Tag Archives: Fred Thompson

Inspirational High School Football Movie Part of Stephen Lang’s Flurry of Pre-‘Avatar’ Action

Stephen LangStephen Lang admits that one of his first thoughts upon reading the script for “23 Blast” — about a high school football player who goes blind, then manages to return to his team — was “‘This can’t be true.’ But it is! It is true.”

The film, opening Friday (10/24), has the esteemed “Avatar” and “Gods and Generals” actor/playwright in the real life role of Coach Willard Farris. It was Coach Farris who had the audacious idea of putting football-loving young Travis Freeman back into action after he became completely sightless. He turned him from a “gazelle” into a “pitbull” by moving him into the position of center.

Recounts Lang, “My agent said ‘I want to send you a script for a football movie that Dylan Baker is going to direct,’ and I was immediately intrigued because I’ve known Dylan for years as a very, very fine actor. And I thought that was exciting.” Once he read “23 Blast,” Lang realized, “‘This is actually a very delicate film. It would be a simple thing to slip into a cloying kind of sentimentality.’ But, in a way, you know, that’s not my problem. I can only be responsible for what I do.”

He went ahead and made the movie on the story’s actual location in the hamlet of Corbin, Kentucky. The youthful cast includes Alexa Vega (“Spy Kids”), Mark Hapka (“Criminal Minds”), Max Adler (“Glee”) and Bram Hoover — with stalwart support from elder actors including Timothy Busfield, Fred Thompson, and Baker himself.

Then, “Cut to several months later and I went to see it, and I was absolutely thrilled because there was an authentic, simple honesty to the film; not one time in the movie did it ever get syrupy or sentimental,” Lang declares. “It delighted me, and it filled me with admiration for Dylan and for the editors and the production team. You know, it could have gone another way, but I thought he elicited lovely performances from a cast of really, really vibrant and fine young actors. I thought the old pros did their jobs just great.”

“23 Blast” is one of a flurry of diverse projects Lang has taken on before battening down to reprise his role as Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s three “Avatar” sequels — all of which are to be made simultaneously. Besides the inspirational sports flick, he was in the recent Stephen King “The Good Marriage,” and next month, he’s taking his Beyond Glory solo show on the road with plans to perform in “eight or nine states.”

Speaking of the consuming experience of making “Avatar,” he notes, “I’ve already been there once — and now instead of one ‘Avatar,’ we’re doing three! I’m thinking for the next couple of years, probably beyond that, it’s going to really dominate my life. So it’s good to be able to get other stuff done and exercise my chops before I plunge into that — something I’m really looking forward to plunging into.”

The excitement in his voice is palpable, in fact. “It’s great stuff. Sometimes it comes easily, but sometimes it doesn’t come easily because there’s so much technical wizardry that has to occur simultaneously in the ‘Avatar’ world, and it’s kind of one foot in front of the other, working scene after scene,” he says. “We’re looking forward to the whole process. We know that not only do we regard it as an extraordinary thing — which we did when we were making the first one — the world has expectations as well. We better be good.”

Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to the unveiling of “23 Blast.” Certainly, coming in the wake of month after month of player scandals that have rocked both the professional and high school football establishments, the story comes as a breath of fresh air.

Lang tells us that a classmate of his happens to be director of public relations for the NFL. “She’s coming to see the film and she is so looking forward to it,” he notes with a smile. “She says, ‘I just want to see something about football in a positive light.'”

Despite the recent spate of negative stories, Lang believes that football “is a very venerable institution. What is that line — ‘When sorrows come, they come in battalions.’ I think there’ve been battalions of sorrows, but still, it is a great, great game.” He pauses, then can’t resist adding with a laugh, “It’s not baseball, but that’s just my opinion.”

Both Freeman and Farris were on the set a number of times during production of “23 Blast.” “We filmed in Corbin and Corbin is a small town,” points out Lang. “It was very nice to meet them. I think the fairest thing to say about what I did — it’s a creation. But I’m not going to say ‘loosely based’ — it was based on this man, Coach Farris, who is clearly a good man. Obviously, without the coach being part of the whole thing, it never would have happened.

“It was terrific having the folks around,” he adds. “They weren’t there on a daily basis. There was never a feeling of ‘I wish they would get out of the way.’ I never felt that at all. I think they’re all quite pleased. What was a very significant event in the history of this town, and of course, high school football. Aside from Travis, high school football is a very important element in that town in terms of a sense of community. So to be able to have his story told, I think, is a really important thing. Everybody was extremely supportive.”

He enjoyed portraying the Coach. “Very often the coach in this type of film is a real hard ass kind of guy, a bit of a drill instructor, real tough. And I think that Farris has that; he stands strong, but there’s also this side where you’ve got heart, and he cares about his people. It’s immensely helpful,” notes Lang, “that the first time you see the coach, he’s coaching six year old boys.”

Borgnine Keeping a Pace That Could Scare Guys Half His Age

Ernest Borgnine on "ER"

Ernest Borgnine on "ER"

Ernest Borgnine may be 92 years old, but he’s keeping up a pace that could scare a man half his age.

