For the first time since they were rescued from more than a decade of captivity in a Cleveland house of horrors, three women speak to the public via a video camera.
CLEVELAND - I'm going Hollywood. Well, maybe not "Hollywood," but I'm slated to star in a film to be made in Cleveland. For me, to have thoughts of appearing on the big screen of a movie theater IS Hollywood.
Although I have stood before television news cameras on a daily basis for decades, to act before a movie film camera will be new for me. I did have a walk-through part in "My Summer Story," a film that was made partly in Cleveland in the 1980s, but I never actually made it off the cutting room floor. When I view that film on DVD, I always chuckle to myself, thinking of what could have been had my one scene walking through a shot not been cut out.
So to be in "Cleveland, I Love You," will be a treat for me. Several weeks ago, I auditioned for a part in the film to be produced by Eric and Amy Swinderman. They selected me for a part in their production. A few nights later, I met with them and we talked over the part they envisioned my playing.
I felt as if I were a big Hollywood star like those whom I watched as I sat in the darkened theaters of my life. There on the big screens, I watched Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas and dozens of other stars. They were among the men who inspired me with the roles they played in films.
So here I was sitting with the Swindermans as they interviewed me following my audition for a part in their film, "Cleveland, I Love You." In a downtown Cleveland conference room, they talked to me about the movie. We chatted about my part of the production scheduled to begin filming in Cleveland in the Spring of 2012.
As they talked, I remembered a story of an actor who was vying for a part in a film he knew he was born to have. The story goes: the actor crashed a party given by the studio executive. In walked the actor IN COSTUME where he wowed the executive and other filmmakers with his ideas of how the part could be played.
The executives were so taken by the actor's portrayal in costume, he got the job. It was the turning point in a young actor's life, actually launching his film career. He went on to become an international film star.
Taking a page from that story, I talked about the character they wanted me to portray on the screen. As I read the script aloud to their listening ears, I called upon experiences in my own life, trying to add texture to the words on the printed pages of the script. I only wished I had had a costume to wear.
My words from their script were uttered in 2011, but flashes of my memory took me back to the late 1960s, when I was a soldier slogging through the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam as the war in that country was at its hottest. Many times, I faced enemy gunfire and laid down gunfire of my own in the war. It was the most hellish time of my life when the prospect of being killed was a daily thought. As I did in my post-audition chat, I will do again when we go into full-scale rehearsals and filming for "Cleveland, I Love You." I will mentally call upon those days in Vietnam again.
"Cleveland, I Love You" is actually 10 short stories in one film. "Love of Country" is the part of the film in which I will star. Written by Robby Ingersoll, it is the story of the family of a Marine killed in the war in Iraq. I will play the father of the slain Marine. I have read the script of this touching story, which is bound to bring tears to the eyes of the viewer.
I have acted before and the stage has always had a call for me. I enjoy studying for any role, looking for depth of a character, but also the subtle nuances in the character's dialogue. To play Thomas Williams, a father who is informed his son has been killed in the war in Iraq, I will call upon the feelings I had when one of my good friends, Randall Lee Williams, was killed in the war in Vietnam.
Randy, as we called him, and I were in the same unit in the 4th Infantry Division, fighting in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He was in his early 20s when enemy rockets and mortars came screaming through the air. The young soldier from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was struck by the exploding rockets and mortars.
Randy bled to death on a hillside that grassy hillside on which our unit was patrolled. I have written of him often, reflecting on his youth, his death, and on the fiancee who had been waiting for him to return home so they could be married. Randy had only 57 days to go before he was to have been honorably discharged from the Army. All these years later, I think of the fiancee who in many ways was a widow before she became his bride.
All those thoughts raced through my mind as the film's producers and I chatted about the "Love of Country " story in "Cleveland, I Love You."
Vietnam was many years ago, yet it still hits me hard when my thoughts turn to my time there. Though I am not a father who lost a son in a war, I am a soldier who lost a good friend in a war. In the film, I must call upon those tears that are never far from the surface when I think of Randy.
I will portray Thomas Williams,
grieving over the loss of his son, Tarik. Ironically, in real life of Vietnam and in the fictional story to be filmed, both men killed in war bear the surname Williams. When Ingersoll wrote the script about Thomas Williams' "Love of Country," he had no idea of my real-life story in the jungles of another war a few decades ago.
That fact is curious twist of fate. Even more, "Love of Country" calls me just as the Vietnam war called me to service. Much as Randy called his buddies for help as he lay wounded, to die minutes later.
So look for the film, "Cleveland, I Love You," when its 10 separate stories -- in which one I will star -- sometime in 2012. When you see the short story, "Love of Country," consider its poignant fictional storyline. Think also of my real-life backstory that strangely and painfully parallels it.
The film calls me. So, too, does my lost friend, Randy, an American soldier who gave the his last full measure of devotion as he died on a grassy hill in a war far from home.
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