Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Why Drew Waters can so relate to his role as Red Stevens. I gave The Ultimate Life a good review when it opened in theaters earlier this year. Now, that it’s out on Blu-Ray and DVD, the epic rags-to-riches saga of a hard-driving businessman’s journey to finally discovering the true meaning of success is still worth catching. I recently spoke with Drew Waters (Friday Night Lights) who stars as Texas oilman Red Stevens, a man whose not quite as ruthless as J.R. Ewing but is every bit as determined. The word “ruthless” wouldn’t describe Waters either — but “determined” nails him pretty well. And, like Red Stevens, the actor has built a reputation as a formidable businessman. Fortunately, unlike Stevens, it hasn’t taken him an entire lifetime to figure out what’s really important in his life.
JWK: Being an entrepreneur yourself, I would imagine that it was relatively easy for you to inhabit this particular character.
DREW WATERS: Yeah…As luck would have (it was) in God’s hands. It was me…The billionaire (part) was a stretch but I thought the almighty dollar was the way to be happy…and I woke up one morning and I had three retail establishments and a full-blown construction company with partners making great money and I was miserable…That day in August I realized that that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to chase my dream and I wanted to show my young daughter that it’s okay to chase your dreams. So, I set out to do it.
JWK: What sort of businesses did you have?
DW: I had retail businesses. They were beauty businesses, skin care and all that. I got into that as a fluke. I was going to open up a gym. I just had a Men’s Fitness cover come out that was the third bestselling of Men’s Fitness covers. I was gonna open a gym and was in negotiation to buy the gym I was working out at. It was a small mom-and-pop and (the owner) wanted to move back to the west coast. My wife at (that) time came down with skin cancer. We were young. We were 23. I was a kid, growing up, that would burn and fry. I didn’t understand why. We did all this study and research and learned so much about skin cells and rejuvenation and how the body works and (how) everybody is different. (We) learned what doctors do for treatment of certain things and so I changed my direction and opened up a skin-care company — healthy tanning, skin-care products and rejuvenation and all of that and it took off. We didn’t push it down people’s throats…One turned into three in a short period of time. I built the first one and…one day someone walked in and said “You know, I really like the design on this. Who built that?” I said “I did.” He goes “Well, would you be interested in building me one?” I went “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
JWK: When you say “built that,” you mean like a business?
DW: Yeah…He goes “Would you be interest in building me one?” I said “I can do that” and so that how our construction (business) got started…Me and my family growing up, we cleared our land built our homes and all that. So, I was very well knowledgeable in the construction world. That turned into a commercial development company and construction company and a longtime friend from the Navy…got out and moved to the same town I did in Texas. He wanted to get into residential construction. So, we started talking…(and thought) why don’t we just combine the two? — the commercial and the residential development.
JWK: So, you had this knack for building successful businesses and one day you just decided you wanted to be an actor? How’d that happen? And did you have to abandon those businesses to pursue that dream?
DW: Well, I didn’t have to. In the Navy, I was introduced to the modeling world and something I never thought I would do in a million years. I never thought about doing it…I was kind of against doing it for a while until he introduced me to an agent. I went down to this big event (and they wanted me as a model) So, I was getting out of the military and decided to take that opportunity. I traveled the world ten times over doing something I never thought I’d do in a million years. I found myself in Tokyo, Japan. I (was in) a Dell Computer commercial, the first thing I had ever done, and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the green screens, I fell in love with (everything). The translator was explaining everything to me. It was a passion like I had never felt before. I came back and it took me five years to really accept that that was okay. When I woke up five years (later), I had established all these businesses and we were growing and everything was going well and I was miserable because I was chasing money and not happiness. I decided that day in August that I would quit chasing money and start chasing passion and allow the money to grow around me…I wanted to have passion in my life to show my girls to live by passion.
JWK: How many children do you?
DW: I had one at the time. I have two now.
JWK: So, ultimately, you decided to walk away from the successful business to become an actor. How did your wife feel about that decision?
DW: At the time it was, like, “YOU WANT TO DO WHAT?!” “Well, you know, it’s been in the back of my mind. I just cannot get it out of it. I’m miserable chasing money. I’m 30 years old going through a mid-life crisis!” I just couldn’t shut (it) off. She looked at me and she goes “Do you know anything about it?” I said “No, but I didn’t know anything about business and that worked out.” And she goes “Alright, if that’s what you want to do.” And the rest is history. I moved to the east coast when everybody else was going to the west coast. I (then) chased it back toward the west coast. I built my career up by doing small roles (which led) to principal roles and getting bumped into main character roles.
JWK: Readers may know you from the TV series Friday Night Lights.
DW: Yeah — Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, working with Oliver Stone in Louisiana.
JWK: What did you do for Oliver Stone?
DW: I did a small part in W. And then it just kept building and building and building. I started getting lead roles. I was in (an episode of) a hit series called Wire in the Blood with Robson Green that was shot in Europe. The writers of Law & Order and Criminal Intent were the big writers on that one. It was a hit series and I never heard of it. They came and did (a season-six episode titled Prayer of the Bone) a movie in the U.S. I got cast as one of the leads in it.
