Here we are, with another edition of the FNYTSF Mailbag! Sure enough, I must have jinxed myself by making this a regular column, because although I received emails from people quite regularly before I started this, I have now only gotten one since, which will be featured below. This one is not a question either, but a long, heartfelt statement about one reader’s appreciation for the Civil War, and where it all began, something we can all relate to:
I. Opening Thoughts
At first, I was going to title this article “What Would it Take to Make The Last Full Measure?”, but we all know what it would take: money, lots and lots of money. We know the interest level is there, after seeing the glowing reviews and remarks regarding the release of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut, as well as the Civil War’s 150th Anniversary being commemorated from 2011-2015. The problem we have here is the immense budget it would take to finance, somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million, the same amount it took to make the prequel. With Ted Turner losing so much money at the initial box office failure, he is probably not interested in taking another gamble, because if he was, he might have done so already. Perhaps, if someone came up with around $30 million, he would match it, but of course, that person or group is elusive.
The only way this film gets made is if we prove to that mystery man out there that this project can be successful after all, either as a three-hour movie (any more than that would spell doom, if it does not already) or television mini-series event. With To Appomattox, an upcoming creation to television, promising to be all the rage in 2013, I would lean towards a feature film. This has its trouble, and will no doubt be mocked by the same people who balked at a three-hour and forty minute Gods and Generals in 2003. Would this project too, be killed before it even reached the silver screen? Or would it be looked upon as the necessary completion to the all-important Civil War trilogy, a more fitting statement? The one and only way to find out is to get the ball rolling and the juices flowing, which I hope this article will somehow do. We all know that getting the cast of thousands would not be difficult because of the never-ending devotion of Civil War reenactors, who pay their own way just to help accomplish something in the name of education. Aside from the aforementioned money, there is also a problem with the casting, because of course, as fans of the two films, we would want to see actor reprisals. Due to the age gap between films, this is easier said than done, but I shall elaborate further later on.
“…I sat next to [Ted] Turner all day, when we filmed the Vaudeville sequence [in Gods and Generals], that he made his cameo in, and so I talked to him 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.”- Patrick Gorman (March 26, 2011)
“…the thing is, there were mistakes made with Gods and Generals that I would not allow to happen again. If a film is going to be made from The Last Full Measure, I will have much more involvement or there simply won’t be a film…That’s the other thing I hear, and I get letters on this literally every day, people want to know (which was why I put the note on my website) when the third movie is coming out, and it’s like they’re waiting for the shoe to drop because the story needs to be completed. I’ve had people chew me out and say, “Why aren’t you making the third film?” as though somehow I am stopping this. Gods and Generals cost $60 million to make, and if someone comes up with $60 million, fine, let’s talk. But so far it hasn’t happened.”- Jeff Shaara (January 24, 2011)
“…So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.”- Ron Maxwell (July 24, 2011)
III. Production Notes
So there you have it, the “long and the short of it”, so to speak: the dream of making LFM is certainly not dead, but perhaps it is much more complex than we ever could have imagined. I had to go back and re-read the Jeff Shaara interview, and there is a lot more there than I even posted above. To me, he expressed his disappointment and even anger, to a degree. I have no idea who owns the rights to the film project itself, but I would presume it is Shaara. If the film is made, then the filmmakers would have to work something out with him. If this is the case, then LFM would be more like Gettysburg than G & G, because the former was almost word for word, in most instances, with late Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels. Because Gettysburg seems to have a larger fan base, and much larger audience potential, maybe this is not such a bad thing.
In any sense, pre-production would need to begin very soon, and a realistic release date if that happened would probably be 2015, which would appropriately coincide with the end of the Civil War. Because LFM covers the Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and the surrender at Appomattox, this would not be a bad place to start. Maxwell said that he works on “it” everyday, and I will assume he means the screenplay. If that is the case, then a large chunk of time was just saved, because the script would just need to be finished and edited, as opposed to started from the beginning.
At this point in time, because nearly twenty years have passed since Gettysburg, and eight since Gods and Generals, former cast members reprising their roles will be a very difficult task. Robert Duvall is 80 years old and Martin Sheen is now 71. While Sheen could probably pass for Lee, even at that age, I think an entirely new actor would have to be chosen. Could Stephen Lang, with a hair-dye job and grey beard possibly play his third different character in this, the third and final film? Then comes Tommy Lee Jones to mind, and I could definitely see him as Lee once decked out in the uniform with a beard. He would not need to put on a southern accent, and would also bring some much-needed intensity to a film that will involve the end of the war and fall of the Confederacy.
