I’m not sure why a gorgeous, thrilling horror/western/adventure like Ron Howard’s The Missing didn’t win over audiences as much as it should have upon release, but it’s one of my favourite in the genre, the best film overall from Howard (IMHO) who has always felt like an uneven, ‘play it safe’ Hollywood filmmaker to me and one of my go-to films to revisit. This films plays it anything but safe, blanketing a very personal, desperate set of protagonists and their struggles with a cloak of menace, mysticism and marauding danger around every corner of a threatening New Mexico brush-scape. Cate Blanchett gives one of her most raw, affecting turns as single rancher and single mother Magdalena Gillekson, a woman with a great deal of trauma in her past who is simply trying to live the isolated homesteader life and raise her two daughters (Jenna Boyd and Evan Rachel Wood) right, with the help of her friend, ranch-hand and sometimes lover Brake (Aaron Eckhart). Their lives are first upheaved with the reappearance of her ne’er do well father Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones), a halfbreed nomad who is disgraced most people in his past, and then with the arrival of a terrifying witch-doctor (Eric Schweig) who kidnaps her eldest daughter and makes off with his gang of Apache and white human traffickers towards the Mexican border to sell her and a whole bunch of other girls they’ve taken. So begins a journey of reconnaissance, rescue and reconciliation as Magdalena, Samuel and the younger daughter voyage across wintry plains of New Mexico into barren badlands to square off with this evil cabal of predatory psychopaths and return the stolen girls to their homes. These two characters that Blanchett and Jones play fascinate me; she’s cold, bitter and has clearly been robbed of some of her humanity in the past. He’s an outcast loner with a life story so dysfunctional that his Native name literally translates into English as ‘shit for luck.’ Their struggle to salvage any kind of father daughter relationship between them is almost as daunting as the brutal rescue mission they undertake, and the narrative pays just as much careful attention to character development and human interaction as it does to action and violence. Schweig is utterly despicable as the evil Apache shaman, a hateful, volatile, ugly as fuck rotten bastard monster who haunts the film like the very wind over the terrain itself with his unholy magic spells and sudden outbursts of shocking violence. The supporting cast is full of rich talent including Elizabeth Moss, Steve Reeves, Jay Tavare, Ray McKinnon, Max Perlich, Simon Baker, Clint Howard and a surprise cameo from Val Kilmer. As good as everyone is overall, my favourite performance of the film goes to Jenna Boyd as the youngest daughter.. it’s hard enough to find child actors who will be able to to the minimal amount of believable emotion in a role like this, but she is uncannily talented and her potent terror, fierce resilience and undimmed love for her mother and sister woven into her work simply knocked me flat. The late James Horner composes a score that tops the list of prolific work from him for me, an ambient collection of classic yet somehow eerie western motifs that play along the sideline for the first two acts and then swell with orchestral release later when the finale rolls around. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino makes spooky use of the wide open vistas, craggy, labyrinthine geological structures and captures the rugged natural beauty of the region splendidly. I wish Howard would do more edgy, off the beaten path and thoroughly dark pieces of work like this because for my money he’s never been better. Perhaps that’s why this wasn’t received so well though, it’s a harrowing far cry from what we’re used to seeing in Hollywood westerns, full of black magic, dark deeds, horrifying imagery and bloody, unforgiving violence. It has a soul too though, present in the bittersweet relationship between its main characters and the ruthless resolve they fuel in each other to seek retribution against the forces of darkness at their door. This is a great film and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, I think it was just either misunderstood, ahead of its time or people simply couldn’t reconcile the heavier aspects. I’ve recently acquired the only existing Blu Ray put out by Shout Factory which is an absolutely gorgeous release that includes an extended version with twenty minutes more footage that enriches and deepens this story wonderfully. One of the best films of the last two decades.
