Neal McDonough & Michael Cudlitz Interview: Red Stone

Neal McDonough and Michael Cudlitz star in Neo-Western Red Stone. McDonough is Boon, a hitman who is sent on a dubious mission by Cudlitz's southern crime lord Jed Haywood. After a young boy witnesses Jed murder his brother, Boon is sent to clean up the mess, but things aren't as simple as they seem as the FBI descends on the small Texas town.

Related: Harder They Fall's Western Movie Easter Eggs

Screen Rant spoke with Neal McDonough and Michael Cudlitz about Red Stone, why they came to the project and the moral ambiguity at the center of the film.

Screen Rant: What was it about Red Stone that drew you both to sign onto this project? 

Michael Cudlitz: What drew me to it was Neal, quite frankly. Neal's a producer on the film as well and he reached out to me. Apparently, when he read it he immediately saw me as someone who he wanted to at least reach out to [but] because we've been so crazy busy we didn't know if we'd be able to work together.

Neal McDonough: He was the only choice, but he can continue.

Michael Cudlitz: He reached out and it fit in the schedule and I honestly said yes before I even read the script. So and then just reading the script just confirmed everything that I knew. So for me, it was Neal.

Neal McDonough: Thanks, brother. For me, I got the script and my agents said it's a really small independent, not sure if [I would] really want to do this. And I read the script and flipped over it. I've played a litany of villains, obviously, and a lot of it is because I won't do sex scenes. So I have to play villains. So when you get a character that's a dark guy who finds his light halfway through and grapples with everything. Those are the kind of characters I've always really wanted to sink my teeth into.

But I knew that I needed to surround myself with really great actors because it was a small, independent film, and to make it work, you needed that. So Michael was the first person and the only person. I spoke to Derek Presley, the director and they agreed, and [we got] Michael. It wasn't easy, because he was doing so many projects at that time that he had this small little window and it just fit. And I'm blessed. I will never be able to thank Michael enough for jumping on board Red Stone with me because this movie - it would have been a good movie without Michael, but it turned out to be a great movie because of Michael Cudlitz, and that's not blowing smoke up your backside. That's just fact, though.

Michael, how fun was it to just lean into this great, villainous role of a southern crime lord? 

Michael Cudlitz: It's great. It's so much fun playing these guys because they are so complicated. With where the writing and where the story takes you, I get to focus on the aspects of what makes him likable. I get to warm him up as much as possible, because I know he's killing somebody. Those other things are just gonna happen no matter what.

Neal McDonough: That's the best part.

Micahel Cudlitz: Yeah, and how do you make these people more accessible? These are two men that are in crisis points in their lives. Me because of my grandchild, which has literally changed how I'm looking at everything from here on out. I thought family was one thing with my daughter and now to see the future of my grandchild. There's a reassessment possibly going on, but how do you move forward from what you've done when what you've done is so terrible?

And then, you know, for Neal, the same sort of thing, where there's been a life that has been lived, and things are changing in his life that are making him reflect upon what he's done. Then when those two things collide, what happens? Does the past take over and continue? Or are you able to change your future and your trajectory, even though your world is so complicated and specific about where you're headed? It's great. These characters are on journeys, and sometimes you're controlling where it's headed, and sometimes you're just hanging on and taking the ride. That, to me is a lot like actual life. We can control the things we can control and then everything else is sort of out of our hands.

Red Stone is very much a part of this Neo-Western revival that we've seen over the last couple of years with writers and directors like Taylor Sheridan. As a producer, were you thinking of that as you made the film?

Neal McDonough: Absolutely. Being part of Yellowstone, being the villain, the big bad for one season, made me realize, just by the numbers. You look at how many people are viewing and tuning in to watch Yellowstone - it was 14 million people last week. That's absurd for a cable show. So there's something to that Neo-Western where good guys are tough, bad guys need to get whooped. That's kind of the same theme that we're using with Red Stone.

Those are themes that never get old. Everyone loves to see the lead guy grappling with something. Like Michael said, these crisis points that we're both going through, when you see these guys grappling with it, and how they deal with it. One goes for the good because there's no real difference between our two characters in the first quarter of the film. We're both doing things that are kind of heinous. We seem like pretty good guys and then when push comes to shove, when I realize how horrible it is, and I'm about to off this 14-year-old boy, something changes in me.

Then Michael's character sees the change and then there's immediate conflict. And that's what you want in films. This film has so much conflict on every corner. What I've seen so far, what people have said about the film - they love the film, because of that. It's the conflict and in the end, the dirtbag gets it. Those are the cinematic themes I loved in the 70s growing up and those are the themes that we're working on now again today. I think they really work. And Yellowstone's a big part of it.

