December 31, 2011
A funny story to end the year....
While scanning the Net, I came across this blog regarding
Sam's appearance at the "Blackthorn" premiere in NYC back in
September. Apparently, this young man from the Patrick McMullan photo agency
crashed the after-party that evening and wrote about his experience. He
introduced himself to Sam and asked, "You do so few movies. (Hello! He does an
average of two to three per year!) What does it take to get you out of hiding."
Sam laughed and replied, "A good script. It's always about the script. I read
this script and knew immediately that I wanted to do it... I always say that
dismissing the importance of a script is like having a closet with no hangers.
What are you going to hang your clothes on?" This guy then bravely (or stupidly)
asked Sam if he would mind having his photo taken with his pal, some Eastern
European wannabe. Sam looked at him as if he were insane. (Would you expect any
other reaction?) Since the guy had his camera ready, his pal quickly
jumped into the frame and here's what was eventually posted on Facebook. You're
certainly not going to find words like gracious and generous when it comes to
Sam's response to his fans (but we love him anyway).
I also discovered another blog on the Wild Magazine
web site where photographer Sabine "Sam" Mirlesse gets some early morning shots
of Sam at NYC's Mercer Hotel on the morning of the "Blackthorn" premiere. By
comparison to the above story, you'll note that our man is unexpectantly
cordial. Check it out!
Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute
In some of Sam's interviews recently, he has mentioned
working at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and I just wanted to
clarify his connection to the Institute. A year ago Sam was made
a Miller Scholar, which gave him a very prestigious visiting position. At
the time of the appointment, SFI Faculty Chair David Krakauer said, "Sam is a
very accomplished, thoughtful person, and I know he will challenge us, and
provide us with another unique perspective to think from". Sam arrived at the
Institute in late December 2010 and conducted research and wrote at SFI
intermittently through May.
The position ranges from a few months to a year and offers a unique environment
for highly accomplished, creative thinkers to catalyze transdisciplinary
collaboration, synthesize ideas and methods from many disciplines, and enhance,
or even define, new fields of inquiry. Miller Scholars both benefit from and
contribute to ongoing scholarly research at SFI. During their stay, Miller
Scholars are free to devote their time to scholarship on any topic and are
encouraged to collaborate with SFI resident faculty and postdoctoral
researchers, and make use of the working group- and workshop-convening power of
Sam gave this update recently - "I did that a year ago for six months, and then
I was invited back as a kind of resident. Itís without any stipend or anything,
but they give me a place to work. And I really liked that somehow itís time for
me to be institutionalized. [Laughs] So far itís worked out good, and I want to
continue it as long as Iím productive. Iíve got my farm in Kentucky, but
sometime it gets a little bit remote, and I wonder what Iím doing. New Mexico
feels like home to me now."
This is a wonderful photo taken in Santa Fe back in 1984. You
might at first think the photographer was Bruce Weber but it's still a famous
name - try Annie Liebowitz!
In its 2012 Best of the West Source Book, True West
magazine listed a number of Santa Fe and New Mexico people and places in the
honors roster - including both locals and visitors. "Blackthorn" was
named the Best Indie Western. Star Sam Shepard was named Best Western
Film Actor and director Mateo Gil scored as Best Western Film Director.
Here's another photo of Sam taken in New Mexico - not with
fans - but with Jaimie Alexander (on the left), one of his co-stars from
"Savannah" due out in 2012.
Film Festival Premiere
Kasdan's DARLING COMPANION has been selected
as the opening-night film at the 27th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The Sony Pictures Classics release stars Diane Keaton as a woman who saves a
stray dog on the side of a freeway in Denver. Besides Sam, the cast includes
Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest and Elisabeth Moss. Sony describes it as "comic,
harrowing and sometimes deeply emotional." The film will screen on Thursday,
January 26. You'll note on the film page (above link) that the movie stills
they've released thus far are rather uninteresting with mostly dog images.