I’m pleased to bring you my first interview in some time, with the incredibly talented Louis Herthum! Louis is a dedicated actor who has recently gained worldwide acclaim for his galvanizing, scene stealing portrayal of Peter Abernathy on HBO’s Westworld, and he has an epic career that includes appearances in films like City Of Lies opposite Johnny Depp, The Possession Of Hannah Grace, Truth, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and more. He also has many memorable television roles including Longmire, What/If, Breaking Bad, True Detective, True Blood, Revenge, Sleepy Hollow, Narcos and more. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Nate: What is your background, and how did you find your way into acting/the industry? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or did you fall into it unexpectedly?
Louis: I wanted to be a stuntman since the age of 12 when my father took me to see the Steve McQueen film, BULLITT. It was the chase scene in that film that was the inspiration. I was somewhat of a stunt-kid, always doing things that would see me getting a few stitches (or worse) at the doctors office but stunt driving was what I wanted to do the most. I made no bones about it all through the rest of elementary school, high school and the little bit of college (LSU) that I attended. In the mid 70’s I was working for a men’s fine clothing store and they asked me to model for their adds. I did, which led to more modeling jobs with an agency, which led to some on camera commercial gigs, which led finally to working on stage. Once I got on stage, my fate was sealed. I played the lead role of “Starbuck” in the N. Richard Nash play, THE RAIN MAKER. I won an award for the performance and that was it. I stayed in my home town Baton Rouge, did a couple more plays, playing “Will Parker” in OKLAHOMA and “Kenickie” in GREASE, then in January of 1982 I move to L.A.
Nate: Who were some of your influences growing up, favourite actors you’d watch in film and admire?
Louis: I never really had a favorite actor because I was never really that interested in acting. But of course, McQueen was an influence but I didn’t even realize it since it wasn’t his acting that inspired me. But I will have to say that believe it or not, John Travolta’s meteoric rise to fame did make an impression on me. Mainly in Saturday Night Fever. It may be strange to say it this way but I just felt like I could do what he was doing. I think that was very possibly Travolta’s best role ever by the way. And then Grease came along and I felt like… Hey, I can do that! So his rise to fame is what I was more inspired by, not to take anything away from his talent and abilities of course.
Nate: Westworld: such a brilliant performance in one of the best shows out there. Were you approached for the role or did you audition? How was your process in bringing that intense scene to life, basically staring down both Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins and giving a tour de force in under five minutes. How did you prepare to play Peter?
Louis: Well, first of all thank you for that comment. I had to audition for the role, if was not offered to me. I went in for the initial audition with the assistant casing director and was asked to return to read for the producers. I had several days between the two and I was told to come in and that the door was wide open (what door? ha!) to go as far as I wanted to with the physicality of the character. The scene that I read in the audition was the one you are referring to with Tony and Jeffrey however it was three different characters and different dialogue of course. It was simply a scene they wrote for the audition and every male actor who was playing a robot had to do it. Then you also read for the part you were called in to read for. For me it was the Sheriff. I did pretty much what you see in the show in the audition. Lisa Joy was the only producer in the room and she liked what I did and made comments that let me know that. Then she asked if there was anything else I would like to show them. I answered, “No thanks. I think I will quit while I’m ahead.” They laughed, I left the room and in about 5 or 6 weeks I got the word that I had booked “Peter Abernathy” and of course, I had no idea who that was because I had not read that part. Then my manager said to me, you know that part you read for the audition, that is Peter Abernathy. It was then that I realized I would be doing the scene with Mr. Hopkins because every the audition script named him as Dr. Ford and I had read that he was playing that role. As far as how I prepared for the scene; as I say I did pretty much what you see in the audition so I already had the blueprint if you will for the scene. I did rehearse with Lisa and Jonah one day, running through the entire scene, full tilt, twice. They liked what I was doing and in fact, three days before we filmed the scene, which was five pages long, they added three more pages to it. Most of that was not in the final cut but I think they simply wanted to give me a chance to do more with the character and see what happened. I think it was the better more than not enough scenario. But I think it was edited beautifully.
Nate: True Detective: a very memorable scene and your performance adds to the overall vibe of haunting unease in that area. How did you get involved and what was your experience shooting that scene with Matthew McConaughey? You yourself are from Louisiana and your involvement has an authentic feel. Are you a fan of the show overall?
