Timothy Woodward Jr. Talks ‘Hickok’ and Profiling One of the ‘First Comic Book Heroes’
In the new film “Hickok,” famous gunslinger and outlaw “Wild Bill” Hickok (Luke Hemsworth) attempts to escape his past by settling in the small town of Abilene, Kansas. The mayor (Kris Kristofferson), captivated by Wild Bill’s unparalleled gun skills, offers him a job as the town marshal. Attempts to protect the town are soon challenged when a band of outlaws threaten Wild Bill and the laws he administered.
Among the outlaws are powerful saloon owner Phil Poe (Trace Adkins), whose relationship with Bill’s ex-lover (Cameron Richardson) stirs tension. Poe puts a bounty on Wild Bill’s head but with the help of lawman Hardin aka Little Arkansas (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau), Wild Bill sets out to fight the villainous bandits and save Abilene from danger.
Director Timothy Woodward Jr. recently talked about everything from his love of Tom Cruise movies to his love of westerns to his newest love, his latest directorial effort, “Hickok.”
I read that you fell in love with film when you saw your first film, but IMDb didn’t say what that film was.
It was “E.T.” It was the earliest time I can remember walking into a movie theater. It was like being transported into another world. I read books and it felt like an exciting bedtime story.
You grew up in South Carolina and it’s not exactly New York or Los Angeles when it comes to film. How did you start pursuing your love of film in South Carolina?
When I was young, I would get butterflies in my stomach when I would go to the movie theater and when I was 18, that was still kind of happening. I went to Trident Technical College for a semester and was looking at film studies and acting. I started acting and pursuing commercials and work where I could find it. I went to North Carolina for a while and was able to come to L.A. about five years ago.
You mentioned you had butterflies when you went to the theater. Besides “E.T.,” were there any other movies that really gave you butterflies?
Tom Cruise movies. “Top Gun” was exciting for me as a kid. “Days of Thunder” was amazing. I loved “The Firm” and “Jerry Maguire.” As you can tell, I’m a Tom Cruise fan. His bad movies were still fascinating to me and his good movies were even better. I didn’t watch a ton of TV. I just always preferred movies.
When you moved to L.A., you were acting first.
I had done some acting when I was in North Carolina. When I moved to L.A., I wanted to control my destiny a little more so I stepped behind the camera. I did some experimental films that got distribution. It was a great learning experience and I really grew as a filmmaker.
“Finders Keepers: The Root of All Evil” was your first film.
It was a small film that I did with just a camera guy and a sound guy. I just gathered a bunch of friends and we didn’t really have a bunch of resources to do it, but we knew we could get it done. I edited the film myself. I taught myself how to edit and learned a lot from that experience.
Anyone can make a film, but distribution is always the tricky part. How did you get distribution for that?
I just started calling around. I had acted in a small horror movie called “Butchered” which had been distributed by Gravitas on VOD. I called them up and asked if they were interested and they were. That film led to me getting hired for a movie which was eventually called “Throwdown.” It was originally called “Beyond Justice.” I was the lead actor and Mischa Barton starred opposite of me. It also starred Danny Trejo, Vinnie Jones and Luke Goss.
Do you still pinch yourself that you started out in a small town in South Carolina and now here you are in Los Angeles living your dream?
Things move so fast here that you don’t really get to sit back and enjoy it. From time to time when I’m really stressed out or something isn’t going right, I have to remind myself that this is the life I chose and I’m very fortunate to be here doing this. Working with these Hollywood stars and being in Hollywood in general, it’s a long ways away from the small town of Georgetown, South Carolina.
I’m totally going to go way off topic, but if you’re like me, when I go back to Ohio, I go on my food tour of all the things I can’t eat in L.A. Do you do the same thing when you go back to South Carolina?
Of course. I’m from the South so sweet tea is a big thing. There are only a few places here in California where you can get real sweet tea. I love biscuits and gravy. I actually have a dog named Biscuit and a dog named Gravy. You can’t really find biscuits and gravy here. I always try to have some good barbecue when I go home. And, most importantly, there’s grandma’s cooking.
Your latest film is “Hickok.” How did that project happen for you?
I had done another western called “Traded.” I just really, really enjoyed doing that film. It was a lot of fun. Diving into the western genre was great. I grew up watching westerns. “Tombstone” was great – so was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Those along with “3:10 to Yuma” are probably my top three. I watched “Gunsmoke” reruns on TV. Everybody as a kid played cowboys. The opportunity came around with my distributor and my partner said, ‘let’s look at another one.’ We looked at a bunch of scripts. We looked at this script which was originally titled “Abilene.” It really caught my eye and I knew this was something I really wanted to dive into.
You worked with Trace Adkins and Kris Kristofferson in “Traded” and now you’re working with them again so I assume you work well together.
The first thing I did after I got “Hickok” was to make a call to Kris Kristofferson. When Kris got involved, all the rest of the pieces started to come together. I really wanted to work with Trace again but his schedule was very, very crazy. We found a week that he could work so we shot all his stuff in that week then.
When you walk onto the set and you’re working with people you’ve admired, do you feel like a fraud or do you feel like you belong?
I feel like sometimes that’s the case. Other times, I don’t have time to think like that. I have to go outside of myself and realize that I have a job to do. It’s my job to be a leader and make a great film. I have to stay confident and be in charge of the situation. As a director, actors look to you to lead them in the dark sometimes. That requires trust, so if I’m overwhelmed, that could affect my job. There are times, though, when I finish a film and I think, ‘I worked with so-and-so. That’s pretty amazing.’
What’s the most surprising thing you learned since you started directing?
Everything. It was nothing like how I thought it would be originally. The more I’ve learned about cameras, the more I’ve learned how to tell a story with the camera. I’ve worked with an amazing director of photography who taught me how to use shadows and stuff. You learn that every single film will have its own set of challenges.
What was the biggest challenge for “Hickok?”
We have a huge civil war scene and we didn’t have a ton of time to shoot it. There’s the part where the horse has to jump over this big barricade and there’s a real live firing Gatlin gun. There’s a cannon so there was just a lot of pieces that had to fit in place. It was also a huge challenge where we had this huge town where they filmed “Westworld.” It used to be the Gene Autry Ranch. We had a ton of extras that we had to use very strategically. There was just a ton of moving parts. Anytime you have a lot of moving parts at once, it’s always a challenge. It’s an ambitious movie, but overall it was fun to make.
Summer is always a crowded time at the movie theater. In your words, why should people watch “Hickok?”
When was the last time you watched a western in the theater during the summer? “The Magnificent Seven” recently came out, but other than that, you’re going to get a lot of comic book movies. “Hickok” is an adult-themed movie that kids can enjoy as well. It’s about people. It’s about a real life person who’s considered one of the first ‘comic book heroes’ ever.
“Hickok” opens in select theaters July 7.