The “Marty” Oscar winner just wrapped up work on “The Genesis Code” big screen drama with Louise Fletcher and Fred Thompson in Michigan, and he leaves next week for New Orleans to start work on the comedy “Snatched” — his 202nd picture.

He’s also been busy this summer with book signings for his recently-launched “Ernie, the Autobiography.”  “I love being out meeting the people!” he enthuses.

He helped launch “Another Harvest Moon,” his ensemble drama with Anne Meara and Cybill Shepherd, at this month’s Rhode Island International Film Festival — where Lifetime Achievement Honors were bestowed upon him.  And he squeezed in a visit to Naval Station Newport, where he went through boot camp some 74 years ago.

“This time, they were saying, ‘What can we get for you, Mr. Borgnine?’  None of the finger-pointing and ‘Hey you’s!’ I remember from before,” says the Navy veteran of 10 years, including WWII.

With all that going on, he’s barely had time to celebrate his Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama.  He tells us he and wife Tova will definitely be on hand to see whether he’ll win the honor for his portrayal, on the final episode of “ER,” of a man whose wife of many years is dying.   He played it with such honest simplicity, it was a four hankie job, for sure.

“It was hard in the sense that it never happened to me and to make it look like it was real, I had to really dig into my heart and my head,” he says.  “It turned out fine.”

So fine, he got nominated — while returning stars George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle and Noah Wyle did not.

“I know,” he says and smiles.  “I shouldn’t gloat, believe me.”

Nevertheless, Ernie’s competition is fierce – Michael J. Fox on “Rescue Me,” Ted Danson on “Damages,” Jimmy Smits on “Dexter,” and Edward Asner on “CSI: NY.”

He assures, “I’m just glad I was nominated.  I was also nominated for the Golden Globe and I missed out on that one.  People were saying they were sorry, but I said, ‘Hey, man – I won the nomination!  Are you kidding?’”

BAD BOY: Moviegoers who remember Daryl Sabara as Juni, the cute younger brother of Robert Rodriguez“Spy Kids” movies, are in for a paradigm shift of perception if they see him in “World’s Greatest Dad” starring Robin Williams, opening tomorrow (8/21).  Sabara plays the teenage son you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, a profane and mean-spirited kid whose departure from this earth could only improve it.  So how did writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait come to know that the 17-year-old actor had this ability to play rotten?

“Daryl is a funny guy.  He came in and lied, saying he wanted to play Andrew, the sweet kid in the movie” – when in fact, he had his sites set on terrible Kyle instead.  Bobcat let him read for the latter, and found “he was such a convincing creep – a teenage Gary Oldman, you know?  I had him come in again just to meet with him.  I needed to know he wasn’t really a jerk.”

Goldthwait also tells us there was a surprise when it came to casting Robin Williams as the beleaguered, bereaved title parent in the truly twisted black comedy that was a Sundance Festival hit.  According to Goldthwait, Robin recently confessed, “he thought he was going to help me out and do a cameo.  But then he read the script and said, ‘I’d like to be the guy.’  It really changed everything.”

These days, Goldthwait does stand-up if he needs to support his efforts as an auteur filmmaker.  Admits the show business veteran once thought of as a way-too-out-of-control comic, “The early part of my career, I had the kind of career you usually have when your career is ending.  Having a new career now at 47, I have much more appreciation.”

READ NO EVIL:  Joan Rivers, the queen of jabs, tells us she has one big secret to her success.  If you’ve written something about her, she wants no part of it.  “I don’t read it.  I absolutely don’t read it.  I don’t read good reviews and I don’t read bad reviews,” admits Rivers.  “Obviously I’m told about good reviews,” she adds.  “I know when it’s been a good show and I know when it’s been a bad show.  I don’t need an outsider to tell me.  I can come off stage and tell you how it was and what went wrong a lot faster than somebody else can say it.  I’m sure they say terrible things about it.  I don’t need it.  I don’t need to look at it.”  So, there!

Rivers currently can be seen enjoying the high life with some fellow hard workers in the TV Land series “How’d You Get So Rich?” “We go to their houses and we see all of their toys.  It’s fascinating how differently they spend their money. One man made all this money so he bought himself a Lamborghini for every day of the week,” she says.  “I think it’s very uplifting that in this day in age you can do it if you’ve got the right attitude and the right product.  But it teaches you a good lesson that you’ve got to work for it or win the lottery.”

A WEIGHTING GAME: Angie Dickinson was one of those perpetually perfectly lean ladies in her heyday on small and big screen, but now the still-beautiful septuagenarian complains that she’s 20 pounds overweight.  “If I lost 20 pounds I’d be more viable.  I’m serious about that,” she says.  “I watch ‘The Biggest Loser’ and I am so enamored of those incredible people, how they shame themselves and go through whatever it takes to get in shape.  I could no longer get out there in a little top and shorts.  They expose their worst sides and I admire them beyond belief – but I still don’t lose the weight.”

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster