Just yesterday, I said in the final installment of “Blogging Manassas” that I did not know if any more coverage of Gods and Generals would be coming. Lo and behold, I was contacted by another cast member, today, who was also at the premiere this weekend, telling me a little about the role he played. I asked if he would let me interview him, and he agreed.
David Foster played the role of Captain Ricketts, one of the Union artillery commanders during the battle of First Bull Run scenes. He told me in his initial email that he would never forget his filming experiences, and that it was a joy to work for director Ron Maxwell, and that anything he produces is a “class act”. Of course, I asked him to elaborate further on that below, but first, it is also worthy to mention that he brought up where he was on September 11th, since that was a question raised to the actors in the panel on Friday night. David told me, “On 9/11, we were also filming the first Battle of Bull Run, at Henry House Hill. After we found out the news, we prayed, and were allowed to decide to keep filming. We filmed the artillery duel and Captain Rickett’s subsequent wounding.” He also tells me that he is related to a Civil War soldier, which he thought of often while filming. In addition to this, David has also appeared in numerous films and television shows, such as The Village, Flags of Our Fathers, and State of Play, as well as the hit HBO miniseries John Adams. Below is our conversation:
GC: Can you describe your G & G filming experiences and what it was like to work for Ron Maxwell?
DF: Filming Gods and Generals was my best time on set, ever. The reenactors will forever be my heroes for the way they worked each scene so well. They endured extreme heat, long hours, and did this all for free and on their vacations. The crew was very good, and at times, I felt as if I had traveled back in time. My wife came to the set one day, when it was media day. There were a lot of charges and battle scenes. Rob Gibson had his glass plate studio set up on the edge of the field and took a picture of me in character. Rob had my wife and I come over to the tray when he developed the picture. We were amazed to see my picture appear on the plate in the tray of chemicals. Many of us bought a set of playing card size copies of our pictures. Months before filming, I began having headaches and a large cyst grew on my temple. Doctors said it might be cancer, but I waited until filming was over to have the operation. In September they told me that my filming was done, so I had the operation and fortunately it wasn’t cancer. While my wound was still healing I got a call to film the Battle of Antietam, but couldn’t go. Thanksgiving weekend came around, and I got a call to film another part of First Bull Run and filmed my only speaking part of the movie. I hope very much that somehow Ron Maxwell gets the chance to film The Last Full Measure, because I would love to be a part of it. I also hope Stephen Lang comes back because he was very good to work with.
GC: I have to ask, was your beard real?
DF: My beard was mostly made, as well as my [own] hair. I didn’t shave for maybe two weeks and I had let my hair grow some before filming. Each morning on set, I spent about 3 1/2 hours in the chair. They made up three layers of hair extensions and attached them each day after my beard was done. The beard took longest. One time in Maryland, they made me all up and rain delayed the shoot until the next day. I volunteered to sleep with my hair and beard in place to speed up the next day’s prep time, since there was only a small window without rain. The hair department gave me rags to put over my beard and hair for while I slept. I took a Benadryl before bedtime since the whole get-up itched so bad, so I could sleep. The next day they took far less time to prep me, and we got the shoot in.
GC: You have appeared in several history-related films, but which is your favorite time period in history?
DF: My favorite period is the Civil War, because it is all around us. The buildings that survived the war fascinate me, because they all have their own story. The soldiers, as well as civilians, each have a story. The biggest thing is my Great Great Grandfather—Captain Henry Stowell of the 7th Vermont. He was the Quartermaster of his unit and I found documents where he supplied uniforms and supplies to the Black Union soldiers. His diary tells many stories from his time in the Gulf of Mexico region—his time in New Orleans, the blockade of Mobile, taking a ship from Pensacola to Ship Island. Henry came home in one piece and was a printer in Troy, New York.
GC: What was it like working for M. Night Shyamalan in The Village?
DF: Working for Night was a good experience. We averaged about 12 takes per scene, so it was a little tedious at times. I was on vacation in the Smokies when I got the call to go to Philadelphia for the audition. My wife overheard me on the phone just after we toured Biltmore House, and said, “Don’t say no, I have a good feeling about this part”. I was cast as one of the 12 main elders, but found out later, it was only a glorified extra part. Disney is very tight with the money, but I ended up with some good scenes, and worked 18 days in all. William Hurt was very helpful to me on set, and Sigourney Weaver swooned on my shoulder between takes of the first scene. Night Shyamalan took very good care of us all, and I would work for him again any time.
GC: What are you up to now? Any upcoming film projects?
DF: I just finished a commercial promoting uranium mining in Virginia. I filmed 4 spots and 5 voice-overs, which will start airing soon. Last fall, I filmed a very nice historical movie – Alone Yet Not Alone, based on a true story and book, set during the French and Indian War. I portrayed a french scout who shot the main villain, with a flintlock musket at night. They liked the job I did so much, they brought me back as General Braddock’s valet. I looked totally different thanks to a wig and makeup and I can be seen in the trailer in this part. Last fall, I also filmed an Anthem Blue Cross commercial, as well as a Southern States commercial. In addition, I was a high school principal in a Darden School of Business training video. Tomorrow I go to Richmond for my second audition for the movie—Lincoln.
I would like to thank David for taking the time to conduct this interview, and wish him the best of lucking in landing a role in the upcoming Steven Spielberg film about Abraham Lincoln!