November 8, 2011
Coming to theaters next year
CIA thriller SAFE HOUSE,
directed by Daniel Espinosa, will open in theaters on February 10, 2012. Denzel
Washington plays the most dangerous renegade from the CIA who comes back onto
the grid after a decade on the run. When the South African safe house heís
remanded to is attacked by mercenaries, a rookie operative (played by Ryan
Reynolds) escapes with him. Now, the unlikely allies must stay alive long enough
to uncover who wants them dead.
Sam co-stars in the action-packed film along with Brendan
Gleason, Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham and Ruben Blades. Perhaps
Universal's budget is tight because their publicity campaign is inconsequential
with a rather boring web site with little information. They haven't even
released the roles or names for most of the cast! And as far as the title, it's
been used so many times before, you'd think the producers could have been more
imaginative. Anyway, here's our first glimpse of Sam:
Yes, another review!
I could not resist posting this "Blackthorn" review published
by the San Diego Reader:
A real Western is riding our way from South America. Up
in the high Andes, Blackthorn is much more than an exotic footnote to 1969ís
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".... In this better sequel, Sam
Shepard never strives for charm as the aging Cassidy. Known as James
Blackthorn in Bolivia, and thought to have died there with his pal in 1908,
Butch lives on in a deep backland. In 1927 he is a rugged old bone, raked by
memories, raising horses, comforted by a native woman, and imagining a son
he has never seen.
And he is Shepard, crowning his acting career. At a certain slant the gray,
bearded actor looks so much like Walter Hustonís prospector in "The Treasure
of the Sierra Madre" that I almost gasped a welcoming laugh. To the filmís
great advantage, director Mateo Gil and writer Miguel Barros are Spanish.
They stake their claim away from the Bob & Paul myth.
Their Bolivia is shot with powerful sensuality by the great Spanish
cinematographer Juan Ruiz AnchŪa and rooted in Shepardís hardbitten,
scraped-down magnetism. Along with some sketchy plot involving an alcoholic
consul, we have fabulous mountains, a desert that is death made visible, and
Blackthorn igniting his true Cassidy whenever he rides a fast horse or fires
a rifle. He also sings a bit like a mule with a muse.
Most central is friendship. Loyalty haunts Blackthorn, making him stay true
to the woman, his horse, the unseen son, the memory of Sundance. And,
perhaps, the Spanish mining engineer who hauls the old fugitive back into
danger. Their alliance is the spring of tension in a terrific, full-hearted
The film is still available thru video on demand but it will
be released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 20th. There are no
details if the disc will include any extras.
The Ellen Steward Award
Last night La MaMa's gala event celebrated the 50th
anniversary of its Manhattan theatre. Our playwright was honored with the first
Ellen Stewart Award although the honoree was not present. Possibly his
absence was due to the Arkansas shoot of his latest film, MUD. No excuse
was given in the media coverage. It was reported that Sam sent a video message
of remembrance. He related how as a young man, he wanted to put on a play and he
didn't know where to do it. He was pointed in the direction of Stewart who told
him she would do his play before he had even finished asking her. "She always
wore these tight pants and these green, flowing shirts... she was very sexy," he
said. He also remembered selling coffee in the cafe. As the recipient of this
award, Sam was given the opportunity to choose a young artist who will then
create and present a new work to be produced during La MaMa's 51st season next
year. Sam chose Matthew Paul Olmos, who was recently awarded the "Top Prize for
the Americas" by the BBC 2011 International Playwriting Competition for his play
"The Nature of Captivity."
You can now
watch Sam's brilliant performance in BLACKTHORN in your own living room through video on demand.
That's exactly what I did and it was worth every penny! The cinematography alone
brings esoteric pleasures but certain images of 'Cowboy Sam' as the weathered
but rugged James Blackthorn (aka Butch Cassidy) will linger with you long after
the film is over. Yes, images like the scene where Blackthorn, dressed in his
long auburn coat, sits
quietly cross-legged on the desert floor across from his enemy. His craggy-lined
face and chiseled looks capture a man with character written all over him. Even
his raspy rendering of some old cowboy songs will bring you smiles. It's a
must-see!!! The film has been warmly received by critics and Sam's performance
has received heaps of praise - check out the
BLACKTHORN film page!
There's a ton of new interviews you can check out in the
press section. Obviously, Sam was committed to
giving appropriate publicity for "Blackthorn" as the lead star so he gave
several interviews via phone and a few in person when he was in town for the
premiere. Here are some photos taken in NYC on September 29th.
I've plucked out some interesting tidbits from his several interviews:
career as actor vs. playwright
don't get offered leading parts. I suppose I've become a kind of character actor
or sideman. I think it had to do with probably in the '90s, I refused so many
leading roles that they gave up on me, or I just became unpopular, or I became
old. All those reasons."
"I didn't think I would be taken seriously as a writer if I became a movie star.
You don't want to be ignored as a writer because you have this other thing...
There was a review of a play of mine in London a few years back that said, 'It's
a pretty good play for a movie star.' And I thought, 'Ugh! This is exactly what
I didn't want!'"
"The only thing I really regret was
"Lonesome Dove." I turned that down because I had really young kids at the time,
and it was a long, long shoot. It was extremely long. I just didn't want to be
gone that long, but I do regret that. I could have played either one of those
characters and was offered both of them."
present film project, MUD
"This is a beautiful script, great little script. It's a script I wouldn't
even think about touching except rearranging a little bit of the language in it,
but there's no way you can improve on it. I play an ex-sharpshooter from the
army who lives alone on a riverboat house and is sort of the protector of the
Matthew McConaughey character... The writing is totally authentic and flows. It
doesn't feel like any of it is contrived."
"I won't be there
[in Arkansas] very long. I'll probably be a week shooting the initial stuff and
then the very last scene, because of the nature of it, has to be shot in New
Orleans, down on the Gulf, and we don't shoot that 'till late November, so I'm
shooting in Arkansas mid-October and then that at the end."
"In many ways, I
don't feel any wiser with age, except for one thing. I feel more and more it's a
necessity to stay working. That's what I've learned now and will never forget.
You must keep your mind active. Keep working. If you let that slip and lose your
focus then you can get very, very lost. I've found when I'm not working, I can
dwell on all kinds of stuff. That's just not productive. So, I try to keep that
work ethic going because it's necessary."
"Iíll tell you
the great secret that Iíve learned at this age. Itís about staying in the
present. Itís not an easy trick. The Dalai Lama seems to do well at it ó and we
can all aspire to do what heís doing. Not many other people seem to do well at
staying in the present, and you have to remind yourself. I think the problem is
that life tries to make us not stay in whatís happening to us right now. What
Iíve learned now is that itís very easy with age to get lost in the past or
project oneself into the future. To stay in the present is the most difficult
thing at all, but well worth it., if possible. Thatís the aim."
with Diane Keaton and the upcoming "Darling Companion"
"I enjoyed it very much. Great actors. I've worked with Diane many times.
Always love working with her... "Every film Iíve done with her has been fun. We
have an extraordinary bond. Sheís this fantastic combination of brilliance in
comedy and intelligence. A dream! I just did another film with her ("Darling
Companion") about a woman who rescues a dog off the freeway and then I lose the
dog. Itís a brilliant comic script about us searching for the dog and meeting
all these whacked-out characters."
"I basically live out of my truck - I mean from place to place. I feel more
at home in my truck than just about anywhere, which is a sad thing to say but
"I've come and gone from this town [NYC] so much, going back
to '63. It's not the place I choose to live. It's the place I choose to work."
(Sam now makes his home at his Kentucky horse farm and in Santa Fe, New Mexico)
"Iím not interested in autobiography at all. No, never. I mean, in a
way, all the plays have been autobiographical, but not confessional like that.
Iíve never read an autobiography where the protagonist isnít the hero of his
story. Itís ridiculous. Iím just not interested in it."
"I write all the time. I write obsessively. It keeps me feeling as though I have
an activity that's meaningful. I do it everyday, but not out of some sense of
ritual. I feel more and more that there's a necessity to it. Work keeps you
"There's nothing serene about it. Yeah, I would say that it
did come from a fractured sensibility. And it's still fractured because of the
state of things. I'm extremely grateful that I found writing, but it doesn't
make it any more peaceful."
