On Sunday, Jan. 17, the Lifetime Television Movie of the Week will have a distinctive Blount County-flair to it.
Maryville actor Bruce McKinnon will play the love-interest of actress Julia Ormond and the Maryville band Dixie Werewolves will also be featured.
The movie, based on a true story, is about Janet “Prissy” Gregory (Ormond), a Shreveport, La., paralegal who takes on the cause of helping prove the innocence of Calvin Willis (played by Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), an African American wrongfully convicted 20 years earlier of assaulting a neighborhood girl.
McKinnon plays Randy Arthur, Prissy’s high school sweetheart. McKinnon’s character is the lead singer of a Southern Rock band who reconnects with Ormond and ends up marrying her. As a subplot, Randy has liver cancer and is waiting on a transplant.
The main plot of the movie is how Ormond’s character works to free a man wrongfully convicted and how it takes 20 years for the man to get out of prison. The relationship with McKinnon’s character is a subplot.
“It’s a sweet, dramatic, sad and happy show,” McKinnon said. “My whole issue is I’m waiting on a liver transplant because of too much drinking. It was a wonderful experience to play this role.”
The producers asked McKinnon if he knew of a good band they could use for the film for his Southern Rock band. McKinnon said he quickly told the producer about Dixie Werewolves - a local band fronted by Jeff Breazeale.
“I called Jeff and said, ‘You’ll never believe what’s going on! You can be my band when they introduce my character in this movie I’m making, and Jeff said, ‘Sure,’” McKinnon said.
Breazeale mailed two of the band’s CDs to the set where they were shooting in Atlanta, and McKinnon met with the producers the next day. “I took the CD over to the table at lunch and started playing it. We had producers and directors, executive producers and all sorts of crew people listening, and they loved the music. They were hired on the spot,” he said. “They couldn’t believe how good they were.”
McKinnon said when the band arrived at the end of February for the movie shoot, the production crew was impressed. “They were star-struck by Dixie Werewolves when they came down to Atlanta,” he said.
Breazeale said the band made an entrance when they showed up on set. “We walked in and said, ‘We’re here.’
McKinnon said that at that moment, an assistant to the director yelled, “It’s the Dixie Werewolves.”
Breazeale was surprised by the crew’s response. “She came running up saying, ‘It’s the Dixie Werewolves!’ and I thought, ‘Did I do something years ago I don’t remember? They were super receptive,” Breazeale said.
The Dixie Werewolves are Breazeale, Doug Harris and Wade West. There is, however, a fifth Maryville face in the movie besides the Werewolves and McKinnon.
Bill Russell of Maryville is friends with the band members and went along to Atlanta for the film shoot.
“Bill Russell was our secret weapon,” McKinnon said. “I told the producers that Bill plays a great air guitar on his beer bottle, and they said, ‘Bring him on down.’”
“Bruce takes me in right where they’re shooting to the executive producer and introduces me,” said Russell. “Everybody saw that, and they didn’t have a clue who I was, but the producer and I hit it off,” Russell said. “Nobody questioned me about anything all day. All they heard is that I was ‘the secret weapon.’”
Russell said facetiously that he ended up being a “consultant” on the film after the star, Julia Ormond, asked him for advice on a Southern phrase for her character.
“We were watching Bruce and Julia shoot a street scene, and she came running over to me and said, ‘Can you help me with a Southernism for ‘Plain as day?’
“I said, ‘Clear as mud.’ She stopped the whole production for that, so I figured I was there on a ‘consulting basis.’”
West said filming was a good experience. “I had a blast. They put us up in wonderful resort, and I had a blast,” he said. “They had us show up at 11 a.m. for sound check, and we didn’t go until 6 so there was a lot of standing around and watching a movie being made.”
Breazeale said they were supposed to film at 1 p.m. that day. “That never happened, and we hung out all day basically. They fed us lunch, and we hung out and watched work go on and filming and how smooth an operation it was,” he said.
Harris said it was a great opportunity. “I’m always open to new experiences. That was surreal,” he said.
Breazeale and Harris said the crew was very efficient. “They know what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it,” Harris said.
McKinnon said it was a fun film to shoot in part because of the cast and crew. “That set was one of my best experiences as an actor,” he said.
