Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

John Schneider talks about his role in Hardflip. John Schneider first gained stardom in the role of Bo Duke on the iconic ’70’s-80’s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard and more recently found fame with a younger generation playing Jonathan Kent, Clark Kent’s adoptive father in Smallville.  And this year he engaged movie audiences portraying another adoptive father in the surprise box office hit October Baby.

His latest film effort, Hardflip, debuts Tomorrow (Friday, June 1).  In this one he plays the biological dad of teen skater Caleb Jones but, unlike Jonathan Kent or his paternal character in October Baby forced to cope financial hardship and a troubled,  ailing mother (Rosanna Arquette) — while his biological dad sits atop the world as a renowned and successful architect.  As his mother sinks into a coma, a resentful Caleb contacts his absent dad, primarily, it seems, just to yell at him. What follows is a saga of one man’s honest remorse and his belated attempt to connect with his son. Can Caleb’s resentment be transformed into forgiveness?

I recently spoke with John about his latest screen role and what he looks for in a project. Here are some highlights.

JWK: You’re coming off a big success with October Baby.

John Schneider: I know, yeah. Wasn’t that something? What an amazing movie that was!

JWK: I’ll get Hardflip in a moment. But, first, what brought you to October Baby

JS: I was doing another movie actually with Shari Rigby (the birth mother in October Baby)…and she had just come from Alabama (where October Baby was shot). She heard that I was considering it and she said “John, you gotta do this movie. The guys are great. The script is great.  You’ll have a wonderful time. There’s something special about this movie.” So, I thought, Okay, because I had just worked with her for a couple of days. She was terrific. She was really a together person. She’s not flighty. She wouldn’t just say that because she wanted to say it. So, it was on her recommendation that about ten days later I was in Alabama shooting October Baby with the Erwin Brothers. What a wonderful experience! I called her the first day to say “You were absolutely right! These guys are wonderful!…Once I read the script I thought this is really great.  It has a wonderful message of forgiveness. It doesn’t preach.  I really can’t tolerate movies that are preachy.

JWK: How’d Hardflip come about? 

JS: Johnny Remo (the director) got (in touch) with my representation and somebody told me that Randy (Wayne) was going to be in it. Randy played Luke Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard (prequel TV-movie). It’s funny. He looked more like Bo to me.

So, I read Hardflip – which at that point was called Caleb, after Randy’s character, and I loved it. I loved the fact that they got the…the estranged relationship between a father and a son right on the precipice of becoming a man…right. A lot of times people will write father-son relationships, especially estranged relationships, more like the father is trying to build a relationship with a 12-year-old…This is one of the things that Smallville was so good at…You have a different relationship with a 17-year-old than you do with a 12-year-old.  You care about different things. You’re preparing them for the world, for being a man and the responsibilities and pressures that come with that. And I think that Hardflip exhibits that better than just about anything I’ve ever seen or anything that I had ever read.

JWK: You’re certainly believable as a father and son. 

JS: Yeah, thank you. We hit it off right away — but the tension is there which I think is terrific. There’s a lot tension dealing with a 17-year-old.

JWK: Especially when your character has been out of his life all those years. 

JS: Oh, yeah. So, I really appreciated the atmosphere that Johnny as the director created for us to explore what that means – you know, that pent-up anger, my (character’s) frustration, my (character) loving my wife for so long and doing what (he) had thought was the right thing and then being called on it by this young man. I just thought it was great. Johnny Remo really gave us an opportunity to explore all the facets of that and to really work it out — which is something else you don’t get time to do in an independent film very often. You know, (usually) you shoot it as quick as you can and as long as you get the words kind of right then you move on.

JWK: Your character wasn’t really a bad guy. He just let his values get crossed there for a while. 

JS: Yeah. He chased his dream and he caught it and that’s another rare thing. People don’t generally make movies about people who chase their dreams and catch them. There are movies about people who are chasing their dreams. Everybody can understand that — unless you don’t have a dream and then I feel bad for you. But somebody who has chased his dream and caught it is an unusual story. I really, really loved it –especially the scene  where (my character)  at the funeral there and I tell (Randy’s character) “Look, I loved her too! I’m sorry about a lot of things but now it’s too late and I gotta deal with that! I have to deal with that every day!”  And then the wonderful kind of epiphinal moment where the audience realizes that she knew that. It was just great — a very well-written script, a very well-told story. I loved the edginess of it… There’s some really beautiful stuff with the skateboarding and with the beach – but it doesn’t have the warm and fuzzy, embracing tones of October Baby. This is more gritty and I think it’s the perfect film to come out after October  Baby.

JWK: You’re also in another film called Doonby.