"I feel very lucky and privileged to be a writer. I feel lucky in the sense that
I can branch out into prose and tell different kinds of stories and stuff. But
being a writer is so great because youíre literally not dependent on anybody.
Whereas, as an actor, you have to audition or wait for somebody else to make a
decision about how to use you. With writing, you can do it anywhere, anytime you want. You donít have
to ask permission."
"I write quite a bit on set because there's a lot of time
sitting around. Oftentimes it's just notebook stuff that
later turns into short fiction or notes for a play or
dialogue but I don't sit methodically and try and make a
play as if I was on my own time. But trailer time is a
perfect opportunity to get some writing done."
"I donít own a computer. I write longhand. In notebooks. Itís then typed up. And
retyped until I feel Iíve got it."
"I have two manual typewriters that I use. I prefer them.
I started out that way. I get habitual about stuff. I
just prefer it over the computer because it doesn't feel
like you're doing anything. You're looking at a screen
and clicking the keys, but the keys - they're just
representative. They don't actually hammer a letter down
on the page. I like the page a lot. I don't relate to
the screen so much."
Patti & Sam
There's a Patti Smith album in the works - and it will
include some songs with Sam. Yes, singing, not drumming. Apparently, the pair
have been recording "old tunes" together. Asked if "old tunes" means songs from
Patti's early career, Sam laughed. "No, no, old songs before we met," rattling
off names of bluesmen, gospel singers and banjo players, most from the dawn of
the recording era. "Ivory Joe Hunter, Richard 'Rabbit' Brown, Washington
Phillips, Charlie Poole - those guys." Fans of the Holy Modal Rounders, the folk
group Sam once recorded with, will
be happy to hear
that ďHesitation BluesĒ (a traditional tune they famously covered) is on the set
list. I recently came across this rare old photo of the twosome probably taken
close to 40 years ago.
Back in February, there was some kind of jam session going on
with Patti in Soho, which also included Sam's 24-year-old son,
Walker, who plays with the Dust Busters
And here are some interesting comments from Patti that describe her friendship
transcended any youthful difficulties; it transcended all our different
periods of life. We're just the same. When Sam and I are together, it's like
no particular time. People part and people die, but to be able to have such
a rich history with a human being as a friend is beautiful... He fiercely
guards his privacy, but if he's talking to you and lets you in the door, he
offers everything. You can sit at his table. You can ride his horse. You can
look in his notebook. It's just a matter of walking through the door."
Plays in the works...
Our playwright is presently working on a couple works. He
just finished the bones of a three-act play, which he began writing during a
six-month residency at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. He
says he had earlier sworn off writing longer works, but this one just came to
him. He doesn't expect it will be finished for another year and rumor has it
that it might eventually be produced by New York's Signature Theater.
October 3, 2011
"Blackthorn" premiere in NYC
Sam turned out for the premiere of his Butch Cassidy western
in NYC on September 29th. The following photos show him with
BLACKTHORN's director, Mateo Gil, and his
companion for the evening, producer Heather Rae. Yes, those beautiful high
cheekbones are authentic - she's part Cherokee. Ms. Rae has been a
Sundance Film Festival fixture for years and is considered a good friend.
September 26, 2011
New movie role
Good news! Sam has joined the cast of the feature film MUD,
written and to be directed by Jeff Nichols. His co-stars are
Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Ray McKinnon, Joe Don
Baker and Paul Spars. Filming will begin shortly in Arkansas.
MUD is a coming-of-age drama centered around two
fourteen-year-old boys who encounter a mysterious fugitive hiding out on an
island in the Mississippi. Intrigued by this man, they enter into a pact to help
him evade capture and reconnect with the love of his life.
Sam will play the reclusive character of Tom Blankenship, an ex-sharpshooter
from the army who lives alone on a riverboat house and is a sort of protector of
the Matthew McConaughey character.
September 4, 2011
La MaMa Honor
will be the recipient of the first-ever "Ellen Stewart Award", named in
honor of the late founder of Manhattan's experimental theatre company La MaMa.
