His much buzzed about Civil War feature “Copperhead: The War at Home,” recently wrapped in Nova Scotia. Fresh off the set, actor Josh Cruddas sat down with Officially Plugged In to discuss making the leap from stage to screen, acting alongside the great Peter Fonda, and why the 1860′s are so compelling for today’s movie audiences.
Katie: Welcome to Officially Plugged In, Josh.
Josh: Thanks for having me!
Katie: You’ve got an amazing project to discuss with us, today. Earlier this summer, you wrapped filming on the Civil War feature, Copperhead: The War at Home. In the movie, you play the character, Jimmy. What can you tell us about Jimmy?
Josh: It is definitely an amazing project, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.
Jimmy is an incredible character who gets to go on an amazing journey through Copperhead. He’s an orphan who works on Abner Beech (Billy Campbell)’s farm, but longs to finally be part of a family and find out exactly where he belongs in the big picture. He’s sort of a lost soul in a way, and he has to face some difficult situations, including loneliness, guilt, and even a bit of heartbreak. In a way, we see the story as it unfolds through his eyes. Jimmy’s a wonderful role and I thank my lucky stars every day that I got to play him.
Katie: How did you become involved in the project? What was the audition process like?
Josh: I believe Ron (Maxwell) was casting the film in London and Los Angeles, but then when it was confirmed that the film was shooting in Atlantic Canada, he widened the search to include actors from that area as well. I was based in Halifax, and so my agent sent me the sides (portions of a scene actors read for auditions) for Copperhead. I knew immediately that I wanted to play this role, and so when the day of the Skype audition came, I did my very best. A couple weeks later, my agent told me I couldn’t cut my hair because I was being considered, and then after a month, I got the unreal phone call which told me I had got the part!
Katie: What special skills did filming require from you? I know there was dialect work involved, what else did you have to pick up for the role?
Josh: We did indeed have some dialect work to do! Our great dialect coach Susan Stackhouse (who was also my professor at university) pointed us towards an upstate New-York sound, and each character expanded from there. Also, because Jimmy was someone who had to be very comfortable at farm duties and around animals, Billy, Casey (Brown) and I had a farm-familiarization day where we milked some cows, played with lambs and learned about horses. I couldn’t really believe it was all a part of my job!
Katie: The film takes place in New York, but was shot in Nova Scotia, Canada. In your opinion, was it disguised completely as rural New York, or is there still something faintly Canadian about the setting?
Josh: We had an incredible production design team for the film and, since we were shooting in such an immersive location, it was very easy to believe that King’s Landing, New Brunswick was actually upstate New York. The level of detail the crew was able to implement into the setting was just fantastic.
Katie: The Civil War is a uniquely American historical event. Did you have to do any special research to prepare for the role, as a Canadian citizen?
Josh: For any role, the actor has to do a lot of homework and research before the audition, and certainly before performing the part. Copperhead was no different, but learning about the Civil War and its atrocities, battles, triumphs and personalities was definitely an adventure.
Katie: You’re no stranger to acting in period pieces, some of your previous work includes a role on the documentary, Titanic: The Aftermath. How did that experience compare to your work on Copperhead?
Josh: It’s actually funny, I think my agent knows that period pieces are my “thing,” as I’m often cast in such roles in theatre as well! But yes, doing Titanic was similar in some ways, because it dealt with a subject that’s quite well-known to the viewing public. One of the coolest things that happened to me as an actor resulted from doing Titanic: The Aftermath, as I played a real-life character in that film. After it aired on TV, I got a fanmail request from a girl who was really interested in the story of my character, and when she saw me play him on TV, she wanted to contact me. She was incredibly sweet and the whole thing reminded me of how much of an honor it is to represent people from such rich times in history.
Katie: Did you enjoy playing a character from such a specific era in history? How did that inform your performance of Jimmy?