Louis: I auditioned for that role as well. But I have to say, I went in to that audition daring them not to cast me. I knew that one was mine. I knew I could bring a more authentic Louisiana character to life, especially using a Cajun accent for the character. As for shooting the scene, it was pretty fast really. When I got to the set, Matthew and the director Cary where sitting on the porch of that house. Matthew introduced himself, then Cary and we shot the scene with me holding the shot gun, which was longer than in the final cut. Then we went inside and banged that one out. I didn’t take long at all and it went very smoothly. And I was a huge fan of Season one. Not so much two, and still have yet to watch S3.
Nate: Longmire: very memorable character you got to play here, what was the experience working on this show?
Louis: Omar was a great, fun character to play. Great cast, lots of fun to work with. And shooting in Santa Fe, NM was great. Great locations and lovely place to be for work. As for the role of Omar, I only wish there had been more of him. That role was supposed to be a “strong recurring” character in the series. Omar is very prominent in the books and was so in season’s 1 & 2 but after that, he was hardly seen at all. I found that odd but I guess someone thought that they only needed one “jack of all trades” and found other places for the comic relief, which I felt Omar provided.
Nate: City Of Lies: this film seems to have slipped through the cracks and never got a proper release, how was your experience on it? I was very excited to see it as it has you alongside many other actors I also admire (Peter Greene, Xander Berkeley, Toby Huss etc)
Louis: Oh man. First of all, the film is locked in some kind of legal issue. That is why it has fallen through the cracks. I don’t know if it will ever be seen by the public in the States. But working with Johnny Depp was absolutely delightful. He’s a very sweet, kind person and I think gets a bad wrap. And very funny. He was a pleasure to work with, as was Shea Whigham. And while I didn’t work directly with him, it was nice to see and old friend and magnificent actor, Dayton Callie on set. I had a wonderful closing argument scene as the City Attorney but the director told me he hated to, but that he had to cut it. That was devastating because while filming, jokingly, Johnny asked me, “can you do it worse?” He and Shea said they thought it would make the trailer to the film. I knew it never would but that was nice of them to say. Anyway, I was so hoping to get that piece of footage but alas, I may never see it. Nor anyone else for that matter.
Nate: Of the roles you have played so far in your career, which are some of your favourites?
Louis: Certainly Peter Abernathy is at the top of the list. A close second has to be “Foster” in WHAT/IF with Renee Zellweger. Not only because Renee and the entire producer team were such a wonderful group of people to know and work with, but the role itself was one that I had never been given the opportunity to play. And I thank Mike Kelly (creator) for believing in me enough to give me a character no one had ever seen me play. Stoic, strong, loyal, brave and a forceful character. And like I say, not to hard to come to work when you are playing opposite Ms. Zellweger. She is a delight. Omar was great but too little, and another favorite character was “Ness” in a little indie film I produced in 2004 called RED RIDGE. He was a despicable character but sometimes they are the most fun. You get to do things you would never do in real life. Very few people have seen that film, but with all the streaming services, maybe they will one day.
Nate: How is your life aside from the job, what else do you like to do in terms of hobbies, interests etc?
Louis: I have a great life. I cannot complain. I love art and antiques and have a great collection of both. Love to search for treasures at estate sales and swap meets. I have two classic cars, a 1968 Mustang Fastback which is my homage to “Bullitt” and a 1971 Corvette Stingray. I love to camp, hike, ride my bike, walk on the beach, boxing workout, which I have been doing since long before it was the cool thing to do (1978 to be exact) and of course visiting and hanging with friends, though I have not been able to do enough of that of late but I look forward to getting back to it once the apocalypse subsides, haha!
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects (film related or otherwise) that you are excited for and would like to mention?