Ms. Stewart passed away on January 13th of this year at the age of 91. He will
be honored during the company's 2011 gala on October 17 in the Ellen Stewart
Theatre. Sam's relationship with La MaMa dates back to the 1960's when he was a
young playwright and La MaMa had just opened its doors. In a remembrance about
Ms. Stewart in The New York Times at the time of her passing, Mr. Shepard
commented, "I walked up to her and said, 'I have this play.' And she said 'Let's
do it, baby.' And she did. She just put on shows. I could bring something
written on an envelope, and Ellen would put it on the next day." His numerous
productions at La Mama through the years included the 1983 rock concert version
of his "The Tooth of the Crime", which La
MaMa remounted in 2006 on the occasion of the company's 45th anniversary season.
This honor is presented "to an artist who embodies the courage and pioneering
spirit that Ms. Stewart encouraged at La MaMa, an artist who carries on her
ideal of challenging conventional theatrical boundaries and expanding our
understanding of human potential." As part of the honor, the recipient will also
select a young theatre artist to create a new work to be presented and produced
at La MaMa.
The gala will include entertainment from actors and writers with ties to La
MaMa, including Wallace Shawn, Estelle Parsons, John Kelly, Justin Bond, Scott
Wittman, Taylor Mac and Elizabeth Swados. The evening of cocktails, dinner and
performance will begin at 6:30 p.m.
August 27, 2011
Sam and the Irish
When "Curse of the Starving Class" opens tonight, it will be the fifth
Shepard play to open at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in five years. Apparently,
Irish audiences are enamored with our playwright. Sara Keating has written an
article for the Irish Times in which she
comments, "His pieces are deeply embedded with the evolution of the countryís
culture and the failed myth of the American dream. If the glorified ideal of a
Wild West being conquered by the heroic cowboy was the familiar template for
American authenticity, for Shepard the frontier becomes a dangerous place where
the superficiality of such dreams of individual freedom are revealed. If his
diverse plays share a vision, it is the way they puncture the limitless freedom
of pioneer country by refusing to allow it to be tamed."
The play will run through September 10th.
Butch Cassidy Rides Again!
will be premiering on Video on Demand on Friday, September 2, but if you like
what you see, we highly recommend seeing it in theaters because the locations in
South America where Gil shot the film are absolutely glorious on the big screen.
It will open in New York and Los Angeles on October 7 and in other theaters in
the weeks that follow. You'll note that the new trailer
that's circulating the Web is much more dramatic than the first one and I think
these new posters offer more visual appeal as well.
I'd also like to share this crackerjack review from Shelagh
M. Rowan-Legg of Twitch:
Shepard is not nearly as well-known as he should be. He
proved his acting mettle as Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff", but is
probably more famous as one of America's best playwrights. He has always
shied away from the acting spotlight, which serves him well in a role such
as this. The intelligence and existentialism of his writing work come
through in this performance, and show a Blackthorn/Cassidy as a man who,
though he has learned that he can only now appreciate the small pleasures of
life, the past hangs over him like a greying cloud, exile will take its toll
on the psyche and he must run to the siren call of home. Too many bodies,
too many deceptions, and even he cannot escape the one-last-job scenario.
This is in some ways reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's work in "Unforgiven"
but Blackthorn doesn't have anyone to cheer him on in his struggle to define
his own moral code. He will still kill those who seek to kill him, but
Shepard conveys in his eyes a desperate longing to put the gun down. Like
Shepard, Noriega is not well known outside of his native Spain, where he is
one of its best and most prolific actors. And like Shepard, he can convey
subtle emotions and hidden secrets with a flicker of a smile and. He and
Shepard have fantastic chemistry, and in some great comedic moments, banter
back and forth so well you would think they had worked together for years.
This is credit both to the script and the actors, that they slip into these
roles with great ease.
Think of this film as a kind of spiritual cousin. Times
have changed, both in the western genre and in the world of the film.