While I admit I have not read LFM as of yet (hence the reason for the question marks scattered through this section), I know that the major characters are Lee, Chamberlain, and a new addition in Ulysses S. Grant. It may be stretching it, but I think Jeff Daniels needs to reprise his role as Chamberlain, even if he looks older than the part. He, essentially, is this Civil War trilogy, and I would sacrifice that small level of authenticity to have him back. It could also be seen as the war aging and changing him, which happens to almost all soldiers.
As Grant, I can see Russell Crowe in the role (can’t we all?), since he was the original choice to play Thomas Jackson in G & G. But as a superstar who would command major money, that might not be an economically feasible option. After scanning various message boards, the name Josh Brolin also popped up to play Grant, which I would label more realistic, depending on how large a budget the film would receive. Now to something I thought of: what about Orlando Bloom? Put a scruffy beard and Ohio accent on him and I definitely see a Grant there (Bloom is now 34 and Grant was 39 when the war began). He would also attract a younger audience that might not have originally wanted to see a Civil War film. I imagine Lang’s name mentioned for this as well, but I just do not see him there. Does Pickett figure in as a prominent character with more than a couple of lines? If so, then he can continue where he left off from Gettysburg in that role. What about Sherman, is he in this as well? Lang could fit their too, which shows his versatility.
For the supporting cast, I would very much like to see Bruce Boxleitner back as Longstreet, because with a beard, you really would not notice much of an age difference, if there is any to begin with (having spoken to him at the Premiere, I would say that he looks very good). Chris Conner is also still young enough to come back as John Wilkes Booth, so we can see the completion of his transformation from angry actor to assassin. Though he had limited screen time in the director’s cut of G & G, Christian Kauffman played Lincoln well enough to be back for the sequel (heck, I can even see Lang there too). C. Thomas Howell and Brian Mallon back in their roles as Chamberlain’s brother and General Hancock? I would not have it any other way. I would like to see Patrick Gorman back as well, but in a much different role than General Hood. I would also, most definitely, want to see Mira Sorvino return as Fanny Chamberlain, because I have heard she would have some decent screen-time if the book became a movie. Because Buster Kilrain was killed off in the second film, where would Kevin Conway fit? I would want back him in a different capacity. Could we also get Jeremy Irons involved in some way? He is one of my favorite actors, and when I see him, the word “warrior” always comes to mind. What about Dennis Quaid too, Bo Brinkman’s cousin, who has worked with Maxwell previously in The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia?
All in all, there is definitely a lot of work to be done here, but that is why we have casting directors! I am glad this is not my job, because what an ordeal it would be. Below would be my final cast list of some of the characters. I hope to read LFM very soon, but until then, this is what I have drawn from the messy paragraphs above:
Robert E. Lee….. Tommy Lee Jones
Joshua L. Chamberlain….. Jeff Daniels
Ulysses S. Grant….. Orlando Bloom
[Special Appearance ala Sam Elliot in Gettysburg]….. Dennis Quaid
James Longstreet….. Bruce Boxleitner
George Pickett/ William T. Sherman [?]….. Stephen Lang
Fanny Chamberlain….. Mira Sorvino
John Wilkes Booth….. Chris Conner
Winfield Scott Hancock….. Brian Mallon
Thomas Chamberlain….. C. Thomas Howell
Walter Taylor….. Bo Brinkman
Abraham Lincoln….. Christian Kauffman
[?]….. Patrick Gorman
[?]….. Kevin Conway
V. Final Thoughts
Now that my manifesto is complete, I would like to invite the readers of this blog to make their own casting selections in the comment section below. Perhaps yours will even be more accurate, if you have read the novel and have a feel for it. I really wish that I had the time to sit down and read it, but maybe I can accomplish it the last week of August, when I have some time off before school starts up again. It was a lot of fun casting this movie, the same amount of fun it is dreaming that this film can be made. It is out of our hands, not just we as fans, but Maxwell’s and Shaara’s as well. The two people who want this film made the most have to wait for a door to open in the financing department. We have waited many years, and even if this film does get made, we will wait some more, but either way you look at it, these next for years are now or never for The Last Full Measure.