Each of these characters have their own motivations for what they're doing and with Boon, in particular, he kind of straddles the line of this morality. With all of the villains you've played, is it refreshing to play these like characters with a conscience? 

Neal McDonough: Bad guys are so easy. Michael can attest to it. You can do whatever you want, as big as you want. As long as you believe it as the villain, you can go over the top as a villain and it works. That's not the same case with the hero of a film where everything is really kind of more internalized. And you're trying to grapple with the problems that you're going through. That's when it works really well.

Michael was so approachable and lovable as the villain in the film for the first quarter. This guy seems like a nice guy. Oh, he just threw a guy into a trash can. He's burning him. Interesting. But gosh, he seems like such a nice guy. Now, there's the other side of the coin, where this hitman is really trying to figure out who he is and why he's doing what he's doing and then finally comes to grips that he can't keep doing what he's doing. And by doing so, I have to go back to my boss and say, "We're done." And my boss, of course, is like, "No, you're not done." Okay, let's fight it out. And it's the simple 70s thematic films that we're really gravitating towards and this one I think it really worked and I'm so proud of Red Stone.

The character of Jed has such an interesting dynamic with Boon and a lot of it is conveyed through terse conversations we get between the two. Did you create your own backstory for this crime lord or was one given to you? 

Michael Cudlitz: I came up with a history that was not shared. We don't know what the specific history is but I definitely came up with it - what I had with Boon and I feel that my whole deal is that everybody, my immediate family is my family. My work extended family is my family and you will do anything for family, including kill them if they turn on you. And that's what happens is that someone who I consider family jeopardized my immediate family. So there's not even the decision-making, it's sort of a bummer. But it's not. It's not like some sort of distant bridge that he has to cross because he's a realist, and he's been doing it a long time.

I think that Jed knows - this has happened, possibly before. But when you see this change, and there's the hesitation, I think at one point, he says something like, "Why are you questioning me?" That's the one big thing and the minute I'm questioned, it's a red flag. We need to take care of that. We'll take care of the kids, then we need to take care of that. And it's just that cut and dry. It's that that that mindset of work and family, and that's okay, now we get to go to work.

Boon also has such complexity to him and, as an actor, how do you approach playing a role where not everything is going to be laid out for the audience, but you do have this dynamic shift from a moral perspective?

Neal McDonough: It's a journey. When we get to go on journeys, as actors, boy, it's fantastic. You get to pull up stuff in your personal life, you have to learn more about yourself, you have to throw all those things on the canvas. I call it puking on the canvas. With Boon, as subtle as the choices were at times, that was me puking everything onto the canvas. Then, when it finally comes to me in the middle of the field, I have this rosary around my neck and I realize I became this monster of a human being. Everything that I didn't want to be earlier in life. How do I get back to being a stand-up good guy again?

I have to take out all the problems of the situation [and] kind of start from scratch. That's my mindset in the film. It's a great journey for a lead actor and for me to kind of infuse my religious beliefs, me being a devout Catholic, to be able to grapple with our faith. We're all humans, we all grapple with our faith, whether you're atheist, or Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim or Buddhist, you're always grappling with your faith, and what life is really about. Boon really grapples with what life is really about and I think that's what makes the character so watchable on screen.

To have Michael on the other side of it, the two of us together, two old prizefighters. By the end of the film, it's two heavyweights in the ring going at it and that's what I love. I'm so proud of being part of Red Stone because of our relationship that we built - not just because of our relationship for the last 25 years that we've known each other, but actually being on screen together, which hasn't been very often. Even Band Of Brothers, I don't think we're ever really on screen together. But now we finally got to do it and we loved it. The days went by so fast and because we loved hanging out with each other and mixing it up and being our characters. And for that, I'll always be grateful to Michael.

Michael, they're working on Tales Of The Walking Dead and I was wondering if there's any chance we're gonna see Sergeant Abraham Ford return in the anthology series, or maybe even you returning behind the camera to direct an episode of that?

Michael Cudlitz: The directing is more probable than the other, but the other is not out of the question. It's in flux, what Tales is going to specifically be. They've been working on it, but I think they're sort of honing down certain things and there was talk at one point a while ago about some Abraham backstory. That's not a secret, that's been out so that's not new news. It's just what's been talked about. So I don't know. No one has approached me about that.

I have reached out to them, though. I had a very strong interest in taking part in directing. I did direct again in [The Walking Dead] season 11 Episode 11. So that'll be coming up in the next block, but they've been great to me. So if I did not do anything else with them, I would still have incredible respect and love for that team. But I'm hopeful.

More: Every Clint Eastwood Western, Ranked Worst To Best

Red Stone releases in theaters, digital, and on VOD on December 3rd.

from ScreenRant - Feed

Post a Comment