The producers of the To Appomattox/ Grant Vs. Lee mini-series project have asked excited viewers to concoct short video notes telling why the series is important to them and why they are looking forward to it. These videos will then be compiled and presented to the prospective network at their next meeting. This is definitely something new and creative, and a great, interactive way to get viewers involved with the production process. Several of the actors have also made videos, including Jason O’Mara and Richard Speight, but the most recent one comes from our friend Patrick Gorman, one of the most underrated character actors out there, who I have had the pleasure of meeting, and interviewing on several occasions for his work as General John Bell Hood in Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. For this series, though, he will be switching sides to play a “Yankee” general, Charles F. Smith. Patrick is also a big history buff who loves the Civil War, and explains in this short video why a mini-series of this magnitude is so important:
On March 13, this blog will be celebrating it’s two year anniversary, and so I thought that would be the perfect occasion for us to have our very first trivia contest! Being that the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut has been such a prominent topic here, the trivia questions will be related to the film. There will be 10, maybe 15 questions, with every answer findable on this site, whether in the many interviews or opinion and news articles located in the archive and Civil War section. Actor Patrick Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood, in both this film and Gettysburg, has kindly agreed to donate an autographed picture, which will be our grand prize.
Taking a break from a busy two days of hockey…
For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me the greatest birthday present a young history buff could have ever wanted, a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I had been into the Civil War since I was six or seven by that point, and it was now time to actually take the trip to see what I had been reading about and watching films about all those years. I am now twenty years old, my birthday being today, falling appropriately on the anniversary of the second day’s fighting, when Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain saved the flank at Little Round Top. I do not believe in reincarnation, but as a strong believer in fate, I do believe there was a reason I was born on this day. It seems like it was just meant to be.
I do not remember everything, because it was such a long time ago, but aside from the heat and tremendous amount of people, I had an incredible time, and attended the 138th anniversary reenactment where we sat on bleachers, baking in the sun for hours. The spaces were crammed, as my knees were in the back of the person in front of me, and the person behind me had their knees dug into my back. When it was over, I walked around the encampments and met all my favorite generals, getting their autographs on postcards. I even got a chance to meet with my favorite general of all, Robert E. Lee (pictured below). Another thing I remember is people talking about the 150th anniversary, twelve years prior, and how special it is going to be. I cannot imagine how crowded the town will be then, but I am going to try my best to get there.
In the town, our hotel was right across the street from the Wax Museum, which had an encampment out front. It was there that I met Major General Isaac Trimble (pictured below), who became my best friend for the three days I stayed there. I visited him every day and he told me stories and introduced me to his staff. We even ran into them at a Friendly’s where they were eating their breakfast. Back at the reenactment, I was talking to a Union artillery soldier, and he offered to give me a spare jacket and let me come on the field, even though I was only ten. I was so excited, but my parents being parents, did not take up the offer. We thanked him and got a picture as well, and he went off to join his unit. It was also at this reenactment that I snapped a picture of Patrick Gorman, who was on hand to portray the same character he played in the film Gettysburg, Confederate General John Bell Hood. I showed him the picture during our interview a few months ago, and he offered to autograph it and send it back, so I sent him a few copies. It is just amazing how things turned out. Little did I know, I would be corresponding on a regular basis with someone I grew up watching in film, and someone I almost met on that day.
On and off for the three days we were there, I adventured around the battlefield, seeing the “real deal”, so to speak. It was such an amazing, and somber experience. I also started a personal tradition of kneeling by the Lewis Armistead monument by “The Angle”, as he had become one of my favorite generals through characterization in the film. Every time I visit, which has been about six times since, I kneel and pause for a few moments by the spot where he was mortally wounded. A few feet from there, I found a bullet lying in the dirt. Despite it being illegal to remove relics, I took it anyway, figuring it would have a good home here with me. It was an unfired minie ball, that popped up after I kicked some dirt around. I almost did a double-take out of sheer disbelief that I actually found something. It was only when I got back home did it set in what this bullet meant to me. Granted, there are thousands available in souvenir shops, but this was something I found on my own, something that was carried by a soldier who fought in that battle. Who was he? What was his name? Did he live or die? Those are all questions I ask myself out of unanswerable curiosity every time I look at it.
All in all, this was a vacation that changed my life. I owe most of that to the film Gettysburg, which I have watched every July for at least the last ten years, but I think the tradition stretches back to when I was seven. I will be unable to get there on the anniversary this year, but will probably go later this month or in August. I may only see the same ol’ sites every time I go, but it is something that means more to me than almost anything else in the world. History is something that can come alive if you actually take the time to visit a historic location or a battlefield, and that holds true for the sleepy town of Gettysburg.
In looking at the two pictures I posted, I do not even recognize that little guy any more. It is amazing how fast time flies, and how quickly these ten years went.
Originally, I had no intentions of publishing this little story here on my blog. I posted it as a Facebook note yesterday afternoon and it was well recieved, so I figured I would give it a go here. It has long been my aspirations to write a novel on the battle of Antietam, or see a film made accurately conveying the horrors of war. Since I am too pressed for time for a book, and short of $50 million for a movie, I will just post these little snippets every once and a while, taking different parts of certain battles, and hopefully bringing them to life for you. I sent this to Patrick Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood in both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, yesterday. He thanked me for sharing it with him and added, “The Bloody Lane is one of those hallowed ground sites; you always a definite vibe different from the rest of the battlefield.” The next time you think you are having a bad day, just think about this.