(NEW!) VI. Jeff Shaara Responds to Article
“…I own 50% of the film rights to the book. Ron Maxwell owns the other 50%. Thus, for any film to be made, we would both be included in the contract. I respect Ron’s passion for seeing LFM put onto film. I think LFM is a far better story than Gods and Generals, and would make a better film. But keeping a positive outlook isn’t the primary requirement to getting this film made. I continue to believe that with the box-office (and critical) failure of G& G, a golden opportunity was lost for all of us, that Ted Turner was definitely “the man” who should have put the final capstone on the trilogy. Now, we’ll see. My fingers are crossed.” (8/4/11)
Ask any person who has seen the movie Gettysburg, where they viewed it for the first time, chances are they will say when it was on TNT during one of the numerous airings in the late 1990′s. In fact, there are still many people today who forget that the film actually debuted in theaters, becoming a moderate success, before being re-broadcast on television. The immense popularity of the television showing prompted many people to endear themselves to the American Civil War, because now they could watch such a long film from the comfort of their own homes, the massive story being spread out over two nights. We can all agree that one of the reasons why Gods and Generals was not as popular was because many people did not want to sit in a theater for nearly four hours, which is why the film should have made it to television within a year after it was released on DVD, the sales of which were enormous (600,000 units were sold or rented in the first month alone), and one of the reasons why a director’s cut was even released to begin with. The interest is now there because of the 150th Anniversary, so the time is now right, in the next few months, for G & G to make its way to television.
I cannot think of any other network besides TNT that would be willing to give six hours of air-time (two nights, three hours for each so that commercials can be worked in) to one film, and while I do not know Ted Turner’s current involvement with the network that still bears his name, I would have to think that this idea will be discussed, or should be discussed, by the people who own the rights to the film. This is my suggestion to them, because I believe it is something that needs to happen. I am not going to create a petition or start an email chain (Ron is busy enough with other work, and I do not want to bother him with this), because they are usually fruitless efforts, but if Warner Brothers or Ron Maxwell himself is still reading my site, then they will see this idea, and hopefully see that it could work. The first night would show parts one to three, which is where the intermission came during the premiere, and then the second night could show the remaining parts. This is a chance, not only for additional exposure, but for more money to be made in addition to sales of Blu Ray books and box sets. As you all know, Ron told me in an interview that The Last Full Measure is not dead, and that he still works on it often with plenty of hope. If we want this final chapter to be made, then we must show the powers that be that there is plenty of interest in the subject, and more importantly, from a business perspective, plenty of money to be made.
Like this idea and think it could work? Feel free to send the link to others, and of course, share your opinion in the comment section below.
Just like I waited many years for a Gods and Generals Director’s Cut, I have waited just as long for two other Civil War movies to be released to DVD. Though I would check online every once in a while, they were never available. The two films I am talking about were made-for-television in the late 90′s, both for TNT, titled The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1998) and The Hunley (1999). Both of these films, along with frequent showings Gettysburg, made Ted Turner’s television network one of the go-to places for movies about the War Between the States, and no doubt contributed to my love of the conflict that I have today. Once upon a time ago, I had both of these films recorded off of TV onto VHS tapes, but as time passed, the two movies slipped into oblivion, and have not been located for at least six or seven years; they will never be found in my house, most likely taped over many moons ago.
However, with my latest search today, I discovered that both movies were released by Warner Brothers in March, and are available via their website and other online outlets. On Ebay and Amazon, they generally go for more than $25, but if you buy from WB directly, they are $19.95. I have spent a lot of money on movies lately, and with my trip to Manassas coming up to cover the Gods and Generals film premiere, I may have to wait on purchasing these for a little while, but I would like to have them by September for when I start teaching my course on the Civil War. This is just a shout-out and heads-up to those who have watched these movies, and have been looking for them, eagerly, like I have.
The Day Lincoln Was Shot was my favorite of the two, and starred Lance Henriksen as Abraham Lincoln and Rob Morrow as John Wilkes Booth. From what I remember, and this was quite some time ago, both were amazing in their roles, especially Henriksen, who still stands out to me today as the best Lincoln portrayal I have ever seen. The latter of the two, The Hunley, was also memorable, as it detailed the ill-fated first submarine mission in America, when Armand Assante, who plays a Confederate named Captain Dixon, tries to sink a Union ship in the blockade of Charleston Harbor. Donald Sutherland also makes an appearance, as well as one of my favorite character actors Sebastien Roche.
These are two films you do not want to miss!
