Latest Hitcher News
Feb 12, 2021
WireImage “I’ve played historical figures before, but this was different. I played Thomas Chamberlain in Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, and I did LBJ with Woody Harrelson and director Rob Reiner, but here’s the thing with somebody like Caspar Weinberger. There’s a lot of factual information made available, but how do you interpret facts?” mused C. Thomas Howell, the actor cast as the controversial politician in the new biographical historical drama film Reagan. “Weinberger was a businessman, he was a quiet guy who got caught up in the Iran-Contra affair, and he got pardoned. Some things went a bit sideways for him; it unraveled at the end, he wasn’t known as a super likable guy, and he was known more for his ruthlessness and his cutting edge decision making with budgets. He didn’t make a whole lot of friends, but that wasn’t his job. If I was playing Ronald Reagan, what a responsibility you have there, but Caspar, you knew he was edgy, that Reagan loved him. I carry a pocket knife everywhere I go, and that’s how I looked at Caspar. He was Reagan’s pocket knife. When you need it, it is probably the thing you need most at that moment. It’s not like I’ve been dreaming about playing Caspar Weinberger. It was bigger than that, for me, it, it was an opportunity to learn.” Part of the learning curve for Howell was being part of an ensemble cast lead by Dennis Quaid as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, but the other was making it happen under COVID protocols. “We used to be able to gather in makeup trailers and other places, and that’s where the actors would connect, exchange ideas, run dialogue, hug it out, and connect before the start of the day. Well, that has all been taken away,” Howell explained. “When it was time to eat lunch, I’d go sit in my trailer and eat by myself. When we rehearsed, we were not six feet apart, we were about ten feet apart, in a giant hall, and we were all raising our voices so people, which felt like they were a soccer pitch away, could understand us. It was a very different experience, but I was so grateful for the whole thing. After every COVID test, every precaution, there I was in front of Dennis with the lights, the cameras, doing what I love the most. It’s funny how they say the show must go on, but for Reagan, that really was the case.” As well as Quaid and Howell, the cast also includes Penelope Ann Miller as Nancy Reagan, Mena Suvari, Kevin Dillon, and Lesley-Anne Down, who plays another controversial political figure, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was recently announced that Xander Berkeley would be portraying late former secretary of state, George Shultz. Howell enthused, “I was a fan of so many of these actors and we all sort of had the same attitude. There was a pride to be there in a way. I’m always proud to do the best work I can, but this had a different vibe. It just was like, ‘F*** COVID. We’re going to create,’ and that meant a lot to me. Honestly, my job was to make Dennis look even better than he already is because he is incredible. I was there to support him in the scenes that I was doing. It wasn’t about me. It was about being a team player, and that’s exactly what Caspar was.” MORE FOR YOU “We’re all trying to figure out how to make films under these new circumstances and still have insurance that’s effective but fair. It’s taken a lot of independent film out of the game. The studios don’t need to bond their films because they have the money to make sure that whatever happens, they’ll get it done and get it out, but the private money in and the independent films all took a giant right hook to the jaw,” he continued. “What happens if everybody gets COVID and you got to shut down? So, thank God the vaccine is happening. I know that the year was very tough on all artists. I had three projects significant to me, creatively and financially, that were affected. One canceled, and two I’m hoping will still go. I honestly thought I would be doing a different film, and I would have been unavailable for this, but Reagan’s producers were so patient with me. I think I got lucky, though. The casting director really wanted me to do it even though, and I was done filming in a week. I got a call from the producer, Mark Joseph, to tell me how he’d like me to be involved and when that happens, that’s when I was in because it became personal. I am extremely important to some people, but to someone else, I’m just one of the five names on the list that they’re hoping to get. On this one, I felt like they wanted me. I wasn’t just a name.” C. Thomas Howell as Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, Caspar Weinberger, in 'Reagan.' Noah "Nanea" Hamilton Howell starring opposite Quaid, an actor he has admired for decades, has been a long time coming. It turns out the pair share several connections. “My father was one of the most prominent stuntmen in the business, and he still works a little bit in that area, but had done probably three or four pictures with Dennis, one of them was Wilder Napalm. Dennis and I shared a lot of great stories about his experience with my dad, so we were able to connect on a personal level there,” Howell explained. “We both started in the industry quite young, so we related on that level and shared some stories. We had that six degrees of separation thing going on, but we never did anything together until now. Dennis was dating Lea Thompson when she and I did Red Dawn. That’s a movie that means a lot to me.” “Red Dawn was the first-ever PG-13 rated movie. They counted every bullet fired by the machine guns and then said something like it was the most violent movie ever made at the time. It put me over the top. I can’t tell you how many men my age come up to me on a weekly basis and say things like, ‘Oh my God, but when I was 15 years old, I got grounded for the summer for creating a spider hole in the backyard and destroying the lawn.’ Every blue-collar guy I know has a grease-covered cherished copy of Red Dawn in the camper or the cabin or the barn or garage.” Red Dawn grossed $38 million against a $17 million budget. It was met with mixed reviews on its release is now considered an 80s classic. Another of Howell’s movies that has become a favorite, The Hitcher, celebrates a milestone in 2021. It turns 35. Will the actor mark the occasion? “We have to do something, don’t we? Since Rutger Hauer passed, I think there’s a certain responsibility I have to recognize him. He was such an artist. That guy changed my life,” he recalled. “I was rolling from gig to gig as a kid. I didn’t give a s**t. I felt like it was never going to end, I was never going to grow up, and I was going to play this kid role forever. Well, I did The Hitcher, and it changed everything. I didn’t know about thinking outside of the box.” “I was taught that you do what the script says, you don’t bring ideas, but here was this guy poking pennies in my eyes in cafes, and I was like, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ but I decided to just go with it. In one scene, he’s supposed to give me a handful of bullets, but he handed me a handful of rocks with a bullet. He’d do stuff like that. I was 17, and it changed me. I’ll never forget how everybody else on set was petrified of him.” Howell recalled an encounter with his co-star, who died in 2019, which later proved vital in his career. “Rutger ate alone in his trailer every single day. Nobody would talk to him apart from perhaps the director if his back was against the wall and he had to give him a direction. Finally, he invites me to have lunch with him. I’m sitting there, and it is deathly quiet. Rutger’s smoking his filterless Camel cigarette while he’s picking through his fruit salad. My knees are knocking, and I’m there eating, trying to finish my meal and get out of there. Finally, I muster up a little small talk. Everybody’s been talking about Blade Runner and his other movies, and how nobody plays the villain better than him, but I just looked at him, and with my squeaky, petrified voice, I was like, ‘So, Rutger, everybody says you’re an amazing bad guy so why do you play bad guys so well?’ What felt like an eternity went by as he just finished that final drag on that cigarette, and he hissed at me in that guts deep whisper, ‘I don’t play bad guys,’ and didn’t say another frickin word. I didn’t know what to do. I think I inhaled the rest of my food and started to back out of the trailer. That rattled the around my head for a long, long time.” Howell concluded, “Finally, when I was about 40 years old, I did a role on Criminal Minds, The Reaper, and that was my opportunity to play this “bad guy.” I recalled that experience with Rutger, and it hit me. I realized what he meant. He never approached work as the villain as somebody playing bad. That’s why Rutger’s work was filled with humanity. I can’t tell you how many times, because of that application of what he told me, people come up to me on the street and want to talk to me about it, more than probably any other project, including The Outsiders, more than E.T., more than anything I have done. Rutger was the king of that, and it took me 23 years to understand what he meant but thank God he gave me that bit of advice when he did because it changed my career.” Reagan is due to be released in late 2021. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn . 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