talking to one of the writers and producers, and I’ve had some contact with him, and he understands that they have an ambitious number of events they have to cover, and they liked what I did as Hood, but he doesn’t figure in this. I’m too old to play Hood now, actually, I was always too old to play Hood, but there is another general, a Yankee this time, that I might get to play. I’m trying to get involved with it, but there’s no promises, no offer. Actors are always looking for work and that’s part of what we have to do, take care of the business side. I have another film that I’m doing at the end of May, that I’m doing in Pennsylvania, a modern, low-budget feature, and I have another day to do my vampire film in Montana! (laughs)
GC: What’s that vampire movie about?
PG: Well, again, this is a bunch of young people starting out that I met in Hollywood, who I gave some advice to and I said, “If you need an old guy, I’ll be glad to do it….but I don’t work for free.” (laughs) It’s a low-budget film, and they have gotten together in Montana and have raised money to film it. It’s a labor of love and it’s fun. I like to do those in between. I’m an actor, I have to act. It’s like, you have to train, you have to keep your hand in, and of course, I’ve been acting since I was four, so that’s a lot of years. I still love to do it, and in the meantime, I do a couple of commercials…like I just played Poseidon, the God of the Sea!
GC: I wanted to ask you one last question. I saw on your website that you’re really into the Japanese culture. Where did that start?
PG: It really started during World War II. I was a little kid and in my town we had a Chinese restaurant, a beautiful place with carved dragons and their characters, and I was always fascinated with that, and then the war with Japan started. I always had a thing about the Japanese swords, and the calligraphy, which I found out later on, they use Chinese characters with Japanese meaning—you have to know at least two thousand of them, even to be able to read a newspaper. They have like three alphabets and then the characters. I don’t know how they learn to do anything but read and write, it’s amazing. I was fascinated with the Japanese, even though they were our enemy and we hated them, but there was that fascination, not only with the swords and characters, but with the martial arts. As a little kid, when I grew up, my mother was a dancer, and while I spent a lot of time in Hollywood all my childhood, I grew up in a small agricultural town where there were a lot of rednecks (puts on southern accent) where nobody did tap dancing or any of that sissy stuff—anybody who sang or danced was a sissy. I spent my childhood fighting almost every day after school. I would come home with a bloody nose and this-and-that. And so when I started to see the Japanese, these little guys doing so much, I became interested in the martial arts, but there weren’t any around me. By the time I joined the Navy, I got into Hollywood and I saw that there was a Judo place, and I went there. I learned some from my cousin while I was still in high school and when he got back from WWII, he taught me four Jujitsu techniques, all of which I have actually used in fights. So I became interested in it so early because I hated to get beat up! (laughs) Here’s something else, I started training Aikido in my fifties and that had a major influence on my life because I learned that the technique, the way you address martial arts is very much the way you act. Let me explain: you learn different things for different situations, like if someone punches you this way, there’s a certain kind of kick or grab, and you train, and train, and train, but then the moment that somebody jumps you in the parking lot, you can’t say, “Could you hit me in the left side?” or “Can we go under the light so I can see better?”. This ties into films because acting is the same way—you learn your lines, you study technique, and then all of a sudden you come on the set, usually you don’t get to rehearse with actors. In a movie, you audition, get the part, and show up. You have the night before to learn your lines, or if you’re lucky, a few weeks like Gettysburg, and you show up, and there are the people you’re going to play a scene with. You rarely get a rehearsal. In Gettysburg, we had the table read, and when we got together there would be camera set-ups for lighting, but there weren’t really rehearsals. That was a great lesson, in that I had to deal with whatever was there. I have to know the scene and how it should work out, but you have to be in the moment. I know it sounds like a terrible cliche, but it’s true. The best acting is like that, when you think you’re there. We know it’s a movie, but those great actors are able to do that and suspend belief. Getting back to the martial arts, I’m in my seventies, and I just got my third degree black-belt in Aikido and I seriously continue to train…but I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for 25 years and I still can only speak a little. I’ve actually had some of my calligraphy published in Japan, in magazines. It’s very much a part of my life.
Our conversation continued for another ten minutes where he asked me to tell him a little about myself, and the hockey team I am coaching. It truly was a fascinating evening, which I told him, and was so glad to finally get to speak to him after trying to set this up for weeks. I hope we will remain in contact because he is such a nice guy. Please check out his official website, and also, add him on Facebook. Just remember, he is really popular on the internet, so it may take him a while to respond to your request! Best of luck to Patrick in all of his future ventures!
EDIT (12/1/11): View our second interview here!