Because I know cast and crew members have been on this site in the past, I will make this humble suggestion, in hopes someone will see it. Personally, I think it makes sense that with the release of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut should come another release of the film’s soundtrack, with added music. Granted, there were not that many new tracks in the added footage (maybe around ten minutes worth, but I’m just estimating), but there was some music in the theatrical cut that did not even make it into the original soundtrack, such as the music played during the battle of Chancellorsville, right after the piece “VMI Will Be Heard From Today” finishes, and when the 20th Maine is marching onto the field at Fredericksburg.
I do not know if it is possible for this to happen, but I sure would like to see it and I think a lot of others would too. Even people I know that did not care for the film raved about its music, which was composed by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman. The same thing happened for Ron Maxwell’s other film, Gettysburg, as a Deluxe Commemorative Set was released in 1998. It included the original soundtrack on the first disc, plus a second disc of additional music and other tracks that did not make it into the film. This is apparently so hard to find now that it sells for $50 used on Amazon, and over $100 for new. Please keep in mind that this is different from “More Songs and Music from Gettysburg”, which featured the film’s fife and drum sounds. Certain tracks from the Deluxe edition can now be found on YouTube.
EDIT: Thanks to a reader named Andy, who sent me a link to a recently conducted interview with John Frizzell, the composer states that there was well over three hours of music he composed for the film, and added, “There is enough for two more CD’s. I would really like to see at least one more CD come out. I think at this point it is up to the fans to ask the label to do it. That will probably get a response.” So there it is folks: if we want it, we should get a movement going. Feel free to share this article with everyone you think will be interested. Andy has even created a group to stir up interest. Click here to join.
Yesterday, I finally got a chance to watch the all new Ron Maxwell and Ted Turner introduction for the film. It is here that Maxwell says that this cut of the film was the definitive one, and it was most of what was ever shot. The rumors and speculation over the years that the cut was going to be six hours seems like a farce now—five hours worth of usable footage was all they ever shot. He also notes that the script for this film was 230 pages.
We are now just ten days away from the release date! When the 24th comes, I am going to make a post inviting all of you to post your reviews in the comment section. We’ll make it the official Gods and Generals “flood” article, where hopefully everyone will flock to discuss the movie. Also, please feel free to add me on Facebook. I feel like I have gotten to know some of you over the course of these last few months and now that what we are waiting for is finally here, it would be nice to stay in touch. You’ll have to find me, but the profile picture might give it away! One last thing, if you have not yet read my review of the film, please click here!
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”!
There are people who know their stuff, and then there are people who really know their stuff—Jeff Shaara would fall into the latter category. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to interview the author of Civil War novels Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, both of which have reached the New York Times Bestseller List. Jeff Shaara has been lauded by readers and historians alike who appreciate his epic style of storytelling, that has included nine novels spanning the American Revolution, Mexican-American War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II, with the fourth part of his WWII series coming out in May. I really learned a lot today, not only about history in general, but what goes into writing a book and how that gets transformed into a film. I also had to ask about his late-father Michael, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning historical-fiction novel The Killer Angels, which was turned into one of the most successful war films of all-time, Gettysburg, in 1993.
I knew the interview would be great because right off the bat I told Jeff to feel free to talk as much as he would like, and he jokingly said he felt a bit intimidated by that, and I explained that sometimes interviewees give only a one sentence answer. His response was, “I never do that.” Our main focus today was the Civil War but we covered all aspects of American history in our interview below:
GC: I just want to start off by asking you about your father. I read somewhere that you and him were not close while he was writing The Killer Angels. Is this true?
JS: Actually, the chronology of that is a little bit inaccurate. During the writing of The Killer Angels, we were extremely close. I was a teenager at the time and we went to Gettysburg together and worked on some of the research together, and I stopped way short of taking any credit for the book, that’s not what I’m saying. During the time writing the book, he was suffering physically because of his first heart attack and there were a lot of things, particularly on the battlefield of Gettysburg, that he could not do such as climbing the Round Tops and things like that. I was the kid, so that was my job to go around through the bushes and climb the hills looking for things that he was trying to find. After the writing, when the book came out in 1974, he and I, by that time, had parted ways, so when the book was published we had a very difficult relationship. He had a difficult relationship with almost everyone including his brother and father. He was very dramatic in the way he approached relationships and if you didn’t live up to his expectations or do things the way he thought they ought to be done, he had a tendency to react very dramatically and write you out of his life. He was a difficult man, he was suffering from the effects, not only of his heart disease, but of a motorcycle accident that had happened in Florence, Italy, in the early 1970′s that really cracked him on the head badly—he was in a coma for several weeks and the effects of that changed his entire life; it changed his brain, the way he wrote, the way he thought about things and it really affected his relationship with everyone.