Cassidy and Sundance might at one point might have been glorified in their
exploits, but glorification of the criminal is done. Blackthorn has a kind
of moral code now, in his age, though it is not necessarily different than
before. He knows the good from the bad, but perhaps still does not quite
understand on which side he belongs. "Blackthorn" is a minimalist, slow-burn
film, beautifully photographed and scored. Moments of intense action are
juxtaposed against a vast, impossible landscape, and its unexpected ending
is quietly devastating. Like its characters, it does not reveal its secrets
too easily, but when it does, it makes you laugh and breaks your heart.
August 6, 2011
Fantasia Festival screens "Blackthorn"
had its Canadian premiere last week at Montreal's Fantasia International Film
Festival. Regularly held in July of each year since 1996, the festival is valued
by both hardcore genre film fans, and distributors, who take advantage of the
eclectic line up to select foreign and domestic films for release across North
America. Kevin Jagernauth of Indie Wire reviewed the Butch Cassidy sequel
describing Sam's performance as "very strong and impressive" adding that "the
creases in his face alone deserve some applause." And film critic Tony Timpone
gives praise with, "Shepard plays the revitalized Cassidy with quiet dignity.
Despite his bank-robbing past and present complications as an accidental
accomplice, Blackthornís a man with a strict moral code. With his contemplative
stare and sparse dialog, playwright Shepard conveys all these subtle emotions
I particularly savored the following comments left by an anonymous reviewer at
Pop Culture Ninja:
This one is
Shepardís film all the way, and it is easy to believe that Mateo and his
team conjured the whole thing out of little more than the image of the
ruggedly handsome actor sitting there staring out over the harsh beauty of
the Bolivian desert. From this serenity flows a wellspring of legend,
adventure, and human frailty encapsulated in the carefully paced mannerisms
of Shepardís Cassidy; what we see is an old man, tired and softened by age
with little to no sign of the American legend in sight.
Of course, Shepard himself still is an American legend, and he doesnít rely
upon his image as the quintessential folksy cowboy to carry the film. This
Cassidy is almost a brand new creation and miles away from what we think of
as the Ďretired gunslingerí archetype. Shepard makes him a serene and
peaceful man, who doesnít seem to have the edge necessary to have ever been
the outlaw he claims to be.
Then, in a surprisingly delicate unpacking, as the storyís events require
him to, the actor brings that passion, violence, and resolve churning back
up to the surface like a phoenix from dry ashes. Itís perhaps the single
most effective example of the old gun coming back from the pasture Iíve ever
seen captured on film. It isnít just the performance that is strong, but
also the character as written. Butch Cassidy isnít merely a historical
figure or a campfire fairy tale, heís also a cinematic phantasm that has
haunted our matinee daydreams for decades.
July 27, 2011
"Darling Companion"release next year
According to Variety, Sony Pictures Classics has snagged U.S.
rights to Lawrence Kasdan's film, DARLING COMPANION. The film, now in
post-production, stars Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Elisabeth Moss, Dianne Wiest
and Sam. The story centers on a woman (Keaton) who rescues a stray dog only to
see her husband (Kline) lose it, sparking a search that enlists an array of
disparate characters. Sony plans to release the film sometime next year.
July 4, 2011
Teaming up with Scott Glenn again
Shepard fans in Boise Idaho are in for a treat this month.
The Egyptian Theatre will be featuring Sam and actor Scott Glenn doing a reading
of AGES OF THE MOON to benefit Boise
Contempory Theater. The Idaho Statesman writes, "This really is an amazing
opportunity to be in a room with two remarkable actors, and one of Americaís
best playwrights." "Ages" tells the story of two old friends, Byron and Ames.
Over whiskey on a hot summerís night, they wait for a total eclipse of the moon,
reflect and bicker until fifty years of love, friendship and rivalry are put to
the test. Sam and Scott happen to be old friends too. They worked together in
ďThe Right StuffĒabout the early days of the U.S. space program and are
connected through Idaho film producer Heather Rae, who is one of Shepardís
longtime friends. She recently worked with Glenn in Jaffe Zinnís film ďMagic
Valley,Ē which filmed in Idaho. The reading will be held at 6 pm with tickets
priced at $50, $75 and $100.