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WAMG Interview: Actor/Director Jon Gries on ANOTHER MAN'S GUN - We Are Movie Geeks

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WAMG Interview: Actor/Director Jon Gries on ANOTHER MAN’S GUN

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Veteran character actor Jon Gries is best known for his gut-busting portrayal of  Uncle Rico, he of the orange van and dashed dreams of high school football glory, in the 2004 cult gem NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Jon Gries is also recognizable as Roger Linus on Lost, but the actor has been kicking around in Hollywood for decades, ever since he appeared in 1969 at age 11 opposite Charlton Heston in WILL PENNY, a western directed by his father Tom Gries. Some of Jon’s other films include MONSTER SQUAD (1978), GET SHORTY (1995), and TAKEN (2008). Jon is also an accomplished musician, having composed songs for the films TWIN FALLS IDAHO (1999) and THE BIG EMPTY (2003). In 2010, after directing several music videos, Jon tried his hand at directing a feature and the result was the acclaimed redneck road comedy PICKIN’ & GRINNING’.
(http://pickinandgrinninmovie.com/ )

Now Jon has teamed up with writer Derek Walker for ANOTHER MAN’S GUN, a western he’s planning on directing. Jon Gries and Derek Walker are currently trying to raise financing for the film through the funding platform Kickstarter.

ANOTHER MAN’S GUN is the story of Buck, a young pioneer in the early 1840’s living on the Unorganized Territory of what is today Nebraska. Following the death of his father he has no choice but to move into the home of the old land baron Greguson. Along with Theresa, his mother and two little sisters, Cynthia and Julia, they are worked like slaves and endure daily abuse by the man and his half-wit son Willie. The day comes when Buck has the opportunity to provide a better life for his family. He takes a job to retrieve Edna, the new teacher for his bustling frontier town. And he is to fetch her from New Orleans. For this job he’ll receive one hundred dollars and he will use that money to buy his own land and build a home where his mother and sisters can live a good life…..that’s if that teacher makes it back alive!

Jon Gries took the time to talk with We Are Movie Geeks about his career and ANOTHER MAN’S GUN

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Interview conducted by Tom Stockman December 5th, 2013

We Are Movie Geeks: Where did you grow up?

Jon Gries: I was born in Los Angeles but my family moved to New York when I was five, so my childhood was split between both places.

WAMG: Why have you chosen Kickstarter to fund your new film ANOTHER MAN’S GUN.

JG: I have a different idea about doing that. I’m more interested in not trying to get people to throw big wads of money at us. I’m more interested in getting people to give a dollar each. I’d rather do that. I’d like to get more people rather than more money. If we’re gonna do it via social network, that’s the way I want to do it. I don’t want just a few people exposed. To me that’s way more interesting.

WAMG: Sure, everyone would feel invested.

JG: Yes, I was talking to someone last night about this and we talked about how John Cassavettes would get everyone he knew to give him a small amount of money and that’s how he financed SHADOWS, one of his first films. Cassavettes made SHADOWS before BREATHLESS came out and he preceded the French New Wave with that same sort of style. He was asked how he felt about that he said “We’re Americans. We’re individuals in what we do. We don’t get together and form a club and call it a movement. We just do what we do”. It’s interesting.

WAMG: My kids love NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Is that the role you’re most recognized for?

JG: Yes, I would say that, and Roger Linus from Lost. When you get into a television show that’s that popular and they’re millions of people watching it, that happens. And REAL GENIUS too. I was Lazlo in that, the guy in the basement.

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WAMG: You’re good in the TAKEN movies.

JG: I just finished a TV show called Criminal Minds and Joe Mantanga was directing and he had worked with Liam Neeson and Jean Tripplehorn’s in the show and her husband is a great actor named Leland Orser who was in the TAKEN movies. Leland and I just finished shooting a movie together called FAULTS, so it’s all like little family. And both Leland and I, when we read the script for TAKEN we knew our parts were small but they were taking us to Paris to film and paying us a decent amount of money, but we thought no one was ever going to see that film. We both had the same feeling about the script that it was going to go straight to video. There’s no way we thought the film was going to become what it became. But I think I underestimated Liam Neeson. I think he’s a dynamic, amazing actor. Also, the tenor of the times, with the worldwide economic meltdown, I think audiences wanted to see somebody win, and that’s why TAKEN became such a hit. The reason that Leland and I thought that it wasn’t going to be a hit is because once that character starts his rampage, he’s basically unstoppable, but that’s what everybody wanted.

WAMG: Is there a TAKEN part three in the works?

JG: Oh yes, I’ve spoken to Luc Besson’s assistant and she told me there will probably be parts three and four.

WAMG: Something to look forward to. Tell me about ANOTHER MAN’S GUN.

JG: Well, Derek Walker is an interesting guy. He was in a band called Mere Mortals. I directed a music video for them called Cracked. You can see it on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1gl9Hp3D6s). I directed a lot of videos in the ‘90s, mostly rap videos for a band called Lone Profile and was also a cinematographer. The guitar player for Mere Mortals had quit and in walked Derek Walker and we got to know each other and we talked about shooting something together. One day he said he’d been writing a screenplay and he wanted me to direct it. He sent his script to me and I could see that the guy could really write. I had already directed one film called PICKIN’ & GRINNIN’. Over the course of about a year and half we would meet weekly and we reconstructed it. The meat of it was still there but I just wanted to make it more of a viable story to tell. It needed a little bit of bending, but Derek did all of the heavy lifting. All my life I wanted to direct a western. My father directed westerns. It was his favorite genre and I was raised around cowboys.