The Maryville actor said the film was shot quickly. “I did my whole part in two days. They shot the whole movie in 14 or 15 days, which is unheard of. But it was because they had such good people and only hired good people. There was no pressure or screams,” he said. “There were no egos. These guys were the cream of the crop.”
McKinnon said the producers chose to use one of Breazeale’s songs for the movie, and McKinnon played lead singer for the band. “So for that day, I had to be Jeff Breazeale. It’s the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever had,” he said with a laugh.
McKinnon said that at least one of the female crew members was smitten with West.
“While these guys were up there tuning up, I was pulled away, and this cute girl said, ‘Oh my God’ and pointed at Wade. She was in her early 20s. I said, ‘He’s good on bass,’ and she said, ‘No, he’s hot.’”
The band got a laugh with how the wardrobe staff put West in an outfit he would normally never wear.
“I walked in wearing a lot of leather, and the wardrobe guy said, ‘You look like you just stepped off a tour bus. This is Shreveport, La.,” West said of the movie’s setting.
McKinnon said a few minutes later West came out of wardrobe wearing a tight, glittery Western shirt with leather pants. “I’ve never seen him wearing anything like that,”’ McKinnon said, to which West replied, “And you never will.”
The band also got some marketing in the movie after the director told McKinnon to say, “We are Dixie Werewolves!” at the end of their scene as the song ends. “It was good to get their band’s name in there,” McKinnon said.
Breazeale said the band was only in two scenes so when he saw an opportunity for some more screen time, he took it.
“We had two scenes. In one scene, as we were finishing playing and all coming off the stage, I looked over at Bill and said, ‘We’re going to get in this movie.’ As they shot Bruce going down the bar, we were walking right behind him,” Breazeale said.
The band members laughed while recalling how “easy” acting was when it is something they do on a regular basis.
“They were pretty impressed we could end a scene and walk to the bar. I said, ‘I can do that, that’s easy,’” Harris said.
Russell said once the crew got everyone on stage, it only took three takes. “They did the first take, and they had to do two more because of sound things. We had 150 people working overtime, and they were trying to get everyone out,” he said. “As soon as we got through shooting that scene, the director called for a standing ovation. He stopped everything, and they did a 2-minute standing ovation for the last 30 minutes of work.”
McKinnon said that, besides having his Dixie Werewolves buddies in the movie, his other favorite part of the production was acting with Julia Ormond, particularly the scene where they kiss on screen.
“Julia is playing as a paralegal from Shreveport, La., and we haven’t seen each since high school. The next thing I know, at the end of the scene, she whispered in my ear, ‘Would you mind awfully if I kissed you?’ and I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind at all.’ We did it that kiss for eight takes,” he said with a laugh. “We’re talking about a 15- to 20-second kiss. All I’ve got to say is, it’s tough work but someone has to do it.”
Russell laughed when he recalled how McKinnon acted after filming the scene and returning to the hotel. “His knees were shaking when he got back to the room,” Russell said.
West praised McKinnon for his acting ability, especially as lead singer of the Dixie Werewolves.
“On Bruce’s behalf, it’s not easy to walk on stage and perform, and he pulled it off flawlessly. He looked liked he had been born to it,” West said.
At the end of the day, the cast and crew returned to the hotel where everyone gathered in the hotel bar, and Ormond bought two rounds of drinks for everyone to show her appreciation.
Breazeale said he talked to Ormond about how it impressed him how actors can ‘get into character’ when the cameras start rolling. “I told to her that it amazed me. She said, ‘I get to rehearse that over and over. What amazes me is people like you guys that have to go on stage and do it live and do it right every time. You don’t get a chance to re-shoot,’” he said. “She was overly-complementary of us. She was a super, super nice person.”
McKinnon said he drew inspiration for his role from the late Janine Anderson, a K-25 worker in Oak Ridge who formed the Nuclear Weapons Complex Workers National Day of Remembrance.
“Without hesitation, she took the time to guide me on how to truthfully play someone who lives with the need of a transplant,” McKinnon said. “She was really looking forward to seeing the movie, but, alas, she passed away in April while the movie was being edited.”
“The Wronged Man” premiers at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, on Lifetime Movie Network. It can be seen in Blount County on Charter Cable channel 168 or on channel 253 on Direct TV.