“Hell at the Bloody Lane”
The Sunken Road, near Sharpsburg, Maryland
September 17, 1862
As the Irish Brigade of the Union made their late morning assault against the Confederate position dug in on a sunken farm lane, chaplain Father William Corby rode up and down the line in the heat of gunfire giving absolution to the soldiers who were marching into the shadow of death. Bullets whizzed past his head as his right hand was raised high, blessing them with the sign of the cross. The men of the so-called “Fighting 69th” knew what they were up against, for the field in front of them was already strewn with dead and dying soldiers. The dead, allotted about the green grass like seeds thrown into a field by a farmer, were literally shredded to pieces. Eyes were still open, for the bullets struck them with such an impact that death would not even allow them a half a second to close them.
Some men prayed, others mumbled incessantly to themselves, sick to their stomachs with fear as they would meet Brigadier General Daniel Harvey Hill’s men who were nearly invisible, waiting for them behind a fence on the bank of a sunken road. The brigade marched forward nonetheless, inspired by their leader, General Thomas Meagher, who galloped in front on a beautiful brown horse. Men fell in their ranks by the hundred as they continued to march, blood spouting into the air, and landing on the faces of the men behind them. Countless men tripped over the fallen bodies of others, most of which were still alive, screaming in agony knowing they would not receive medical attention for hours, if at all. Faces were black with powder, hands burnt from the heated steel of their rifles.
As the Union soldiers closed in on the road, their strength was dwindling. Meagher’s subordinate officer, also on horseback, ventured too far out in front of his men. He turned his horse sideways, to ride across his line, when a cannonball struck the horse and took off its head. The hoofs continued to gallop for another twenty feet, when the destroyed body slammed into the ground, sending the officer off head first, snapping his neck. He stared upwards at the sky, clouded with smoke, as visions of life back on the Emerald Isle danced into his head, until he thought no more.
The Union continued their pressure, and the Confederates picked them off with ease. Cannon shot from artillery a little less than a mile away knocked over men like dominoes. Solid shot bounced off the ground and tore off legs, while shell shot burst upon contact, throwing men backwards into others. The attack began as a complete mess, for the Union soldiers could not even fire back. The men of the Irish Brigade were armed with “buck and ball” ammunition, which comprised of a musket ball and three small pellets. Just like shot-guns, these were ineffective at long range. This was selected personally by Meagher, who wanted to force his men to get so close to the enemy, that the harp design on their green flags would be visible.
As they reached the halfway point, the Confederate soldiers stopped shooting because the Union soldiers were no longer visible. The land where this attack was occurring was rolling farmland, and luckily for the Irish, they were out of sight as they continued their march on a downward dip of land. These two minutes or so allowed them enough time to catch their breath, and when they emerged, they were so close to the Confederates that now it was their time to inflict damage. The troops under Hill were shocked, and before they could fire back, the Union unleashed a barrage of fire that knocked down half of the front row of soldiers. One man, as he tore the cartridge in between his rotting teeth, was hit with splinters in his left eye, when a fence post shattered under the hail of bullets.
The tide of battle had turned, and the Confederates were trapped. With nowhere to go, they kept firing, even as hundreds of men fell backwards into the road, a sight that was beginning to look like a mass grave. Blood spilled and pooled at the bottom, so much so that when one man looked back and saw his wounded brother sitting up against two other dead soldiers, with his intestines in his lap, and left arm located three feet behind him, he ran to him and slipped in the blood. Falling forward, he was impaled on the bayonet of a rifle that had fallen inconveniently pointed upwards; its owner’s head was missing above the jaw. The Union continued to pour fire into them. There were now so many dead bodies in the lane that retreating Confederates could not even run, as they stumbled over the bodies that were beginning to bloat in the midday sun.
Even as they ran, the Union kept shooting, as they would show no mercy in this furious attack. The bullets that spurned from the barrels of their rifles acted as the judge, jury, and executioner for human lives, not taking time to wonder anything about the character of the man they were about to take down. When the smoke cleared, and this portion of the battle was over, 2,600 Confederate soldiers lay dead or dying in the small farm lane that only spanned 800 yards. The Union, meanwhile, lost 3,000. All of this happened in the span of three and a half hours.
The Union claimed victory at the road, but the mass grave of twisted and writhing soldiers caused many to throw up at the sight and smell that was beyond putrid. “We shot them like sheep in a pen,” remarked an attacking Union soldier, “If a bullet missed the mark at first it was liable to strike the further bank, angle back, and take them secondarily.” This was just one small part of the battle that spanned only twelve hours on September 17, 1862, and resulted in a combined 23,000 casualties, the most destructive day in the history of America. The first photographs of dead on a battlefield would be taken at Antietam, and though their morbidity completely grossed out the populace, the war continued for nearly three more years.
For those of you wondering about the promised Ron Maxwell interview, he emailed me a few days ago assuring me he has not forgotten. He is swamped with work right now and will try to get me something next week. Let’s hope for the best!
While I applaud the filmmakers of Gettysburg for finally giving us an accurate depiction of Civil War violence, with plenty of blood, guts, and limbs flying everywhere, I cannot help but feel that the audience was deprived of highly important information, especially if someone was watching this who did not know much about the most important battle in our nation’s most important struggle. For a documentary that came with so much promise and hype, it ultimately failed to deliver, almost mocking the New York Post’s review from this morning that said this documentary “will change the way TV documentaries are made from now on.” If by change, they meant including all of the facts next time, then by all means they are correct.