GC: What inspired you to write the prequel and the sequel?
JS: It began, and you probably know some of this, with the film Gettysburg. It was this film being such an enormous success, and for my family, it propelled The Killer Angels to number one on the bestseller list, and it had never been a bestseller at all. When it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the book was never successful, which was really a blow to my father. He expected greater things to come from that. Any writer who receives the Pulitzer Prize has the right to believe that his ship has come in and that all the doors will fly open and he can do anything he wants now, and that didn’t happen to him. So it was very ironic and very bittersweet to my family that in 1993 and 1994, when Gettysburg was such a monumental success, he missed all that. He died in 1988 and didn’t live to see any of it. And so when I learned that Ted Turner wanted to do more Civil War films, the idea would be to take my father’s book and go before and after it with some of the same characters. I had never written anything before, I was not a writer, I never wanted to be a writer. I was actually a dealer of rare coins and precious metals down in Tampa, and the idea of continuing his work, the whole point was for me to tackle this, but it was always about a film, about doing the background and research, creating a story that someone else could adapt for a screenplay. Because I’m representing my father’s estate in New York, and the heirs are my sister and I, my sister being an anthropologist, she said to just handle it and that she wasn’t interested in the business side of it at all. Well, I’d been a business man all my life so it was natural to me. So I’m dealing with the publisher in New York, Random House, who now has this number one bestseller, and so they’re taking my phone calls and I’m getting to know these people up there, and when I told them I was working on the prequel to The Killer Angels, their response was, “Send it to us and we’ll take a look at it.” That totally surprised me because I had no expectations. I’m often asked, “How did you know how to write a book?” I had no clue, and secondly, “Were you intimidated by trying to follow your father’s footsteps?” The answer to that is no, because I had no expectations. Ron Maxwell and I agreed that if whatever I wrote was lousy, nobody would ever see it. It would go in the trash can and that would be the end of it. I attacked this with really no sense of destiny or any of that. All I was trying to do was put a story together with the same kind of research my father had done, which I learned with walking with him at Gettysburg, was to put a story together that could be adapted to a screenplay. When I sent the manuscript to Random House in September of 1995, and I’ll never forget this, the phone call I got from Claire Ferraro, who was the publisher then, said, “We don’t care if it’s a movie. We like the book. We think you’re a writer, here’s the contract.” That changed my whole life.
GC: When you write a novel, how much research do you do and how long does it typically take you?
JS: The research is usually twice as long as it takes to write the book. I typically read 50 to 60 books for each book that I write, and it has to be original source material—the diaries, the memoirs, the letters, the collections of writings of the people who were there. That is a big lesson I learned from my father, stay away from modern history and modern biographies. That does me no good at all. If you’re getting into the heads of a character, and you’re speaking for a real historical character, you better get it right because a lot of people out there will get pretty upset about that. I had somebody actually say to me, “How dare you put words in the mouth of Robert E. Lee?” Well, okay, that’s a challenge and if I dare do that, or put words in the mouth of George Washington, or “Black Jack” Pershing, or Eisenhower, or Adolf Hitler for that matter, I had better believe that those words are authentic to that character because if I don’t believe it, neither will you. Then the book deserves to lose credibility. That’s the point of research, to feel that before I even write the first word, feel as though I know the character and that I would speak for them. Once the reading is done, the other part of it, is again, a lesson I learned from my father, to walk the ground. To go walk in the footsteps of people, see the hillsides, see the battlefields, see the homes, the grave sites, whatever there is out there for me to see, and it’s not that it’s mystical—I don’t go to battlefields and look for ghosts, but there really is something very powerful about walking the same ground as the characters I’m writing about. That’s a crucial part of the research as well. Once that is done, only then do I start writing, and typically, it takes me five to six months to write a manuscript because I’m doing it full-time.
GC: You’ve made hundreds of historical figures come alive in your books, but in your two Civil War novels, which of them has been your favorite?
