The film “Woodlawn” is based on the true story surrounding the Woodlawn High School football team in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1970s where racism was fluid. This changed through a young team, influencing an entire city to put down their hate in exchange for hope.
Written by the Erwin Brothers, the larger than life story follows the rise of African American running back Tony Nathan, his coaches, rivals, and the power of faith in the midst of great darkness. The interracial team made headlines, not for racial tension, but for winning on and off the field. In the midst of chaos—a healing takes place.
Nic Bishop stars as Woodlawn coach Tandy Gerelds, who struggled to patch together a winning football team until he found Nathan. Authenticity was crucial to Bishop, as the Australian actor worked to create a southern accent, and gain a better understanding of Gerelds. “It all starts with the script I’m given, and they [Erwin Brothers] gave me a very detailed description of who this man was or is. So I start making notes from the very first read through, and then I go through a process of research. I was really lucky to have a wealth of photographs, and interviews, some newspaper articles, and journal entries written himself in his own journal.” Bishop described the coach as being a fair man, but a realist. He was a disciplinarian, and believed in hard work. Bishop said his favorite line in the script was when Gerelds turned to assistant coach Jerry Sterns (Kevin Sizemore) and said ‘I believe in what I can see.’ He’s very much driven by his own belief system Bishop shared. But “he will stand behind his players, his family, or anyone he believes in. He was a good, honest man.”
With the country being so divided emotionally, politically, and racial discrimination seen today–the film comes at a good time. Perhaps the story can be used as a bridge. “I think that sense of unity, that sense of hope—that sense of standing together as one regardless of our faith, or belief system, or our ethnicity… if we all stand together and aim towards a more positive way to live, then you can kind of conquer anything.”
Jon Voight is Paul “Bear” Bryant, Sean Astin plays chaplain Hank Erwin, and Caleb Castille makes his acting debut as Tony Nathan. “Woodlawn” hits theaters nationwide Oct. 16.