Despite my disappointment, this was not the worst documentary the History Channel has ever produced (can anything rival Life After People?). It began at such a high level, in tackling an often shunned portion of the battle, which is the Railroad Cut on the first day of the fighting. The combat scenes were hard-hitting and intense, and as I settled down on the couch, I had a smile on my face that this was finally going to be that one Civil War film that was both fair and accurate, yet grizzly in showing the horrors of war, not the Lost Cause fantasy world that some Southern Apologists feel to this day. This foreshadowing was only partially fulfilled. Bullets tore through bodies, cannon balls severed limbs, and shrapnel knocked down rows of lined soldiers. But at the same time, information crucial to understanding this battle at its full capacity was left out. Whether or not this was intentional is beyond me, but had it been included, I would be singing songs of praise right now.
This is not a nitpick here, folks. The information left out includes not one single mention of McPherson’s Ridge, Devil’s Den, or Little Round top, and not one utterance of the names John Buford, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (who saved the Union Army’s flank with a daring bayonet charge), John Bell Hood, Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett, James Kemper, Isaac Trimble, Lafayette McClaws, E. Porter Alexander, J.E.B Stuart, or Winfield Scott Hancock. Other crucial players, such as George Pickett and James Longstreet were mentioned in passing, only once, with them not even being characterized as part of the docudrama aspect of this film. How any motion picture relating to the entire Civil War, let alone this battle, can be made without these men and locations being focused on is incredible.
The one thing I did notice, however, was that the parts of the battle shown in this film (Pickett’s Charge aside) were not depicted at all in Ron Maxwell’s 1993 feature film Gettysburg. While that one drew upon the fighting in the three aforementioned locations, this newer film was about the first day’s fighting in the town, along the Railroad Cut, and Culp’s Hill. At first, I thought that the filmmakers did not want to show anything that was already done, but then I thought that this was a documentary—it is supposed to include everything. Now, for someone who wants to get a perfect picture of what the battle of Gettysburg was really all about, they will have to watch this film along with a nearly five-hour Maxwell version. Spending seven hours viewing films may turn more people off of the Civil War than inspire.
To further reinforce what was left out, there was not even a mention of the fighting at the Peach Orchard and the Wheat field. One could basically argue that this film left out more about the battle than in included, and that is very sad, because it kick’s off the highly anticipated “Civil War Week” on History in a bad way. Tomorrow night’s special is Lee and Grant, and I am almost afraid to watch it.
In getting to the actual information about the parts that were represented, the narrator went out of his way to mention slavery as being the sole cause of the Confederacy’s fighting every chance he could. When profiling William Barksdale, his ownership of 40 slaves was cast into the spotlight, as was a Confederate doctor’s earlier in the program. Another aspect that I would like to critique, regarding a battle scene, was Pickett’s Charge. While ignoring every general present with the exception of Brigadier General Joe Davis, who apparently led the charge all by himself, it showed a group of about ten men marching near the base of a mountain. In reality, the charge comprised of 12,000 men marching on rolling farmland, with no mountain in sight, and no trees except for where the Confederate army deployed from. I understand that they could not use thousands of extras for this small scene, but how about some CGI figures that littered the screen in cheesy overhead shots as troops closed in at the stonewall?
One last item that I question, was the decision the filmmaker’s made to spend a little more than five minutes on the Confederate’s “Rebel Yell”. What was in real life, a shriek to inflict intimidation and fear into the hearts of enemies, was shown in this movie as a bunch of hillbillies with no teeth in their mouth cackling out turkey gobbles. I sat in disbelief that human beings could even make such an atrocious attempt at trying to get it right. While the closeups of rotting teeth and gums were accurate, I felt myself more prepared for Thanksgiving dinner than waiting behind an entrenchment for an enemy to charge and try to kill me. If you DVR’d this special, please hit fast-forward when you get to this part. Die-hard Civil War buffs and historians can just hit delete when you get to the menu.
All was not lost in this film, however. The visual effects and action scenes were top-notch, made even better by a glorious high-definition television. Had everything I mentioned been included, then this would have been a masterpiece. Instead, it slides down the mounting slippery slope of Civil War related movies and television specials that “could have been”. I will give this a rating of 4 out of 10, and make the insignificant suggestion that this should have been at least a two-part series, so that everything could have been covered. There was a lot that was right with this program visually, but even more that was wrong on the fact-side, and I cannot let that slide.
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!
As we near closer and closer to the May 24th release of the Director’s Cuts for both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, I have been trying to track down as many people involved with the films as I could, and while most of you know of my upcoming interview with Patrick Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood, I was able to get another one with Bo Brinkman, who played Robert E. Lee’s aid Major Walter H. Taylor in both films. The reason why I did not get a chance to promote this one is because it happened so quickly. I contacted Bo a few days ago, and he responded to me today with his number, and we agreed to do the interview this afternoon. Very rarely does that happen, and I thank Bo for doing so because my five-days-a-week class schedule really limits the time I have to interview people.
