We recently caught up with W. Earl Brown, who is nearly unrecognizable in the role of Brady Bloodworth, to chat about the movie, which opens this Friday, May 20th. We kicked things off by discussing his role on the hit FX series Justified, where his stated love for whiskey and Prince's Hot Chicken has bolstered attendance inside this Nashville hole in the wall.
Here is our conversation:
When you said the words 'Prince's Hot Chicken' on Justified, did you know that you were adding at least a 30 to 40 minute wait time to the line at Prince's?
W. Earl Brown: (Laughs) I did not write those words. The screenwriter came up with it. Someone told him about Prince's. So, of course! That is great product placement. They didn't have to pay for it.
Have you been there?
W. Earl Brown: No! I haven't. It's in Nashville, right?
Yes. It was just around the corner from where I was living. To go in their before you mentioned it on Justified, it would take at least 45 minutes to an hour to get your chicken. Your shout out on the show added at least 30 minutes to that.
W. Earl Brown: Where is that? Is it in South Nashville?
It's more on the East Nashville side. Off Dickerson Pike on Ewing.
W. Earl Brown: I have not been there. I grew up in Murray Kentucky. My wife is from there, also. So, we always get off the plane in Nashville. We go to Monell's. Have you ever been there?
No. I never did get in there.
W. Earl Brown: Its over in Germantown. We love that place. But I am going to be in Nashville in July. I will make it a point to go in there. I will wait for two hours to get my chicken. All because of Justified.
In July, they always have the hot chicken festival in the park near downtown. The line for Prince's truck was absolutely insane last year. All because of you.
W. Earl Brown: (Laughs) They owe me a free meal, I would think. Man, I am such a huge fan of Justified. I just finished the finale over the weekend. I had it on my DVR. I am going to write Graham Yost, the show runner, and ask, "Is there any way in Hell Wallace can break out of prison?"
I bet they bring you back. They've been brining everybody back. Its great to see them bringing all of you Deadwood guys on...
W. Earl Brown: Timothy Olyphant is also a producer on Justified. Graham Yost, all of those folks over there, are big Deadwood fans. So it's been an open door for all of us.
I think the last of you guys to go on was Jim Beaver...
W. Earl Brown: Yes. He was up at the coalmines. He was the guy they robbed up in the pay office.
I guess we should talk about Bloodworth. Watching the film, I didn't realize that you also wrote this until I saw the end credits. Why did you decide to adapt this particular book by William Gay? And what kept you from also taking on the project as a director?
W. Earl Brown: I read the book around the time that it was published. My wife had interviewed William Gay for a project she was working on. So, I'd read the novel, and I loved it. Love that book. I consider William Gay one of the great writers that no one has ever heard of. The idea for the movie came when we were flying home from Nashville. My wife was reading Nashville Living magazine. I was reading Spin Magazine. It was an interview with Johnny Cash. One of the very last interviews that Johnny ever did. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a review for Provinces. At that point, the book was two years old. I said something to my wife about it, "Oh, look, Provinces..." The very next question asked of Cash was, "Is there anything you have left to do in life?' John's answer was, "I'd love to do one more film. If my health held up, and I found the right project, I'd love to do a movie." That planted this seed of a 72-year-old dying musician. John's health... June died not to long after this, and I knew it was just a matter of time for Johnny. Kris, though, was always my first choice. He was one of my heroes, as was John. I told him, "I have a framed print of the Highwaymen. It's in my house, in the hallway. Along with a bunch of music photography that I have." Anyway, that interview planted the seed. Now, I had seen Shane Dax Taylor's first film, called The Grey. He shot that in my hometown of Murray, Kentucky. Shane is from West Kentucky as well. He grew up in Henderson. He went to high school outside of Louisville. His first film blew me away. While my megalomania knows no bounds, directing is one thing I have never really done. I directed a couple of plays. That was the extent of it. I contacted Shane about collaborating on this. I gave him the book, and it resonated with him as much as it did with me. I was working on Deadwood. We were working on the first season when we got the rights. Then David Milch brought me onto the writing staff of Deadwood during Season 2. Because of me being on the writing staff, and my association with David Milch, people started taking this script seriously. That, in a nutshell, is what got the ball rolling.
Like Sean Penn in Carlito's Way, you are unrecognizable here. It was at least twenty or thirty minutes into the movie before I realized I was watching W. Earl Brown, and I have been a longtime fan of your work...
W. Earl Brown: That is a double-edged sword. That is what I always attempt to do. I want to become someone else. You can't help but bring in faucets of your own personality. Your own self. Those are your tools. I try to physically and mentally immerse myself in whatever it is I am doing. That is good for me as an artist. I am always looking for that part that I have never done before, which makes it all the more difficult, because people want to hire you for what they've already seen you do. As far as a career? The people in Hollywood? They sort of know me. I have created famous characters. Warren is a famous character, from There's Something About Mary. But people don't put that together, unless I tell them that I am Warren. I am very proud of that fact. It is something I actively search out. I do things in TV that I have created and done before, waiting for something great to come along. Now, I did not write this role in Bloodworth for myself. We actually offered this to a well-known star that I went to school with. His scheduling wouldn't allow it. So, by default, I became Brady. I am proud that people don't automatically recognize that it's me. I feel like I have done my job.
But you are so right. If you look at Warren, then your character on Deadwood, and then Brady, here, in Bloodworth, if you didn't know any better, you would never think that the same man is embodying all these three people. I love to see that, when I fully buy into a character, not realizing it's a particular actor...