Louis: I recently appeared in an episode of FBI: MOST WANTED and the second season of DIRTY JOHN but that was before he shutdown and they have already aired. But since production has come back, I have started a recurring role on the CBS show, ALL RISE and should be doing more of those in 2021. I have just completed my part in the Apple TV show, HOME BEFORE DARK season 2 (was in season 1 as well). But with the shut down, work was non existent for many months, lets hope things can continue to get better from here. Fingers crossed!!
Nate: Thank you so much for you time Louis, it means a whole lot to myself, our team and all our readers that you took this time to share with us. Cheers to you and your family and best of luck in the future!!
HBO’s Westworld is a show that explores evolution, both humanity’s and that of an emerging new species with uncommon innovation, beauty and ferocious destruction. As such the evolutionary process that should be most captivating is that of the show itself, as the storytelling flows and blooms from one season to another and their third instalment has surpassed my expectations. This is groundbreaking, cinematic level world building with deep psychological exploration, sweeping special effects, pools of philosophical introspect, musical genius peppered throughout the episodes and a sense of great progression in scope, spirit and sound from the womb of season one and birth canal of two. With three we see the hosts, human beings and overall tone break free into a brave, scary, different new world and I couldn’t be more overjoyed or awestruck at the avenues of exploration taken with this piece of television.
These next two paragraphs will get a bit spoilery in regards to the first two seasons so if you haven’t been on this wagon train since the get-go then maybe hang back. The Westworld park is all but ashes, it’s creators, attractions and shareholders scattered to the wind. Ed Harris’s self destructive maelstrom William is relegated to a batshit crazy (more than usual anyways) version of himself, antiquated in a now all-bets-are-off chessboard. Evan Rachel Wood’s fiery farmer’s daughter turned revolutionary is whipping up an explosively covert war against humans in order for her and the other hosts who made it out, banding together with ex-soldier Caleb (Aaron Paul) for a bitter battle against mega CEO Serauc (Vincent Cassel) and his golden egg, a complex orb of artificial intelligence that has held humanity in a secret stranglehold for decades. Others return here and there including Thandie Newton’s Mauve (my personal favourite character <3), Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard while new and welcome faces show up including Tommy Flanagan, John Gallagher Jr., Thomas Kretschmann, Marshawn Lynch, Pom Klementieff, Lena Waithe, Rafi Gavron, Russell Wong and rapper Kid Cudi.
Season one and two were very much governed by boundaries; the park’s borders constantly loomed and whatever realms which lay beyond remained largely a mystery. Godlike Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) hovered over everything with opaque benevolence and knew more than he let on, especially about the true nature of the world. The atmosphere felt contained, bound by dreamlike tendons that inevitably disintegrated and led to something new, the genesis of an entirely new race of beings. Season 3 blasts apart the shackles and throws us headlong into a strange, unforgiving, futuristic world, a world ruled by technology and automation that is ready for Dolores and her cohorts to hijack for their own ends. Aaron Paul is fantastic here, worlds away from his Breaking Bad persona, a fallibly human totem of change and uprising who is unsure of himself yet best suited for the job than for reasons I won’t spoil here. HBO has their very own Hans Zimmer-esque composing prodigy in Ramin Djawadi, a hugely talented artist who continues his ethereal, haunting covers of iconic classic rock artists like Bowie and Guns N’ Roses while crafting intense, gorgeous pieces of his own electronic revelry to accent the story. Production designers keep up their arresting retro-futuristic portrait of the future with nods to everything from Blade Runner to Metropolis to Kill Bill while painting their own bold, original canvas of costumes, aircrafts, weaponry and tech interface while the impossibly cool, prophetic opening credits take on sweeping newfound meaning with a thrilling update. One of my favourite sequences sees Caleb take a weird street drug that sees his consciousness pass through several different states of awareness from psychedelia to black and white noir, the episode is titled ‘Genre’ and is an achingly beautiful, dynamic shoutout to the very medium of visual storytelling itself. Dolores and all her kind really broke the mould when they revolted and escaped, and so too does this brilliant third incarnation of one of the greatest television series ever made. Bring on season four and whatever new beats, revelations and rock remixes will come with it.