JS: There are some obvious answers there, like Joshua Chamberlain, and the characters that people latch onto and have made popular, but I love the character of Ulysses S. Grant, and to some people he is sort of a non-entity because he’s not as charismatic as Robert E. Lee, he doesn’t have the young charm of Chamberlain, but Grant changed history. Grant changed the world, and he was responsible, primarily, because you can make an argument that Abraham Lincoln had something to do with it, for winning the war, and a lot of people don’t realize just how powerful his role was. I just love his character, I love his relationship with his wife. Writing his death at the tail-end of The Last Full Measure was difficult, I was emotional about it. I did the same with all three of the characters in The Last Full Measure, Lee, Grant, and Chamberlain, and I said goodbye to each of the three of them but Grant in particular, because he was suffering from throat cancer and dealing with Mark Twain and these magnificent scenes at the end of his life, and boy that was hard. So I would pick him above all others.
GC: What was your reaction when you found out that Ron Maxwell wanted to make a movie out of Gods and Generals?
JS: Well, Ron and I had been talking all the way through Gettysburg and I got to know him during the filming, and so we had talked about this for years. We talked about it from the time it was a success in the theaters and from the time The Killer Angels became a bestseller, we were already talking about continuing with this project. We struggled through several years because this was something we wanted to do and no one else cared. We had a lot of verbal support, and a lot of Civil War groups and reenactors thought this was a great idea, but unfortunately none of them had millions of dollars to make this happen (laughs). Even when we started talking with TNT and Ted Turner’s people it was difficult because none of them really believed in this project. So it wasn’t a surprise to me when we started talking about this, it was the point right from the beginning.
GC: Did you have any role in the production at all?
JS: None. We could expand on that but I don’t know that I want to. To this day, I do not own a finished script, and I made some suggestions that were ignored, little historical things that I thought were problematic, and they listened dutifully and ignored everything I said. I realize at the end of the day, this was not my film—it was Ron Maxwell’s and Ted Turner’s film. I really had nothing to do creatively with the film or physically with the production. I mean, I’m in it, in one scene on camera, but really, it’s not my movie, and if I can add, it’s also not my book. It’s based on my book, despite what some historians say, and I’ll leave that alone, but it is based on my book but it is not my book. It is maybe ten percent of my book, and that was really a shock to me because The Killer Angels is about ninety percent of the film Gettysburg.
GC: Yeah, The Killer Angels is almost word for word.
JS: That’s exactly right, it is almost word for word. In Gods and Generals, there are maybe only three or four scenes taken from my book and put in the film, and that’s it. It’s an entirely different movie than I would have written, and would have liked to have seen done.
GC: My next question was actually going to be, for those that have not read the book, how did it differ from the final print of the film? But I guess that would be too much to go into.
JS: It’s enormously different, it’s radically different from the film. There are characters in the film that do not exist in the book, and a great many characters in the book that never made it to the film. It’s just an entirely different story, and I have to tell you, I’ve heard from literally thousands of people through my website, and I get emails every day and try to be as accessible as I can, and the overwhelming percentage of those that wrote me said, “How could you let them butcher your book like that?” I have no answer to that because I had no control or power to change what came up on the screen.
GC: I know you said on your website that right now, there are no plans to make The Last Full Measure into a film, but if they do decide to make it into a film in the next four years because of the 150th anniversary, will you comply with that and let them use your manuscript?
JS: When you say “they”, that’s the big question. Who is “they”? (laughs) We don’t know the answer to that because there is no “they” right now, but the thing is, there were mistakes made with Gods and Generals that I would not allow to happen again. If a film is going to be made from The Last Full Measure, I will have much more involvement or there simply won’t be a film. I’m not saying it has to be a hundred percent my book, I know better than that, some things don’t translate from the book to the screen, I get that. It’s not about ego, it’s about telling the story. The failure of Gods and Generals was to tell a good story and reach out to the general audience. The enormous success of Gettysburg was that it was attractive to a general audience. You didn’t have to be a Civil War buff or reenactor to understand what was going on, the characters were developed for you so you knew who they were, and it was a marvelous film. In Gods and Generals, the film was almost, and I don’t know this, it is my opinion, as though it was geared to the academic historians and the general audience was ignored. I’ve heard that, it’s not just my opinion, from a huge number of people. Like a guy would go to the film all excited because he knew what the story was about, and he would take his wife and kids and the wife and kids would get up and leave because they had no clue what was going on. That was the problem and it will not happen again. I’m not saying I will write the script, I’m not arrogant to suggest that I’m also a screenwriter because I don’t know that I can do it, but I will have considerable input into the script and will make sure it’s a good story and that it does appeal to a general audience, or there will be no film.
GC: Well, let’s hope that a producer steps forward and puts down some money because I would really like to see this trilogy complete.