This is really special to me, getting a chance to talk to so many people who I grew up watching. Brinkman’s portrayal of Taylor was something I always noticed, at least in Gettysburg, because I am so fond of Lee, and to see the way these two characters interacted really opened my eyes to what the relationship is between a general and his close staff members. Taylor got plenty of screen time in the first film, and reprised his role in Gods and Generals, though his role was slimmed down. We can only hope that he will be given more screen time in the extended cut, because his acting ability deserves it. He has appeared in ten films since 1988, including An Occasional Hell with Tom Berenger, and Laws of Deception with C. Thomas Howell. I asked him about his filming experiences and much more, in our interview below:
GC: First of all, I want to thank you for the interview and just to say that I grew up watching “Gettysburg”—I think I watched it until the tape wore out, and then “Gods and Generals” of course, and its a great honor to get a chance to talk to some of the actors that I grew up with.
BB: Well, yeah I’ll tell you they’re a great bunch of guys and I stay in touch with some of them, and as a matter of fact, I’m directing a film right now with Morgan Sheppard (Isaac Trimble) who did both films and then Jeremy London (Sandie Pendleton) who was in Gods and Generals.
GC: What’s that film going to be about?
BB: It’s called The Mark, and it’s a movie I wrote about a gambler who disappeared and left his son who was a child, who is played by London, and the old man, Sheppard, is the side-kick to the legendary gambler, and he is trying to help this kid change his life by revealing some secrets he has never told before about his dad. We’ve been shooting it for the last six weeks, we’ve got three more days left on it and it has turned out very well.
GC: That sounds very interesting. I hope it’s on DVD and Netflix will have it because I would like to check it out.
BB: It will be, next year I’m sure.
GC: When were you first offered the role of Major Taylor for “Gettysburg”?
BB: Oddly enough, I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988 because I had two movies there, and Ron Maxwell was at the Carlton Hotel having dinner, and I was with some actor friends and he was watching us, laughing, and he finally waved me over to his table and said, “I directed a movie called The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, with Dennis Quaid, and you remind me of him.” So I said, “Oh, well he’s my cousin, my first cousin.” He started laughing and says, “You know, I’m making a little Civil War movie and I would love to find a place in it for you.” And I said, “Wow, great!” As it turned out, we both lived in New York City, and so we both hung out in Cannes for a couple of days, and we got together in New York and started hanging out in the city, and then a couple of years later when the movie got ready to roll, he offered me the part of Walter Taylor.
GC: Now, you said that Maxwell said “a little Civil War movie”. Did you have any idea that it would turn out to be as epic a film as it ended up being?
BB: I had no idea. He gave me a script, and I thought it was a pretty big script, but yeah, that’s what he said at first: “I’m making a little Civil War movie”. He had been working on it for years and years and years, and he had gotten very close many times to getting it made, and then really what happened was that he met Ted Turner, and he made it happen for him.
GC: Did you know anything about Taylor or the Civil War before Gettysburg?
BB: Not a lot. I had not done a lot of research, other than what I studied in college, and I really did not know until I started to delve into research for the film. It captivated me for years because I love the history, and I thought that Walter Taylor was a fascinating historical character.
GC: How much research and preparation did you do to get ready for this role?
BB: Wow, we’re talking 17 years ago, but I read My Four Years with Lee, that Taylor had written. I read everything I could on Walter Taylor, who was an amazing man. I did a lot of research because I did not want to go in unprepared, and I knew I was going to be up against a lot of actors that were going to be very prepared, like Tom Berenger and those guys, and I really wanted to be on top of it when I started working with them.
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: This may be a tough question, but in your opinion, which one was more accurate?
BB: They were both very accurate because at the time Lee was at Gettysburg, he was ill, so Sheen was kind of playing reluctant to go into war, and he was also playing his illness a little bit, because historically, all during the battle, Lee was not at a hundred percent. Some people feel that he gave this vague performance of Lee, but he did not have a vague performance at all. He was playing Lee’s illness, and Lee was a humanitarian, he truly was—he was way above his time, and at the time of Gettysburg there was a certain reluctance, and Sheen was playing that. With the performance that Duvall turned in, he was more of a war-horse, and he, not to critique Duvall, seemed to have less humanitarianism. He approached it as a warrior, and not a reluctant warrior, as did Sheen. Does that make sense?
GC: Yes, it does, because I always thought that Sheen was very passionate and Duvall was more calm and reserve. Both performances are fantastic, but personally, I think that Duvall’s performance may have been more accurate because of that.
BB: Yeah, it’s really hard to compare the two because for one thing, it was Lee at two different times, and the war changed Lee, as it does everybody, and so I think they both turned in amazing performances, and if anything hurt Sheen it’s that he was playing the illness and the humanitarian Lee maybe too much. Nevertheless, they are both amazing actors.
GC: I would also like to ask your experience in working with the reenactors. Both of these films had casts of hundreds or thousands, whereas a normal film does not. So what was it like in dealing with all of those people?
BB: Oh, man, they are just the salt of the earth. These movies could have never been done if it wasn’t for the reenactors, and they were kind and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working with them—they’re just great.
GC: The one thing I have to ask, and people always make fun of “Gettysburg” because of this, and that is all the beards that the actors are wearing. A lot of people call the movie “Gettysbeard” because of some of the obviously fake beards. You had a mustache in both films. Was yours real?
BB: No, it wasn’t real, but Taylor had that little goatee thing going on and when I showed up to do the film, I was really young-looking (laughs). They put the goatee on me and I went straight to Ron Maxwell, and I said, “Ron, I look like a kid in a high school play. This doesn’t fit me. Can’t we just go with the mustache? I know it’s not a hundred percent historically correct, but this thing looks terrible.” He agreed, and thank goodness that I got away with the mustache, which actually looked pretty good. You couldn’t tell.