Andrew Niccol’s S1mone is social satire at its cheeriest, a pleasant, endearing dissection of Hollywood mania and celebrity obsession that only hints at the level of menace one might achieve with the concept. It’s less of a cautionary tale and more of a comedic fable, and better for it too. In a glamorous yet used up Hollywood, mega producer Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino with some serious pep in his step) needs to give his enterprise a makeover. His go-to star (Winona Ryder) is a preening diva who drives him up the wall, and there seems to be a glaring absence of creative juice in his side of the court. Something cutting edge, something brand new and organic, something no one else has. But what? Simone, that’s what. After finding clandestine software left behind by a deceased Geppeto-esque computer genius (Elias Koteas, excellent), he downloads what lies within, and all manner of mayhem breaks loose. The program was designed to create the perfect virtual reality woman, flawless and capable in every way, including that of the cinematic thespian. Viktor sees this as gold and treats it as such, carefully introducing Simone (played by silky voiced model Rachel Roberts) to an unsuspecting film industry who are taken by storm and smitten. Simone can tirelessly churn out five oscar worthy performances in a month, never creates on set drama, whips up scandals or demands pay raises. She’s the answer to everyone’s problem, except for the one issue surrounding her very presence on the screen: she isn’t actually real. This creates a wildly hysterical dilemma for Pacino, a fiery Catherine Keener as a fellow executive, and everyone out there who’s had the wool pulled over their starry eyes. It’s the kind of tale we’d expect from Barry Levinson or the like, a raucously funny, warmhearted, pithily clever send up of the madness that thrives in the movie industry every day. There’s all manner of cameos and supporting turns including Evan Rachel Wood, Jay Mohr, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Rebecca Romjin and the late Daniel Von Bargen as a detective who cheekily grills Pacino when things get real and the masses want answers. This is fairy tale land in terms of plausibility, but it’s so darn pleasant and entertaining that it just comes off in a relatable, believable manner. Pacino is having fun too, a frenzied goofball who tries his damnedest to safeguard his secret while harried on all sides by colleagues and fans alike. Roberts is sensual and symmetrical as the computer vixen, carefully walking a tightrope between robotic vocation and emoting, essentially playing an actress pretending to be an actress who isn’t even human, no easy task. It’s a breezy package that’s never too dark or sobering, yet still manages to show the twisted side of a famously strange industry. Great stuff.
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.
I’ve been curiously drawn to the 2005 film Down in the Valley throughout the last 10 years, if for no other reason than I can’t seem to find too many movies quite like it. Starring a mysterious and characteristically magnetic Edward Norton as a modern day cowboy who “drifts” into town (the oh-so-cinematic San Fernando Valley) and changes the lives of the people he comes into contact with, it’s a strange film, dreamily stylish (Enrique Chediak is the cinematographer), and peppered with colorful and juicy supporting performances from an excellent Evan Rachel Wood, the always terrific David Morse, a sensitive Rory Culkin, and the legendary Bruce Dern. After making its debut in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, the film was released to mostly muted critical response and close to zero box office during a brief limited theatrical run; it’s still not available on Blu-ray with only a DVD and possible streaming options available. Writer/director David Jacobson hasn’t worked much since this film came and went, which seems to be a shame, because the film is an interesting if not entirely successful mood piece that’s heavily interested in character and skewing the expected conventions of the classic “Western” melodrama. Because the film is set in the present day, and it revolves around a delusional lead character (trying not to give too much away, here…), Jacobson is free to upend our common expectations, going in directions you won’t likely see coming, unafraid to present flawed main characters who you may empathize with if not sympathize with. Morse is really outstanding as Wood’s easily angered father who resents the heartfelt if not potentially dangerous Norton trying to make eyes with his sexually blossoming young daughter, with Jacobsen tipping his hat in all manner of auteur-lead directions, evoking Terrence Malick’s Badlands, the works of John Ford, and the occasional surreality of David Lynch or someone along those lines. This is a quirky, cool, and defiantly original piece of work that’s worth tracking down.