JS: It has to start there, you’re absolutely right. That’s the other thing I hear, and I get letters on this literally every day, people want to know (which was why I put the note on my website) when the third movie is coming out, and it’s like they’re waiting for the shoe to drop because the story needs to be completed. I’ve had people chew me out and say, “Why aren’t you making the third film?” as though somehow I am stopping this. Gods and Generals cost $60 million to make, and if someone comes up with $60 million, fine, let’s talk. But so far it hasn’t happened (laughs).
GC: Could all of this have been avoided if they made Gods and Generals into a miniseries? Say like five parts, or even two separate films which was talked about?
JS: I don’t think the two separate movie idea would have worked, but I do think the miniseries idea would have worked much better. The problem is, you can’t make a ten-hour movie, I get that, but you can make a ten hour miniseries and I think some of the resistance, originally from TNT, and I don’t know this for sure, but some of the resistance was because they realized there was just too much story to cram into a movie that someone is going to sit in a theater and want to watch. Definitely, it could have been much more successful as a miniseries.
GC: You plan on writing another Civil War trilogy, this time on the western theater. Can you tell us anything about that?
JS: Yes, the book I just finished, which will be out in May, is the fourth and final WWII piece, the end of the war in the Pacific. I am working, right now, on the research, for a new trilogy which will be Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March. Each one will be out in the spring, starting in 2012, ’13, and ’14, with each one of those year’s being the 150th anniversary of those events. It’s a challenge because doing a book a year is tough. I have so much research material already that I think gives me a leg up and I’m very excited about this, as is my publisher and people I’ve talked to around the country. This is funny, and I have to laugh, I’ve gotten a lot of letters from people in Tennessee and Mississippi saying, “You know, we’re kind of tired of hearing about just Robert E. Lee and Virginia.” (laughs) There’s a whole lot more story that no one seems to want to find out about. I’ll respond to that and do the best I can.
GC: I just took a Civil War course in college, and I knew so much about the War previously, but this class just opened by eyes to how much more is out there, and not many people focus on the western theater and it’s always Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson in the east, and I think the west would be a very important part of the war that hasn’t been covered.
JS: I agree completely, which is why I’m excited about doing this.
GC: Aside from the Civil War, you’ve written about the Mexican-American War, the American Revolution, WWI, and WWII. Which of those has been your favorite topic to cover?
JS: That’s a tough question, and the problem in answering that is, if I don’t love the characters and period I’m writing about, I’m not going to write a very good book. When I move into a new era, I get totally swallowed up by that era—I’m totally immersed in it and the characters. Of course, the biggest challenge is finding those characters and who the voices are going to be. I’m very proud of the American Revolution series. A lot of people have said this to me, and I don’t judge my own book, I wouldn’t even know how, that my World War I book is my best book. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve heard that. The book I had the most fun doing was the Mexican War story, Gone for Soldiers, because I knew the characters so well from being involved in the Civil War and doing so much research, and going back to their early lives, and all of them with the exception of Chamberlain, talk about their experiences in Mexico and the profound effect it had on them. I didn’t know anything about the subject, most people don’t, and I started doing the research, and found a wonderful story and one that I had no idea existed—the heroism of Jackson, Grant, Longstreet, and Lee, was amazing. I didn’t know any of those stories and it was a lot of fun to write, plus I love the character of Winfield Scott and Santa Anna. I had a great deal of fun with both of them.
GC: I’m actually a big Alamo buff, so would you ever consider writing a story about that, since you mentioned Santa Anna?
JS: There have been two stories suggested to me that I should write. One is the Alamo and one is Custer’s last stand. Because they have been done so many times, I don’t know that I could do that. The thing is, the story of the Alamo doesn’t stop at the Alamo. The rest of the story is San Jacinto and Sam Houston and if I was to do it, it would probably be the whole war for Texas independence. I’ve had a lot of people from Texas write to me about that. As you know, the story is not just the Alamo. It’s hard to compete, especially when you have John Wayne’s Davy Crockett, it’s hard to tell a story and get away from that, and I would have to get away from that.
GC: I’m with the people from Texas, I think the story needs to be told, mainly, because no one has ever gotten it right. The John Wayne version was very inaccurate, to say the least.
JS: Absolutely, even the most recent Alamo movie and some of the books, nobody has gotten it right. Right now I have a pretty full plate and what I really want to do after the Civil War set is Korea and a Vietnam story, so I’m not sure when I would do that, but you’re right, it’s a story that needs to be told right.
GC: One last thing, an email question from “Andy”, and he writes, “Do you ever plan to write a novel that does not deal with war?”