JWK: I’m struck by how much your own life as a successful businessman must have given you a leg up in interpreting the character of Red Stevens in The Ultimate Life. I mean, it must have been a help.
DW: It was. When I read it and I realized that Michael Landon, Jr. was the director of it, I thought…this could work out well. This is not gonna be a hard stretch for me to get the character figured out at all. Outside of the billion dollars, I was living his life…chasing money down. It was a lot of fun. I try to learn something from every character I take on. I try to better myself personally from it and Red allowed me to go ahead and accept what I did. Even though I had passion driving me, I still felt a little guilty that I gave up all the businesses in the pursuit of happiness.
JWK: Did you sell to your partners?
DW: Yeah, I sold out (to) them. I made the decision (that), if I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it 100% because before in my life I had been an entrepreneur. It was weird. I would wake up in the morning (saying) “You know what? I’m gonna do this.” (I’d) set out (and) in three months (I’d) have a new business on its way. I didn’t stop and think about the repercussions of anything. I just did it. I moved forward in doing it to succeed. When I decided to take on acting as a career and a profession, I didn’t know much about it. I knew that I was passionate about it. There was nothing else I could think of that I wanted to do and that’s when I knew it was the right choice. It was also one of the scariest moments of my life. I had so many other things I could fall back on as an entrepreneur (with multiple businesses). When I finally was true to myself and what I wanted to do — and acting was it — there was nothing else I could think of. I thought “If I fail, I’m falling hard (because) I don’t have anything else to fall back on. Am I going to accept that?”…I never looked back. I never (let myself) put it in my mind to fail.
JWK: So, you sold your businesses because they would be distractions from you acting.
DW: They were. The problem was with construction and retail, you have to be able to shut things off at night and spend quality time with yourself and family. I couldn’t do it. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to give 100% to my passion if I held on to them. So…I talked to my partners (about) the decision I wanted to do and we all wished each other good luck. My partners have been very successful in the companies that we’ve created. They’re very happy about it and have the mindset to run them and do well with them. I was more of kind (who was better at) building businesses and selling them. That was a big thing for me. I was very good at that. I wasn’t good as a boss. I was either your best friend or your worst enemy. I didn’t balance the two very well. (So) I sold them.
JWK: What do you hope audiences take from The Ultimate Life?
DW: The biggest message, we hope, is that money is not the most important thing in life. You have to have it to survive and live but it’s not the most important thing in life. It’s the legacy you leave and the people that you wrap around you and the love that you have wrapped around you (that) should be the most important thing. What footprint do you want to be known for? (It’s) the legacy and the journey that you’re on. Trust in yourself. Trust in the passion you have (inside) yourself. Don’t rely on the money to drive you. Allow the passion to drive you and allow people to come into your life that love you the most and (who want to) enjoy that journey with you.
JWK: Does that philosophy affect the roles that you are drawn to?
DW: It does. I’ve changed my ways — from what roles I was picking till now. I don’t do straight “faith” movies. It’s one thing I always tell people. I’m not a preacher, I’m a sinner. I’m still learning and falling in a journey that God has me on and doing the best I can. I want to make movies — and I want to portray characters — that make people think. I want to make movies that have a redemptive message. I want to tell good quality stories and take out the derogatory sex, violence and language. (I want to) make good stories that have a redemptive message and allow people to dig into their own lives and personal struggles and go “Am I like this? Do I have these flaws too?” and open up a conversation.
JWK: What was it like to work with (co-star) Peter Fonda and Michael Landon, Jr.?
DW: Peter, oh, gosh, I was growing up watching him in movies. I didn’t know he was part of it until after (I signed on). When I heard he was part of it, I said “Oh, you gotta be kidding me! This is gonna be great!” He’s such a joy and he’s full of wisdom. We had a lot of great conversations on set. And Michael Landon, Jr., his work ethic is just unbelievable. He is a visionary, hardworking man…He’s an actor’s director. He allows the actors to find the characters and allows them (to experiment) with them on camera on the day. He doesn’t hold them back. That’s the most important thing when you’re trying to portray a character for the audience to believe, you have to have the ability to journey in uncomfortable areas in your own personal life — to bring them out and make (the characters) true. Michael Landon is incredible at pulling those (emotions) out of you.
JWK: You’re playing a younger version of the character originated by James Garner in the 2006 film The Ultimate Gift. Of course, one of his most famous roles is that of Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Would you ever want to do a TV series like that?
DW: I would. I’m a big fan of James Garner. That was the other thing. When I heard that I’d get to play his younger years, (I thought) things are looking up. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet him. He was in bad health at the time. I was a big fan of his for a long, long time — and still am! I think he’s a great actor to follow a career path with.
JWK: Could you see yourself doing a TV series similar to The Rockford Files?
DW: Oh, absolutely! You know, Longmire and all those other great (whodunit) series, I would love to one of those. We just haven’t found the right one…I really am, I think, an old soul, I think, in the acting world. I’m very comfortable in the fifty, sixties era. I love it.