GC: That’s why I asked because yours and some of the others looked real. Was Martin Sheen’s real, because his looked really good?
BB: Yeah, he had the real thing. Oh, wait, let’s see…I’m trying to recall 17 years ago…I don’t remember now, to tell you the truth. It seemed to me that his was real, but I’m not quite sure. I know Stephen Lang’s was real, certainly not Berenger’s—he had the worst beard in the movie.
GC: It’s a shame because he was the central character and they couldn’t do any better with his beard.
BB: A lot of that is TNT’s fault, I’d say all of it is, because Ron had the best beard guy in the business…the BEST beard guy in the business, and they didn’t want to pay for it, which happens in film. Budget is everything and they just did not want to pay for it. Unfortunately, they were what I call tripping over dollars picking up nickels and dimes, because I feel the beards pretty much hurt the film, horribly. You have “The Movie about Beards” and “Gettysbeard”, and it’s tough because the performances were so solid, the script was so good, the direction was excellent, and yet all those things together and the critics knock the beards. It was really sad that happened, it truly was, because it didn’t have to happen. TNT and the production company that did it were not saving that much money, and we hired a guy that didn’t do beards, but was a great make-up artist and did special effects, but he just did not do beards. The result is now forever on celluloid (laughs).
GC: Now to the “Gods and Generals” director’s cut. Everyone has been waiting eight years for this to come out, there is going to be an extra hour added. Do you know anything about this final cut?
BB: No, I haven’t talked to Ron in about six months. I go see him in Virginia, once a year at least, but I’ve been living in Kenya for the last couple of years, so I haven’t been around much. I knew that he was talking about doing a director’s cut, and actually this week is the first week I have ever heard about it coming out now. I’m very excited for Ron. [Antietam] was not included in the studio cut, and I can guarantee that is going in there. I would also love to see Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. The actor that played Booth was brilliant at it.
GC: Did you have any scenes that were cut?
BB: I don’t recall. I had a lot of scenes that were cut in Gettysburg. My role was a lot bigger in the script and when we started, and when we ended, the director’s cut was around five hours. The same thing with Gods and Generals—it was really two movies. I think the first edit was over seven hours, it was pretty wild. There might be some stuff in there that was cut, but my role had been diminished because the movie really wasn’t about Lee. The movie was about “Stonewall” and his guys, and so the focus centered around him. I think I only had 12 scenes in the whole movie and I think Duvall only had about 14 or 15 scenes. I was really hoping they would do the next film and novel, [The Last Full Measure], and I guess because Gods and Generals really did not do too well at the box office, it was shelved.
GC: When I spoke to Jeff Shaara, he said as of right now there is absolutely nothing-doing with that.
BB: It’s a shame. It would have been nice to see the trilogy, but it’s tough these days. The general public is more interested in watching Transformers than a historically correct, well-made, Civil War film.
GC: Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. I hardly go to the movies anymore because I don’t like what’s out there. I would much rather watch older movies.
BB: Same here. I don’t know the last time I went to a movie. Actually, I will tell you, I do remember the last time. It was when my 21-year-old son dragged me out to see Avatar (laughs).
GC: I still haven’t seen that.
BB: Well, you know, it’s okay. It’s another thrill-ride. Basically, if you go to Universal Studios and get on one of those rides, that’s kind of what it’s like. It’s like cowboys and Indians in the future. The cinematography is amazing, and all that, but it’s just not my kind of movie.
GC: You mentioned earlier that you were living in Kenya, and I’ve seen some of your pictures on Facebook, so can you tell us what that is all about?
BB: Oddly enough, I met this guy Brad Phillips on the set of Gods and Generals, and he invited me out to Sudan and it was kind of strange because I literally went from a movie set about the Civil War to a foreign country in the middle of a civil war, a real one. That was about eight years ago, and I fell in love with east Africa, and I developed a water-based Pyrethrum Mist system that runs on solar power, and I manufactured 40 systems, and I went over there and tested it, and went back many times. Every year I spend the summer or a half of summer there. After my son graduated from high school, he and I both went over there, and I stayed for two years and he stayed for three or four months, and I was doing mist systems over there, installing them in Sudan and all over Kenya. It was just a nice getaway and I got out of the film business for a while and thought I would experience a different life. I’ve been back since last April and am slipping back into the film business with this film, The Mark, and it’s been a lot of fun getting some of the veterans from Gettysburg and Gods and Generals to be in the film.
GC: It’s like a little bit of a reunion.
BB: Yeah, and there is going to be a reunion in Los Angeles, but I am not quite sure when.
GC: One last question that I ask everybody, what is your favorite film and why?
BB: Being There. Have you ever seen it?
GC: No, but I’ve heard of it.
BB: It’s got Shirley MacLain and Peter Sellers and it was done in 1979. Love the film. I love it—it’s well done and it has a great message. That one, and another, and this is kind of hokey, It’s a Wonderful Life. That would be my second favorite.
GC: A lot of people like that movie, and I’m going to have to see “Being There” because I am a fan of Peter Sellers and a big fan of “Doctor Strangelove”.
BB: This movie was something that he tried to get done his whole life, it was based on a novel, and he died not too long after the filming was completed. It was his swan-song. It’s just a very interesting film. You should go out and find it, get it on Netflix, because it’s such a good film.