W. Earl Brown: Thank you. There are people that break through doing that. Sean Penn is a prime example. Sean started out as a movie star even in his youth. But his sheer skill...I have never seen him give a bad performance, and he always becomes someone else. It's what I attempt.
As far as writing the screenplay, we have Dwight Yoakum's character, who never enters the main part of the story. He is off in his own universe. How did you go about incorporating his scenes into the film, and how easy was it to find the balance and rhythm in that, in contrast to the other main story arc?
W. Earl Brown: In the book...The book is actually set in the 40s. We wanted a timeless feel to it, and we knew we couldn't afford to do a 40s period piece. There were a few things I had to change. I tried to stay as close to the source material as possible, but when Dwight Yoakam goes searching for her, its in Detroit. We needed to take him completely out of the picture. We wanted to have that character lingering as a shadow. The distance to Nashville is only a hundred miles or so. We changed it to where he is in Nashville. And the part that is not in the book is where he crosses paths with his Brother. With Val Kilmer's character, Warren. I felt like I needed some sort of contact between those two characters while they are in the same place. We went back and forth on it. We went through different edits, and whether we should keep Dwight's story. It shadows every thing. That is apparent. The three sons are faucets of their father. Like Kris' reaction...E.F. loves Warren, because Warren is the part of himself that he actually likes. The gregarious, good-looking ladies' man. He is that guy. Brady is the crazy, quasi-dangerous side of himself that he hates. Hence, he hates Brady. Then Dwight is the truly murderous part of himself. We kept Dwight in Nashville so that he would be somewhat in proximity to the other characters. We had a version of the script where he comes home after the murders. In the book, this did not happen. We shot a scene where he is back in their lives at the end. But in editing, we decided that didn't work. So we left him in limbo, as are all three sons left in limbo at the end of the thing. We did weigh that when were putting together this story.
Bloodworth has such a great eclectic cast. You have these musical legends like Kris and Dwight. Then you have yourself and Val Kilmer, and you also have Hillary Duff. How much input did you have in bringing these guys together, and was this what you had envisioned when you sat down to adapt this story?
W. Earl Brown: Kris was in my head the entire time. Dwight? We had always envisioned another musician playing one of the sons. We had considered Dwight for Warren, and they sent the script to Dwight with the idea of him playing Warren. But he thought it was too close to his singing persona. He liked the other brother. He wanted to play Boyd. Our casting director was the one that brought up Val. We hadn't even considered Val. And she said Val Kilmer. She knew him, and she said this was something he would take to. Credit for Val goes wholly to our casting director. We had a list of names and found out who was available. And like I said, the part of Brady was offered to someone I know. I had emailed them, and his schedule was such, with just four weeks left until we started shooting, we knew there was no way he'd be able to do this. Shane always joked that I was the player on the bench. Whichever role we could not get a name or face for, that would help us get this seen, I would fill in. As luck would have it, one of the great roles fell into my lap.
It is on of the great roles in the movie. I really like this movie. With Shane Taylor directing, what was that relationship like on set? Did you completely give over the script once it went before the camera, and just focus on your acting? Or did you offer your opinions and ideas as the shoot went on?
W. Earl Brown: On days that I had to be Brady, I did not go into the office. I put all producer things aside and focused on being Brady. But when I wasn't acting, I was on the phone, working on scheduling, or trying to figure out how to deal with other issues. I could not maintain my focus as an actor. Shane and I collaborated on the whole thing. He gave me prodigious script notes. We worked together on all aspects of it. He was the director, I am the writer, and we both produced. I was involved in everything. There was not a decision made during the writing process that Shane was not involved in. He talked to me constantly while shooting. We'd always agree. The one thing we argued about was this one scene where Dwight murders his wife. He murders this other guy on the stairway. And he finds her at the door, standing there. Shane kept arguing, because he wanted this to be all in one take. I said, "We need a cut-away. We need to see the look on her face when she realizes what has happened." He was adamant. He said, "No, we don't! It will ruin the rhythm of the scene." We went back and forth about it. He was right. He was dead-on right. When we were shooting it, I thought, "There is no way we are going to pull this shot off in the amount of time we have. Its incredibly hard to light a shot like that, where you are going into a hallway, and we have to turn, we hold for a second, and then turn again where we see the dead body at the bottom of the stairs. And then you see the silhouette of him murdering the woman. I just thought, "There is no way that this is going to work." But it did work. We shot that in five hours time. That is something that takes a big budget film a couple of days. So, yeah, in that instance Shane was dead on. We didn't need any cutaways. I argued for them. We love working together. I feel that, everything I am weak in, he is strong in. Visually? I don't see things visually, and I don't see how things are going to cut together nearly as good as he does. We will be making more movies together. Lets put it that way.
Do you guys already have a next project lined-up? Is there another book you are looking to adapt? Or will the next one be an original?
W. Earl Brown: The thing on the front burner is an original. It's a thriller that takes place in reverse. We start at a funeral, and then we go backwards five days to see how this guy wound up in a casket. Every time we break the timeline, you know what happened. But you don't know how or why. Every time the narrative breaks the line, and goes backwards, the audience's perception of what they thought happened changes. That is what we are really close on. Shane used to work at ESPN. He was approached by the Mantle family about doing a biopic about Mickey. Because Shane used to produce baseball films. So we have this biography of Mickey Mantle, which is inline. Though, we can make the thriller adventure cheaper than the biopic. But, those are the two projects that are on the front burners for us.
Bloodworth was released May 20th, 2011 and stars Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam, Frances Conroy, W. Earl Brown, Hilarie Burton. The film is directed by Shane Dax Taylor.