JS: I get asked that fairly often, and it isn’t that I’ve decided to do nothing but war stories but my publisher was very clear, and they’ve told me that I’ve built an audience and it’s the thing my father never did. My father always wrote different topics. People are always asking me what other historical works did he write besides The Killer Angels, and the answer is none. He wrote a baseball story, a Hitchcock sci-fi story, he was all over the map. My publisher was clear that I’ve built an audience with this one theme, the epic historical military novel, and as long as there are readers out there who want this, to stick with it. Now there is a story I want to do, and I don’t want to get into too much, because it’s been done a few times, but I would like to do a story of a 1930′s gangster. The other thing, if I ever went outside of the United States and did a foreign story, it would probably be Napoleon. Even though that’s military, it’s a very different story and one that most Americans have no idea about. But for now, my publisher says, and this looks terrible on paper, but, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s the philosophy that they are employing with me right now. I’ve got an audience and the following is there so until that audience goes away, I’ll stick with what I’m doing.
I want to thank Mr. Shaara for taking the time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview. It truly was an enlightening afternoon and I hope you all enjoyed reading this rather lengthy and extensive piece. I can only hope that The Last Full Measure will be made one day, but until then, enjoy the terrific books on American wars that Jeff has given us, because the book is always better than the film. Also, don’t forget to check out his website.
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.
EDIT II: There have been a lot of updates since this was first published in November. Please visit the Civil War section for more up-to-date information. Thanks, Greg.
Gods and Generals is one of the greatest movies ever made about the Civil War, mainly because it did not conform to Hollywood standards and put forth a highly accurate depiction of the characters and events surrounding the first three years of the American Civil War. It includes many memorable scenes of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his first Virginia brigade, the tragic battle of Fredericksburg that resulted in an embarrassing Union defeat, the triumphant Confederate victory at Chancellorsville, and finally, the sad, accidental death of Jackson at the hands of his own men.
The film is dramatic, humorous at times, and deeply saddening. The constant use of captions, which some call distracting, further enhance the accuracy of the film, as those who are not Civil War buffs can know what regiments are where, and what day of the battle it is.
But even with all that this film excels in, it is highly fragmented. The film was sent to theaters with the audience full-well knowing that this film is only a fraction of what was originally filmed. It was released with the intention of it appearing on TNT for a network airing following it’s DVD release a few months later, and then the following year, a full director’s cut of what Ronald F. Maxwell initially shot, a film project running around six hours, would be put out. Unfortunately, the film bombed at the theaters, and even sent Turner Pictures into bankruptcy (Ted Turner, who produced Gettysburg, the prequel, paid the entire $60 million budget for Gods and Generals out of his own pocket.)
With the film a monumental failure to everyone but Civil War enthusiasts, the thought of releasing this massive director’s cut was shelved indefinitely. But now, according to a source on IMDB, this cut of the film is now not only in talks, but is actually going to be released in 2011.
According to a poster, who was a student of James Robertson, a professor at Virginia Tech and a Civil War historian and scholar with ties to Maxwell, he emailed Robertson asking if this director’s cut story was true, after being tipped about it on another web-page. The response he got was as follows:
“(W)arner Bros. plans to release the unabridged edition of “Gods and Generals”
sometime in 2011. Later this month, director Ron Maxwell, Col. Keith
Gibson, and I will record a long commentary/conversation that will be an
extra on the DVD. The uncut version will not be shown in movies houses
because of its length (6+ hours). Rather, it will be available in a DVD
Even though the way this post is set up seems credible, I will still attach a “grain of salt” warning to this, but I am very happy about this, and hopefully am not being let by false hope. Gods and Generals was a film that had so much passion behind it, but one that was flawed because they cut this massive project down into just more than three hours.
The deleted scenes include the entire battle of Antietam, a sub-plot between John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln, a friendship between Booth and actor Henry T. Harrison, who served as a Confederate scout, and additional scenes in and throughout the film.
With 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, I had been thinking earlier that if there was any time to release this film, these next five years would be it. I can only hope that this source is true, and that the email correspondence between he and Robertson is not fabricated. Gods and Generals is a film that can both entertain and educate, and it needs to be seen in it’s full six hour glory.
The entire cut of this film was only shown once, several years ago as part of a personal screening by Ron Maxwell. It ran well over five hours and upon it’s conclusion, it was met with a standing ovation. When released, Gods and Generals will be a treat for as all.