Although it appeared that all the cast-members were genuinely happy to be at the World Premiere of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut, no one had more fun than Bruce Boxleitner (James Longstreet) and Alex Hyde-White (Ambrose Burnside). These actors, when mingling with the press just ate it up, and were cracking jokes and laughing the entire time, which also carried over into the ensuing on-stage panel. These were the two actors I got a chance to interview, while Jeff got to speak with Donzaleigh Abernathy (Martha), because they actually have a mutual friend in American Indian activist Russell Means. While I was a little disappointed that Lang, Daniels, or Duvall could not make it, those that were there made for an awesome evening. I remember after I had just finished interviewing Boxleitner, Hyde-White crept up behind him and shouted, “Longstreet’s a loser!”
Right off the bat, I wanted to find Patrick Gorman (John Bell Hood) and Brian Mallon (Winfield Scott Hancock), but because of their immense popularity among fans, due to their appearance in both films, they were swamped. I walked over to Gorman as fast as I could, and he saw me and said, “Oh you look so familiar…uh…”, and I said my name and he said, “Greg! Yes!” and we walked over to the side and got some pictures. I found Mallon a little bit later on, and before we got a picture, he was telling everyone around us about my site and how great he thought it was. He did the same thing later on at the autograph table. This time, more people heard and I actually had to hand out a few business cards. I am really grateful for his kind words.
When it came time for me to talk to Boxleitner, he was in the middle of signing some autographs, including for Jeff. The reason for this is, we did not know that there was going to be an hour given between the panel and the film to get things signed. Had I known, I would have brought a slew of memorabilia, but still ended up getting some pictures in my press kit signed. Just as Bruce finished with Jeff, he was jokingly yelled at by someone running the event. “See, you got me in trouble!” he said with a smile, to Jeff. He then looked at me, and so I asked him, “Can I ask you a few questions?” He answered, “Ah, the real press. Thank God!” Below is our interview:
GC: What did you do to prepare for your role as General Longstreet?
BB: Well, I read two major biographies of him, and I also read his own memoirs. Was that necessary? Probably not; an actor can get away with it, but I wanted to know about the guy. I was not in the film a lot, but I am so glad with this cut that I am in it some more, with Antietam [and other scenes]. But that’s what you do—that’s what is marvelous about playing historical characters, because you have so much reference work. You can go back and maybe find some little thing that you can do that would be uniquely his. I sucked on an unlit cigar all the time too.
GC: Did you ever actually have it lit?
BB: Sometimes I did, but he was very prone to just having a stub sticking out of his mouth. I chewed on it all day. As soon as I would come onto the set, I would get the beard and makeup and everything, and that was the first prop I got next to my sword-belt and everything else. The prop-men were right there waiting with my stogies—all Longstreet’s stogies, nobody else’s (laughs). I’d have mine, and in sucking on it the whole day, it gives you that kind of (makes a gruff sound) war feeling! War is hell!
GC: What was it like having to wear that beard?
BB: That was probably the hardest part of all of it, having to wear that beard. I was with the makeup department a little more than two hours every day just for the beard alone. I had my hair dyed too. That beard was laid on with these panels of webbing, and then hair by hair, and you may laugh, it was put on, but it was Yak hair. Your beard hair has a little different texture than the hair on your head, sometimes its a lot coarser; I know mine is, and I’ve got a white beard now. The hair is also much stiffer. So that’s what it was, Yak hair. He wore a very long beard, which I think was about to there (points to an area on his chest). It was awkward at first, like when eating lunch, it was often that I would find half my lunch in my beard. I’ve worn my own beard myself, so I know. At lunchtime, I would have them take off the mustache part. That was probably the longest time because it was so extensive, but I was happy with it because they were really trying to reach for an authenticity. It’s a unique period in history with men’s facial hair. Prior to that, men didn’t wear beards. All our colonial forefathers didn’t wear beards. Then somewhere around the mid-19th century, facial hair started coming in, like we have in the 20th century. Now we’re back to what you guys are wearing. It’s funny at that time, being out on such long, arduous campaigns, after a while it was a drag to have to shave. Imagine a cold shave, with not necessarily having hot water available, and a straight razor. There were clean-shaven officers and men too, sort of like the times we are now living in.
Before that, I had made my way over to Alex. I saw him standing towards the side having a Coke, and at first, did not want to bother him, but I walked over and asked if I could speak to him for a few minutes. He put down his soda and said, “Sure! That’s why I’m here.” Overall, he was a very funny guy, not necessarily in his answers to me, but during the panel. He and Bruce had the audience roaring, and of course sat near each other, where they had fun throughout the course of the event. Below is our chat:
GC: What did you do to prepare for your role as General Burnside?
AW: I grew my sideburns as long as I could; actually, I grew a beard in about a month, and it grew fairly quickly. Then I read up a little on his history and I came to the set. It was a glorious day, and they told me just now that it was the first day of production, which I don’t really remember. Whenever you are in a film for a short time, you just really try the fundamentals: learn the line, learn the part, learn the history that’s relevant, and go in and try to forget all of it and just let it happen.
GC: Are you excited for this day?
AW: This is great—it’s a triumph for Ron, and for Warner Brothers and Ted Turner. This is a time in American history where we benefit from understanding a little more of difficult periods of history that we have gone through as a way of understanding more about how we can recover and move on. The American spirit is on display in this film, and it is only fair to the filmmakers that it now be presented in its entirety.
I would like to thank both of these actors for taking the time to conduct these interviews, and also, posing for pictures. It was nice finally getting a chance to meet some of the many actors that I have essentially grown up watching. The autograph signing was cool too, getting a chance to meet and talk briefly to all people present, including the four above mentioned actors, as well as Donzaleigh Abernathy, John Castle, and Frankie Faison, along with historians James I. Robertson, Dennis Frye, and Gabor Boritt, and of course, director Ron Maxwell. My second interview with Ron, which was a one-on-one sit down, will be posted tomorrow. Please keep checking back for that, and other journals on the actor’s panel!