JS: Yes, and that’s grittier still. You know, it’s kinda funny. I told some people that, you know, “I think God is up to something because October Baby was the perfect movie to come first, Hardflip, I think, is the perfect movie to be second because of the tone of it and the look of it and the message in it and then we’ve got this very unusual, very, very dark, very edgy film called Doonby that’s coming out third.  I could not possibly have planned that better and, in fact, Doonby was supposed to come out first and it didn’t. So, people think God doesn’t pay attention to the details. God is in the details.

JWK: Doonby seems to have a mysterious quality. We don’t where this man has come from.

JS: Yeah. It’s very Twilight Zoney.

JWK: Norma McCorvey (the “Roe” in the landmark “Roe v. Wade” abortion case) is in the this film. What was it like working with her?

JS: Yeah, she is.  She lives, oddly enough, (near) where we shot the film. I met her a couple of times. I actually have not worked with her. She’s in the flashback parts of the film.  She’s in the life that was. I’m in the life that is. That’s a strange thing to say but it’s true. It’s been a remarkable ride these past couple of months with these three films.

JWK: Do you feel like, perhaps, there’s a larger hand guiding your decisions?

JS: Absolutely!

JWK: How do you go about deciding what scripts you’ll do?

JS: Well, it has to be a good script. I’m a writer, director  and then I’m an actor. So, I’m pretty critical when I read a script. It has to be a worthwhile story. It has to be very well told . A structure has to be in place. I’m a pretty severe critic because I’ve written screenplays.

JWK: Are the values of a film important in your decision-making process? 

JS: The values are important but they’re not what come first because I’ve read a lot of scripts that are all values and no structure and those are no fun to watch. They have to be entertaining. They have to be fun to watch and they have to be a puzzle. I think, as an audience member, I like a puzzle.

JWK: What films do you, personally, like?

JS:  Frequency was an amazing film. That’s quite a while ago. Jim Caviezel was in that. Speaking of Jim, Count of Monte Cristo was an amazing film. Recently, what have I seen that I really liked? Not a lot lately.  I’m not a blockbuster man.

JWK: What’s in your future? What are you looking to do next?

JS: Well, I’m hoping, honestly, that Hardflip will be successful and that will open up the door for Doonby to be successful. I’m the lead character in Doonby. So, I’m hoping these three films will open up the door for me to get my own films done. Granted, I have hoped that since the final episode of Dukes of Hazzard but I am tenacious.

JWK: What are you looking to do? 

JS: Like I’ve said, I’m a writer. I’ve been writing screenplays for a long time.  I’ve got five or six that should get me through the next ten years if I can ever get the first one made.

JWK: Would you ever do another TV series? 

JS: Sure, absolutely!  I would do another TV series . It’s a great way to keep your game sharp…You know, I’m 52. I travel around a lot and I’m not actually a big fan of that. The wonderful thing about a television series is you have to stay in one place for ten months a year.  So, I would welcome another television series.

JWK: What kind of scripts to you write?

JS: They’re dark. They’re very dark. A lot about the end of life, oddly enough.

JWK: That ‘s certainly a theme that involves us all.

JS: We’re all gonna get there.

JWK:  I understand that you were a good friend of Johnny Cash

JS:  Yes. I lived with Johnny and June for a year or so and what a great experience that was—a terrific guy.

JWK: You performed with him in Stagecoach, right? 

JS: Yeah, that’s where we met. We were extremely aware of one another before that. What a great experience. What a great moment in a young person’s life to find out one of your heroes was actually a fan of yours…Johnny told me he used to watch Dukes every Friday night and never missed it.

JWK: What did you think of recent Dukes of Hazzard theatrical film?

JS:  It would have to be considerably better to be awful.

JWK: I didn’t see it but, from the previews, it didn’t seem to catch the tone of the original.

JS: Not even a little bit – not at all. There are no heroes in it. Just idiots. Which is too bad because they could have done one a year had they gotten it right.

JWK: What TV shows do you watch and enjoy in your home?

JS: We watch House. There’s one called Justified. (That) has the tone of the things I write. I love Justified, Fringe, things like that. Like I said ,I like a puzzle.

JWK: Thank you for your time. You know, I’ve been doing this blog for a while now and have spoken to several people, including your Hardflip co-star Randy Wayne, who have worked with you and to a person they mention what a nice guy you are. That has certainly been my experience in this interview. 

JS: Well, that’s good to know. I tell people (that) one of these days I’m gonna be gone and somebody’s gonna run into my kids and say “Hey, I knew your dad…” And what they say after that (is what counts). So, I appreciate that comment very much.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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