I would like to that Bo for taking the time to conduct this interview. This is why I love talking to people who have been in both films, because they always have so many great stories to share, and some that you do not hear anywhere else. Best of luck to him in his future ventures, and his film coming out next year, called “The Mark”!
A few weeks ago I was contacted by an extra who appeared in the film Gods and Generals, who after reading my string of articles on the coming Director’s Cut, thanked me for keeping the film alive, and also offered to tell me anything I wanted to know about his filming experience. That man was a member of the United States Military, Sergeant Benjamin Kullman, and I asked him to send me anything he wanted, and told him I would publish it. He finally got back to me today, with a long list of scenes he remembered filming, that were either shortened or omitted from the final print of the movie. There is no telling if every one of these will be in the extended cut, but it is definitely interesting nonetheless, and I sure hope they are included.
The release of this extended cut will be unprecedented, because 90 minutes (the supposed amount of time that will be added) is long enough to be a film in itself, yet alone get deleted from an entire movie. The descriptions below will finally give us an idea of what was originally filmed, after years of people guessing and assuming what Ron Maxwell shot. Sgt. Kullman has also appeared in others films, including The Pain Within, The Battle of Chantilly, No Retreat from Destiny, and a documentary titled Manasass: End of Innocence. Not related to the Civil War, he played the roles of Galileo Galilei and Alfred Wegener in Bill Nye’s 100 Greatest Discoveries. Below is his description of the many scenes he filmed as a member of the “core reenactors”, which were a separate, and more-used group from the regular reenactors used:
Thank you for your enthusiasm about Gods and Generals, and as much as you are looking forward to the release of the director’s cut of G & G, it is matched and surpassed only by those of us who worked on the film and have patiently waited to see the the result of our hard work in for what was for many of us a labor of love. Many of us that participated in the film still feel it’s impact to this day, and look forward to having the film get the appreciation it deserves. As a proud member of the core company of reenactors for the project, I worked on the film from September to December 2001 which was almost the entire production with the exception of the first two weeks. Since then, I have agonized to see the completed version, knowing how many incredible scenes we shot and how much of a more complete film it is.
As a historian and film buff, the production of Gods and Generals, for me, was one of the most incredible times of my life, and ended up supplying me with life-long friends within both the reenacting and film and television communities. The production also provided me with the opportunity to go on to work on several other film and television projects over the years, and I am happy to say that I have had the honor of working with Stephen [Lang] on two different shows, and he is truly one of the most talented and nicest people you would ever meet, which is why it cracks me up every time I see him play an angry bad guy (Avatar) when his actual personality is closer to his portrayal of [George Pickett, in Gettysburg]. It has now become an inside joke to myself and almost a reality that I can no longer watch any film or TV shows dealing with the Civil War without seeing people I know.
The Core Company, to this day, are very good friends and still keep in regular contact. We even have a large amount of “behind the scenes” footage and pictures from our personal collections that really show what it was like on set, and what an amazing, funny, and meaningful time it was. True fans would find this footage absolutely fascinating. Ever wonder what it was like to be in the middle of one of those formations taking fire charging up the slopes of Fredericksburg? One of my prized possessions is my paperback copy of G & G signed by almost the entire main cast, including some amazing actors who are no longer with us, like Royce D. Applegate.
I will list the scenes that I can remember, off the top of my head, that we filmed but were not included in the theatrical cut as to give you and your readers an idea of some of the things they can expect in the full cut of the film:
- Many more scenes that take place pre-war and the aftermath of secession
- Several scenes that take place during the build up to first Manassas, where many recruits are brought in to enlist.
- Lots of extended dialogue pieces and scenes where ["Stonewall"] Jackson meets his staff
- A scene that takes place outside of a theater in Richmond, during a recruitment drive, where John Wilkes Booth leaves the theater and speaks to several women. -”Don’t you know? Mr. Booth is the finest actor in all of Richmond” . (Dialogue from the scene if memory serves). Booth is then is asked to give a rousing speech to those assembled to encourage them to enlist, the Richmond Greys (we called them blue balls), are in attendance as well as several Confederate muster officers
- Several scenes involving the Liberty Hall Volunteers (featured during First Manassas) during which a chorus of “Cheer Boys, Cheer” is sung as we marched. The Core Company of Reenactors learned this song, and was recorded for use in the film which we were told at the time was to be also included on the film’s soundtrack (kind of like the field music was included in “More Songs and Music from Gettysburg”)
- A scene leading up to First Manassas in the train yard at Harper’s Ferry where Jackson purchases his horse ‘Little Sorrel’, originally for his wife (a brief glimpse of the beginning of this scene can be seen in the theatrical cut)
- First Manassas is longer; at least it felt like we had filmed a longer sequence then has been seen
- A much longer subplot involving the formation of the 20th Maine. Scenes in which new members of the 20th Maine are issued their uniforms and equipment with a cameo by the cook from Gettysburg (can’t recall the actor’s name but he had the line involving “Best darn cusser in all of Maine”). More scenes involving a character that was cut out of the film: a slightly overweight private that seems to have many problems dealing with his new role as a soldier. And a very funny scene in which Albert Ames is disgruntled at the lack of ability of his new troops and new field musicians that play the marches horribly (it was hard for the actual field musicians to play intentionally poorly during filming, but the scene was very amusing)
- Of course all of Antietam, including: Lee details to his staff his reasons for invading Maryland, a picture of this scene and shots from it have appeared throughout media for the film and it’s trailer. The 20th Maine stands on a hill observing the battle as they, along with the rest of the 5th Corps, are held in reserve. The 20th Maine observes a conversation between an angered Hancock and an over-confident General McClellan. A rogue artillery shell from the battle takes the head off one of the men in the 20th Maine’s formation. Another shell impacts near the line throwing up small bits of shrapnel causing the overweight private to throw down his weapon, grasp his hand and scream. Kilrain yells at him, in one of the best pieces of cut out dialogue, “Quit your whining! You’re making more noise than the man who lost his head, PICK UP YOUR MUSKET!”
