Interview: Tom Berenger of “Lonesome Dove Church”
Posted on March 23, 2015 at 3:12 pm
Tom Berenger stars in Lonesome Dove Church, available March 24, 2015 on DVD. He spoke to me about the role and why Westerns have such enduring appeal. And I have a copy of the DVD to give away! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with Dove in the subject line and tell me your favorite Western star. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on April 3, 2015. Good luck!
How did a kid from Chicago learn how to act in cowboy movies?
I’ve been doing Western since 1978 (Butch and Sundance – The Early Days), and that was a big one and it was three months and it was just constantly on horseback, all kinds of terrain. It was in the mountains, it was in snow, it was on rocks, it was on ice, it was in rivers, it was full gallop, so just a little bit of everything. The first time I learned to ride a horse was bareback and it was fine, yes, it was okay, no reins so you just jerk the mane one way or the other. He always tried to rub me off on a tree but I didn’t let him, so I learned about controlling them. In this one, I drove a buckboard.
You play a preacher in this film. What is he like?
He is pretty much upbeat. He is a real upbeat character that does not allow himself to get down too much despite whatever the situation. And so he is not given much to moods or depression or anything like that. He’s not overbearingly joyous of course but he is pretty well grounded in his beliefs as well so he’s an anchor. He’s starting a new church in Missouri in the 1850s and so it’s right before the Civil War. And in the opening scene he talks a bit in his Sunday sermon about that, about his concern that the country could be torn asunder over slavery. And as far as people in the congregation I would say half maybe are for slavery and half against. So remember if it’s Missouri it’s a border state. He of course is anti-slavery and when you’re in Missouri you are also next to Kansas and the Civil War actually started out there. No we don’t see this yet but it was pretty, pretty bad out there, pretty vicious and it actually really sort of begun before war was declared.
Do you typically read a lot of the history before you work on a project or did you know all of this before?
I knew all of that beforehand and I remember talking to the prop guys about certain rifles and things like that, because they hadn’t developed repeating rifles as yet, and all that sort of thing.
The conflict in the film is also personal as your character has to be there for his son, who has made some bad mistakes and gotten in trouble.
Well, you know teenagers. I’m sure this was true in Roman times as well. Romeo and Juliet were teenagers. So you just sort of brace yourself for it and kind of remember what you were like as well. Certainly my character is pretty patient and understanding but frustrated about his son’s behavior, getting in trouble. He doesn’t want to see him get killed, he doesn’t want to see him go to prison. And he just wants him to get in touch with his religion and society. He loves him a lot as a parent.
Well I guess the West was something we had that nobody else did. In Europe all the borders were established forever. There were wars constantly but there was nowhere to go when it got too crowded or you ran out of farmland or it became so established that you never could improve yourself classwise. So here there was always a West where you could go and try it again. The whole country was like that to begin with. All these people get a chance to get away from their problems and start all over again with a clean slate.
And I’m not saying it was easy but like every wave of immigrants there was some hope that they could lift themselves up and be accepted and not be stuck in a class system. There are still many big open spaces if you drive through there. Endless opportunities. But not easy. You can see those old photographs of farmers out there and you can see how exhausted they were.You see them emaciated from hard work.
What’s the best advice you ever got about acting?
I worked with Richard Brooks. He started as a writer but he was a real character. He looked like a Marine with that haircut and the way he dressed. He looked like some guy on the cover of Field and Stream magazine or something. He smoked a pipe and drank black coffee and wouldn’t go out to lunch. I was the same way, I wouldn’t eat lunch and he and I would sit around and talk about stuff. He said, “Lunch is the worst American habit. Watch it, they will come back in and they will be slow, they are digesting their food, the are daydreaming, somebody will get hurt. And that happened, too, just as he predicted.