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WAMG: Yes, your father was Tom Gries. He directed Charles Bronson in a couple of films.

JG: Yes, he directed BREAKOUT and BREAKHEART PASS.

WAMG: Bronson’s my favorite actor. Did you ever meet him?

JG: Oh yes, he was a lovely guy. The first time I met him I was 15 years old and was hanging with my dad around on the set of BREAKHEART PASS. Everyone told me not to bother Bronson, that he liked to keep to himself. He was sitting on a beach chair by himself next to a Winnebago. He was very quiet. So I walked over to him because I love THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. He was my favorite character in that film. He pointed at a chair and told me to sit down. I had long hair at the time and he asked “are you going to get your hair cut? You look like a girl.” I told him that the girls liked it so we had a really long discussion and everyone on the set kept looking over at us because he was laughing and we were having a great old time. He told me I was welcome to come visit him any time, so I did visit him a couple of more times during the shooting of that film and again when BREAKOUT was being filmed. My father passed away in 1977 and Charles Bronson came to his funeral and gave me a big hug. About two years later I was walking with a girlfriend of mine through Beverly Hills at Christmas time. I heard this voice from behind me say “Oh my God, you cut your hair!”, and I turned around and there was Bronson standing there. That was the last time I saw him.

WAMG: Was Jill Ireland with him?

JG: Well, she was in all of his films but I recall seeing her lot more on the set of BREAKOUT than on BREAKHEART PASS.

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Young Jon Gries on the set of WILL PENNY (1968) with his father, director Tom Gries who also directed Charles Bronson in BREAKOUT (1975)

WAMG: Tell me more about ANOTHER MAN’S GUN. Who would you like to cast for the leads in that film?

JG: Well, for the lead Buck, it has to be a kid. He’s supposed to be 16 or 17 years old. That’s what I like about the script. Originally Derek wrote Buck as someone maybe twenty years old and I thought that in the old west, at twenty years old, you’re a grown man, so he’s got to be a kid. And it’s also a bit of a metaphor for the country because most of the guys that were running around then were very young. So ANOTHER MAN’S GUN is about a kid who’s lost his father, something I could relate to since I lost mine at 19, and he’s with his mother and two sisters. He’s fortunate enough to be taken in and to be working and living on a ranch. But the man they are living is not a good or kind man and he’s really rough on the kid and also has his eyes on the mother, who’s not very stable. The kid gets the job to travel and pick up a teacher. He’s never taken a journey like this but he does have his father’s wagon. Along the way he gets lost, and meets some people. One man is supposed to be his guide, a character named Clu who is just a dynamic, wild, real western character. He lives with an Indian squaw who was ahead of his time and he also has the gun, the repeating pistol, the Navy Colt. There’s only been a few of them made but he has one. So things happen, Clu saves this kid from a tough situation in Mexico and takes him into Louisiana. Along the way, Clu gets in trouble with a bad guy named Black who has a band of robbers. There are two stories going on then as Buck and Clu separate in Louisiana so Buck can go pick up the teacher, who turns out to be much younger than they expect. It goes back and forth between these two stories with Buck and Clu.

WAMG: Is this going to be a violent R-rated western or are you going to make it more family friendly?

JG: I definitely think that the nature of this film makes it more family friendly. It’s not without violence. When the kid is on his way back, he visits a doctor in Indian country, and all hell has broken loose there with the natives, and there’s some violence in that sequence. But it’s more emotionally violent than physically violent. There’s a sense of madness that is happening. In the periphery, there is abject violence but we don’t really see it.

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WAMG: Where do you plan on shooting ANOTHER MAN’S GUN?

JG: That’s a good question. I would say wherever we get the best tax credit because that would be most advantageous to us. I’d say visually, we’ve talked about Texas and some of the grasslands of Nebraska. I think we need, topographically, to show the variations. In an ideal situation, I’d love to shoot in East Texas because of the swamps and Louisiana because of the swamps there as well.

WAMG: Who are some of your favorite directors who specialized in westerns?

JG: There’s no question that John Ford would have to rank up there as probably the main guy but I like Howard Hawks too. MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is one of my favorite westerns of all time. I also love THE OX-BOW INCIDENT. I love those allegorical stories, ones that are deeply metaphorical.

WAMG: Did you enjoy the European westerns like those directed by Sergio Leone?

JG: I did. I didn’t discover those until I was older. My father directed a film in 1969 called 100 RIFLES with Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch that was shot in Spain. While we were there filming, I was really young at that point and my parents were still together, and I met Italian actors Terence Hill and Bud Spencer and I got to spend a day with those guys.

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WAMG: What do you think are some of the challenges of directing a western as opposed to something like PICKIN’ & GRINNIN’?

JG: Well, most of all the elements. When you’re shooting a western you’re always outside. When we shot SEPTEMBER DAWN we were in Calgary and the weather would change in a matter of seconds. One minute we’d be with a beautiful sunny sky and it would be turn to nasty 30 degree weather in minutes. ANOTHER MAN’S GUN is like a western road picture so there’s a lot of different topography, across rivers, etc., so it could be a real hard shoot. But my favorite place to shoot is the outdoors because of the compositions that can be so rich.

WAMG: Well, good luck with ANOTHER MAN’S GUN and I’ll be interested in hearing updates on how it’s going.

JG: Sure thing, thank you.

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