- A very nice scene that takes place during the night in which Jackson’s staff (as Stephen Lang called them ‘the Jackson five’) has a very funny conversation involving puns, philosophy, and some other subjects, during which JEB Stuart’s foreign aide, the Prussian, Heros von Borcke, arrives and presents Jackson with the new officer’s tunic Stuart had made, much to Jackson’ s bewilderment and embarrassment. (I’m looking forward to the scene personally as it is the only one in which I played an officer)
- Build up to Fredericksburg is longer with extended dialogue scenes between Couch and Hancock
- General Hood’s scenes before Fredericksburg are much longer and more involved
- The crossing into Fredericksburg via the pontoon bridges is longer
- The scene where the boy is knocked down by the spent artillery shell as the family escapes the town is longer, and explains the bruise on the boys chest as his brother picks up the cannon ball and is told by Pastor Lacey to put it down
- The scenes involving the Union plundering of Fredericksburg are longer and more detailed with several pieces of minor dialogue
- Union assaults on the Fredericksburg heights might be longer as a lot of time was spent filming this portion of the battle
- Lots of extended dialogue pieces all throughout the battle
- The nights spent by the 20th Maine pinned down in front of the stone wall are longer with more dialogue, the retreat from Fredericksburg is also extended
- Several scenes in and around the field hospitals were filmed and extended leading into the deleted scene with Jim Lewis and the grave diggers, a portion of which has already been seen and posted on your site.
- The Minstrel show scene (Bonnie Blue Flag) is longer with more dialogue and music
- Longer scenes around the tobacco/coffee trade including Ron Maxwell’s cameo
- The much talked about scenes between Harrison and Booth (none of which I witnessed filming) and Lincoln attending Booth’s performance
- Battle plans and build up to Chancellorsville longer
- More scenes around the Chancellorsville house before the mass panic from the retreating 11th corps reaches it and the fall out afterward
- Jackson’s death scenes are extended
I would like to thank the sergeant for sharing this with me and it truly sounds like an incredible experience. All of these scenes would seem to amount to more than 90 minutes, so it appears unlikely that everything here will be in the final cut, but we can only hope that the majority will be. We have now been waiting eight years to see this footage, and this description makes it sound like it will be worth it.
To Civil War enthusiasts, director Ron Maxwell is seen as a Godlike figure. First he gave us Gettysburg in 1993, after several failed film projects of his own. The film came out of nowhere and took the movie industry by storm, and today is regarded as one of the last true war epics ever made, because of its grandiose shooting style and use of thousands of extras instead of CGI. Ten years later, he would give us the much awaited prequel to this film, Gods and Generals, based on the novel of the same name written by Jeff Shaara, the son of Michael, who wrote the original book.
For me, Gettysburg was the movie that turned me on to the Civil War, so naturally I could not wait for this film to come out. I still remember going to the theater on its opening day, with my mom, who was also interested in the subject due to my curiosity as a youngster. The movie left a profound impact on me, because it was everything I imagined, including the running time which clocked in at more than three and a half hours due to the intermission. Several times the audience wept, then laughed, then were amazed by this massive piece of storytelling. This film, too, is shot on an epic scale, but unfortunately it is weighed down by religious overtones, which ultimately led to the film’s downfall in this politically correct world, and subsequent termination of a follow up project and sequel to the trilogy, The Last Full Measure.
Gods and Generals was released with such promise—it was to appear in theaters, be released on DVD, shown as a two-night event on TNT, then a year later, a six hours director’s cut was to be released, giving us the full story. But only the first two would be realized, as the film quickly bombed and was yanked out of theaters. The reason for this was politics, and the fact that this movie, although about the Civil War, was extremely religious. Here we see Jackson, Lee, and even Chamberlain constantly bringing God into the equation, and while these men were very religious in a much different world (personally, I did not mind it one bit, although it did get preachy more than once), it truly led to the film’s negative critical reaction. The trailer even stated that, “One side fought for God’s glory, while the other fought for his kingdom on earth.” In reality, even though they were religious, I highly doubt they were fighting for God himself.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable film, despite its faults, but unfortunately, it can probably only be enjoyed by Civil War buffs, an amount of people large enough for a small film project or low-budget affair, but not big enough to make or break a $60 million spectacle, all personally financed by Ted Turner, who produced related films Ironclads, Gettysburg, Andersonville, and The Hunley as well.
The story begins with showing Robert E. Lee as a Colonel in the United States Army and the decisions he made that brought him to the Confederacy. We get very interesting back story on all major characters, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, played by Stephen Lang who was Pickett in Gettysburg, and of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels as he reprises his role from the original. The one thing that Gettysburg lacked that this film makes up for is character development—here we see why the soldiers are fighting, instead of seeing a bunch of guys in blue and gray thrust onto a battlefield. The film also does a very good job in showing both sides as being right, while not vilifying either side. To many, this was seen as a fault more than an asset, but I think it helps in understanding the causes of this great war. The audience can then make up their minds as to who was right, and who was wrong.