Josh: It was definitely fun to explore the time period that Copperhead was set in, and thanks to the wonderful production team and location, it was really easy to immerse myself in the physical world of 1860′s upstate New York. It was also really cool to learn about the lifestyle and politics of the people of that era. There are definitely many differences, but it was very eye-opening to see the similarities between the characters of the 1860s and the lives of people today. That’s one of the reasons the film is so relevant today, I believe.
Katie: The Civil War era seems to be having something of a revival in terms of our interest in it–Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter came out a few months ago, the History Channel miniseries, Hatfields and McCoys, was a hit, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic is due out next month, and now we have Copperhead to add to that list. Why do you think stories told during the Civil War are so relevant for audiences today?
Josh: It’s true, there have been quite a few Civil War films out lately, which I think just shows how timely and timeless a movie like Copperhead is going to be. This might have something to do with the recent 150th Anniversary of the war, or it just might be that (unfortunately) the themes of war still permeate with us today. However, I think people will always be ready for good stories, and films like Lincoln and Copperhead more than fulfill that desire for me as a film-goer, anyway!
Katie: What makes Copperhead different from any of the other projects on that list? What do you think audiences will take away from it?
Josh: Copperhead is a movie that deals with the subject of the Civil War, but it does so away from the front lines. It focuses on the people, how and families’ sons were off fighting, or whose livelihoods were taken away by the conflict. It tells a story of a family in New York which gets torn apart by politics, love and war. It’s a character drama, and it’s stunning how important it will be to audiences in today’s world.
Katie: The movie is based on the novel by Harold Frederic, which is some weighty source material. It’s been characterized by your director, Ron Maxwell, as an “unsentimental” look at life during the Civil War. What was your relationship with the source material?
Josh: Frederic’s novel was a bit of a gift for me, as I found out during the audition process that he wrote the book from my character’s perspective. I read as much as I could before the audition, and, after I found out I had won the role, I read the entire book over again. It’s a great story, and it gave me a lot to draw on in terms of atmosphere and Jimmy’s life, but I must say that I think Bill Kaufman’s screenplay is even more riveting and moving than the book ever was.
Katie: I understand the present tense of the movie takes place away from most of the fighting, which is something of a departure from many films set during that time period. Will the audience see any battle scenes, or does all of the action take place off-screen?
Josh: There aren’t any “war-scenes” per-say, but the film is not without some very cool action scenes! That being said, Copperhead is a drama about the lives of those who aren’t on the front lines, and the struggles they face having loved ones away fighting.
Katie: Whether directly or indirectly, how does the violence of the war affect the characters in Copperhead?
Josh: The violence of war and the way it rips people, family and communities apart is central to the story. Just because much of it happens away from the characters in the Corners (the movie’s setting) definitely doesn’t mean it doesn’t directly impact their lives in a very real and moving way.
Katie: Many films focusing on the Civil War period in history choose to highlight the idea of a nation divided, of brother fighting brother. The subtitle for Copperhead, The War at Home, indicates it also focuses on a community torn apart. Do you think we can draw any parallels from that community to our present world?
Josh: Great question. I think there are many parallels that people are going to draw from the film when they see it. It’s another reason why the movie is so timely, as we see people still fighting their neighbors all over the world. But there’s a real message of hope in Copperhead, an important message for sure.
Katie: You were on set with some acting heavyweights for this movie–you share the screen with the likes of Peter Fonda, Billy Campbell, and Angus Mcfadyen. Was it intimidating acting alongside such big names?
Josh: In a way it was, but it was also wonderful! Meeting each of them for the first time was pretty surreal, but what was even cooler to me was the fact that they’re all really down-to-earth, genuine people and it was a joy to get to work with them and get to know them. Both my Dad and Grandfather are big fans of Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider so when they heard that Peter was joining the cast they were pretty darn excited, as was I. I first met him at a barbeque along the river and we talked about acting and life, just as I was able to do with Billy and Angus. They’re all great guys, and great actors. Whenever I did scenes with any of them I was always taking notes in my head because they would always be so good at their craft. Really inspiring stuff for a young actor!