JWK: So, you like the traditional detective-as-hero genre?
DW: Yeah, I love it. (But) I love taking on challenges. I think one of the funnest things in acting is creating a character — wrapping yourself around a character and bringing him to life. I love a lot of different genres. I’m not a big horror guy by any means but I love the challenge. But the fifties and sixties is where I feel the most comfortable.
JWK: The Ultimate Life does have sort of that epic sweep that you find in older film — in that we follow Red Stevens, basically, through his whole life.
DW: Yeah, we’re excited about that one.
JWK: Can you tell me about that film?
DW: Well, it’s in development right now…The story of (the Hail Mary pass) came out of a 1975 game. Everybody uses it since. And so, what we want to do, is tell the story two completely different individuals (Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson) and the path they were on to come together for that one big game and relive it. We got some incredible people that we have already contacted that are still around from that period and some of them were the announcers on the game. Roger’s excited about it, Drew’s excited about it and I’m just excited to be a part of it. We got some paperwork signed, so we’re moving forward and getting the script pushed out and see what we can accomplish. It’s (slated for) late 2015.
JWK: And I understand you’re a producer on that film.
DW: I am. I have a production company called Argentum Entertainment.
JWK: That’s coming full circle. What are you doing with that company?
DW: My partner in that company is Erin Bethea. She is better known for Fireproof…We both did a movie called Redemption (aka The Redemption of Henry Myers). It’s an 1890 western. I’m the lead actor. She the lead actress…When we showed up, we both have the same vision of what we want to do and create with that film. We didn’t want an in-your-face faith film. We wanted to allow the characters to have flaws and allow people to open their mind up and start thinking about their own personal flaws and (understanding) friends around them and open up the doors of communication.
DW: We had the same (idea) of what we wanted to see accomplished and (vision of) the films we wanted to work on. So, we created a company called Argentum Entertainment.
JWK: How’d you get the name?
DW: It’s the purest form of silver and our tagline is “Taking the ‘except fors’ out of movies.” We’re trying to make movies with pure story — without the derogatory sex, violence and language to (rely on) a good story. Jesus was a storyteller with amazing messages wrapped around them. What we want to do is get back to that. I’m not a preacher. I’m not the person on Sunday. I am the person that is trying to figure out life and wants to be pushed to be a better person. The first one that we’re in production with right now is called Nouvelle Vie.
JWK: What’s that about?
DW: That is a love story. It’s (about) the love of two people. One’s a European gentleman and (the other is) an American woman. (We) follow their live growing up into marriage. (It’s about) losing someone unexpectedly and where you go on from there and the whole redemptive message is hope. It’s (about) the belief and hope that life goes on. I created it because I lost my best friend — my grandfather — to a broken heart. There was nothing wrong with him. He just gave up on life (after) he lost a loved one. If affected so many people around him when he died. So, we wrapped it around a love story and worked on it for two-and-a-half years. It’s finally come to fruition. We’re excited about it. I’m directing it.
JWK: Did you write it?
DW: Me and Erin wrote it.
JWK: What else is on the docket?
DW: We have four titles (including) Nouvelle Vie, which we’re excited about. Jim Stovall (The Ultimate Gift and The Ultimate Life) called us and (wanted to) do the novelization of the story while we’re shooting it. We’re excited about having him do the novel. Ted Baehr from Movieguide gave (the story) a 90% positive review. We have Reynaldo Villabos who was the cinematographer for Risky Business, Nine to Five, Welcome to America, Urban Cowboy and Redemption of Henry Myers. We just fell in love with him. He’s an incredible cinematographer to really capture the essence of the emotions within the story. We’re excited.
JWK: Where do you see your company in ten years?
DW: We have a slate of four films. From Karen Young — the USA bestselling author — we have Blood Bayou. Again, we’re relying on the story to tell itself and the characters tell it and not (relying on) shock value. It’s a suspenseful drama…The best way I can describe it is Pelican Brief meets Time to Kill.
JWK: So, you want to go back to making films the way they did before they relied on explicit sex and over-the-top violence.
DW: Correct. And each one of them has a redemptive message. Blood Bayou‘s redemptive message is (about forgiveness). Can you forgive somebody? Can you come back (from the hurt)? (Can you find_ your way back from it. Can people change and can you forgive somebody?
And then we have a Disney project called Junior Lifeguard that we’re in development on right now. We’re excited about it. It’s about young…underdogs overcoming. (They) come together as a team. And then, of course, Hail Mary is our fourth one.
JWK: Sounds like you have a pretty good slate there for a relatively new company.
DW: One thing I’ve never been accused of is slowly coming into something. I always go full on (and ask) “Now how do we make this work?”
JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to say about The Ultimate Life?
DW: Rick Eldridge over at Reelworks Studios has the same vision that I have. They want to make good family quality product with a redemptive message underneath to allow people to open their hearts and minds. That (mindset) really drew me to The Ultimate Life…Their vision and what they want to do very similar to me and Erin.
Note: Drew Waters is also part of a project called W4H.com Wish for Our Heroes which supports the needs of military veterans. You can learn more about that here.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11