This film was a very difficult story to tackle, mainly because it had to focus on three years of the Civil War, rather than just three days. The Battle of First Bull Run, while instrumental in showing Jackson’s first taste of combat as well as the first major battle of the war, is almost randomly inserted into the movie and seems out of place. It is also only about ten minutes in length, and features only one part of the battle. This film could have really done without it, and would have been better served with having the characters simply talk about what happened off-screen. The insertion of this also left out any possibility of having Antietam in the film, something that was filmed but left on the cutting room floor (multiple people who worked on the film said that the action scenes for Antietam were the best in the entire film). We will just have to wait and wonder about it until a director’s cut is released.
The best part of Gods and Generals is by far and away the Fredericksburg scenes. Here we finally get an in-depth look at the tactics and troop movements behind one of the most famous and costly battles of the war. General Burnside is shown perfectly as being incompetent, while the generals around him, namely Winfield Scott Hancock, played by the severely underrated Brian Mallon, disagree with his plans to attack General Lee’s entrenchments at Marye’s Heights head-on. The battle is shown to be brutal, and combined with the terrific score of Randy Edelman and John Frizzell, make the Fredericksburg sequence a form of art. It is hard not to tear up during this battle, because as wave after wave of Union troops are cut down by the Confederates, we see the Irish brigade of the Union make their charge against the stonewall. Unbeknownst to them, the Irish brigade of the Confederacy, led by Colonel Thomas Cobb, awaits them. One of their commanders actually breaks down and cries at the thought of shooting his own countrymen, as bullets strike the wall he is leaning on. The music, once again, is spectacular, with a very sad sounding bag-pipe tune. We also get to see Chamberlain’s first action as a Union colonel, with his brother Tom and old Sergeant follow by his side. Those two actors are the same from the original, with C. Thomas Howell and Kevin Conway coming through with superb performances.
Gods and Generals then takes a jump to 1863, following the aftermath of Fredericksburg, and takes us to Chancellorsville, which was Jackson and Lee’s daring surprise attack of the Union left flank under Oliver Howard, with Joseph Hooker now the commander-in-chief. The music played over this scene is very slow, and increases in pace as Jackson’s men jump out of the trees and begin their assault. We then see the very sad and unfortunate wounding of Jackson by his own men, and his death about twenty minutes later in the film. It was during these final scenes where people began to weep, as I did the first time I saw it, and still get choked up to this day.
The scene with Jackson dying is very emotional, because you can see the Confederacy dying right along with him. Robert E. Lee, played by Robert Duvall, is asked if he will see Jackson on his deathbed, but says no, not allowing himself to accept that fact that his right-hand man is dying. The movie closes with Jackson’s funeral, as a riderless horse and carriage passes by and heads toward Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson was a professor.
Even with all its faults, and it heavy dialogue (mostly consisting of too much preaching), Gods and Generals is still a superb piece of film making. People also criticize the casting of Duvall as Lee, stating that he was too old for the part. Duvall, a descendant of Lee, was older than the General, but when you look at pictures of the real Lee, he looked older than his age. There are just certain shots in this movie where he bears striking resemblance to him, and I personally like his casting over that of Martin Sheen, who actually wanted the part again but could not accept it due to scheduling conflicts. The film is also great because it is a reunion, of sorts, of the Gettysburg cast that we all know and love. Besides Daniels, Lang, Mallon, Howell, and Conway, Royce Appelgate and Charles Lester Kinsolving return briefly as Generals Kemper and Barksdale, respectively, Joseph Fuqua as J.E.B Stuart, Patrick Gorman as John Bell Hood, Ted Turner himself as Waller T. Patton, David Carpenter who switches from Colonel Devin to Reverend Tucker Lacy, and Buck Taylor, who switches from Colonel Gamble to General Maxcy Gregg. (There are others, too many to name.)
We also see some new faces as Bruce Boxleitner takes over for Tom Berenger as Longstreet, and veteran character actor William Sanderson plays A.P Hill. Mira Sorvino also makes a brief, and exquisite cameo appearance as the wife of Colonel Chamberlain (they too had additional scenes that were lifted).
It truly is a shame that a film with such potential, and such work recieved such low acclaim from critics, and I cannot even imagine how great the director’s cut of this film is. It was only screened once, several years ago, and was met with a standing ovation. It includes a subplot of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, the entire battle of Antietam, and a friendship between Booth and Henry Harrison, played by Cooper Huckabee as in the original. Andrew Prine also reprised his role as General Garnett, but he too was edited out.
My final rating of this film will be a 9 out of 10, because of its accuracy and epic scale. This is one of those rare films that can be shown in a history classroom without much explaining, because with the exception of the insertion of Jane Corbin and her relationship with Jackson, everything depicted is, for the most part, exactly what happened. I recommend it to all that have an interest in the war that cost America more than 600,000 deaths in just five years. I also hope that one day we will see the director’s cut of this film, because knowing Maxwell, it is sure to change our view of the Civil War and enlighten us even further—and with the 150th anniversary of the war happening in the next five years, it is either now or never.
Check out my review of Gettysburg here.