Katie: There are also some notable names attached to the movie in a creative capacity. Directed by Ron Maxwell, most known for his other Civil War epics, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, and co-produced by the prolific John Houston, the film features an impressive pedigree. Did you have fun with Ron and John at the helm?
Josh: It was the time of my life! Ron and John are consummate pros and they made everything they did look easy, although often it was everything but. Ron’s got an amazing eye for the camera, and he and Kees, our DP, would spend as much time as they would need to make a shot look perfect, which it always did. John was always great to have around as well, as he and Ron were so knowledgeable about the movie-making process whenever I had annoying questions (which was probably too often)…But yes, I can’t think of better people to be around on my first feature, and you’ll see when the film comes out how lucky we all were to be a part of it!
Katie: Have you kept in touch with any of the cast and crew from the movie? Was it a close knit set?
Josh: It really was a close knit set, and I’ve definitely kept in touch with many people on the team! On set, I could always find friends around base camp (where all the trailers were located); Hugh Thompson, Billy and I would kick around a soccer ball during lunch, and when we were all working, there was a great sense of fun and camaraderie among both the cast and crew. Since all the actors stayed in the same hotel for almost two months, we did pretty well everything together on our days off: meals, riding our bikes, trips to the laundromat, etc. Lucy (Boynton) and I biked to the Fredericton Farmer’s Market many a Sunday morning, and it was great seeing opening night movies in the cinema with Augustus (Prew), Francois (Arnaud) and Casey. It was also so good having a team of Nova Scotians in the cast and crew; connecting with them from the very start was wonderful. Now, months after we wrapped, I still keep in touch pretty well everyone through text message and Skype. In a way, we became a bit of a family up there in New Brunswick; most of us were away from home, so we found home in each other!
Katie: I’m sure you have more than a few indelible memories now that principal photography has wrapped on the movie. What is your most memorable moment from filming?
Josh: Oh man, just one? So many great memories. I remember lying down under the stars and fireflies as we were doing a night scene near the end of shooting and thinking to myself how incredibly lucky I was to be doing what I was doing. Then, I also remember how I attempted to eat an extremely spicy Italian pasta and sausage dish with some members of the cast, and almost had tears running down my face because I couldn’t handle the taste. I still remember everyone (including myself) was laughing their heads off, and I think Lucy might have taken a video of it. I’ll have to make sure it gets deleted…or put on youtube. It was probably pretty embarrassingly hilarious.
Katie: Before transitioning to onscreen roles on shows such as HBO’s Call Me Fitz, you worked on stage in musicals Oliver and The Sound of Music at the Neptune Regional Theater in Nova Scotia. Do you continue to keep theater in your life? Are you still active on stage, as well as on screen?
Josh: I’d love to do more theatre, especially at Neptune! Much of my early love for acting was nourished there, and I think theatre, as an art form, is just as amazing as film. I’d love to keep doing both, if I should be so lucky!
Katie: What’s up next for you? Will there be any kind of a press tour for Copperhead?
Josh: That’s another good question. The film is in post-production at the moment, and we’re aiming for a mid-2013 release so there’s definitely a possibility of a press tour – which I would love to do if asked! Aside from that, I’m finishing up my university degree in April, and am pursuing a couple of projects that might be happening after that. I’m just really excited about the release of Copperhead, and ridiculously psyched to share this film with everyone!
Katie: Last question for you. As someone who started in theater and switched to on screen roles, do you have acting heroes who have made similar leaps? Stage or screen, whose career do you admire?
Josh: I really respect the careers of character actors like Bill Nighy, Gary Oldman and Jay Baruchel. Like my co-stars in Copperhead, I think they’ve all made a lot of good choices in the projects that they’ve been able to be a part of, and I admire their dedication to the craft. It’d be an honour to work with any of them one day!
Katie: Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Josh.
Josh: Thanks so much for having me, and letting me talk about this wonderful film! See you at the movies!
You can find Josh’s official Twitter, Facebook and IMDB on his page here: http://www.officiallypluggedin.com/actors/josh-cruddas.php
Interview by Katie Moeller