This weekend brought us the latest Nicolas Cage release, Southern Fury, a film about two brothers that find themselves in a sticky situation with a crime kingpin. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to chat to one of the lead stars, Johnathon Schaech, who plays Mikey Lindel in the film.
Schaech is a talented actor, who’s work spans the likes of many B-films like Southern Fury, and Marauders, as well as various TV appearances in shows such as Quantico, and – most notably – he took on the role of DC’s beloved antihero Jonah Hex in The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. I had the chance to chat to him about Southern Fury, and we talked about B-films, working with Nicolas Cage and about Legends. Check it out:
What was it about Southern Fury that initially attracted you to the project?
I had just finished a film about a year prior with Steven C. Miller and they had talked about trying to find something for me and Steven and Adrian Grenier to do together and we wanted to play brothers and they really did, they found a thing for us. It was called Southern Fury in the beginning and then they couldn’t get te budget correct to shoot in Philadelphia so then they brought it down to Mississippi and there way no way we could call it Southern Fury so we had to change it. I really think steven is an incredible talent and I like the way he makes movies and I wanted to be a part of it. He’s my rock.
This was obviously your second time working with him because you both did Marauders together beforehand. So it must have been quite nice to reunite with him for this?
Yeah, exactly. We had such a great time in the short time that we shot that movie up in Cincinnati, Ohio. We just had to do this again. Everyone likes to call these things B-films which they could be considered still, but these are different to B-films because they’re not exactly the same as they used to be. We raised the bar on Marauders. The reviewers would say this is A-level acting in B films and we put just everything on the line; we weren’t fucking around. We had savvy veterans who really wanted to make something and knowing how the structure and finances of this filmmaking world are, you’ve got to make it very quick and you’ve got to be on the top of your game. You can’t be worried. I wanted to do it with these guys because they don’t give a shit about all the crap. I wanted to get the movie out. I wanted it to be good.
Your character in Southern Fury, Mikey, isn’t the nicest of people. He’s fairly dark and violent. What was it like to tap into that unhinged, almost aggressive nature of his character?
You know, I’m a very nice man. Everyone says I’m a sweetheart. Where I grew up, it was not nice. My father was a police officer so it was tough where I grew up. I was constantly getting into fights. I had to fight to survive. Because my father was a cop, it was tough. As an actor, you have to tap into all these things that are a part of you. Trying to protect my brother was something I could easily do because me and my sister had a good relationship when we were up there. I just tapped into the necessity and purpose of family. When you want to protect your family, you become anything and everything.
And, well, it’s a fairly sombre and dark film in general. Surely that must have been hard to shake at times and did you ever find that and the dark, hard-edged nature of Mikey affecting you off-set when you were not filming?
Yes. I went into the weight room and was throwing around incredible amounts of weight. The thing that was most miserable about filming was that I’d work in that atmosphere and gain weight for the movie, gain muscle size, so kind of make Mikey more physically imposing. I’m muscular but I can get smaller depending on the thing I’m working on. I got onto this diet where I was eating food every two hours and it was just exhausting. Eating in the middle of filming, like eating two pieces of salmon, was the last thing I wanted to do. Or stuffing two chicken breast down my throat or have me go to the waffle house to get me a steak. You don’t know what a waffle house is in the UK, do you? The waffle house is just unique in itself, it’s probably what best defines the south. So awesome.
So would you say that was the biggest challenges of playing Mikey then? Putting on all that muscle?
Eating. That was the challenge. Also, we got down there and we were given last time than we thought. There was a tornado that hit, in the middle of filming. I’ve never seen anything like it. So we lost a lot of time there. The obstacles just kept rising up, but Steven C. Miller, Brendan Cox – our DP – and George, our producer, we just… you know, I guess they make these movies like you would a soccer game. You know you’ll get a bit of time at the end at the end to make up for all the mistakes through the play through but it’s going to be over. You had just have to keep moving as hard as you can, with every ounce of energy, with no one complaining on the way.
Adrian Grenier plays your brother in this and, I have to say, you both had some great chemistry in this. The fact you were brothers was so believable. Did that just come naturally? I take it you both got on well on set?
Yes. We did Marauders together so we had already spent a lot of time together. We were just like brothers. I know where his heart lies and he knows where my heart lies. We’re different in the way we approach life. He saves the whales, he’s passionate about it, he did something so crazy and I was so worried about him, but he accomplished it. He’s doing all this stuff for the environment, trying to save the world in his way. I try to save it my way. We just got on so well so it really came across. We took acre of each other and listened to each other. He had my back and I knew I had his. It was really fun; all that baseball stuff, we were like little kids out there.
It definitely came across on-screen. The film has a great cast in general, you have stars like Nicolas Cage, John Cusack. It must have been nice to share the screen with such talent, especially Nicolas Cage who has quite the iconic presence in films.
They are two guys I cherished as actors growing up. Nicolas, being such a dark character, they liked to see how big they could get at times. He’s an incredible actor, man. He stepped out on set, shook my hand and went, ‘let’s do this Jonathon’. I didn’t meet Nicolas Cage after that for the rest of the shoot. He literally just became this character. And he was playing something very dear and very near to his heart. He didn’t know how it was going to come across but he didn’t care. He wanted to help tell the story. Chris Coppola told me that he wanted to play a character he had played 30 years prior where him and Chris were actual brothers. They wanted to recreate this character 30 years later, and kind of retell that story, especially because it’s so close to mine and Adrian’s brother story. So that’s why you see him in this. The nose, the wig, he was trying to hold onto the past and it was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anybody take such a risk before as an actor in front of me, and I’ve worked with some of the greatest actors out there. He was amazing. John Cusack was as cool as can be. When you watch the movie, it’s so great to have veterans like that out there. We were shooting fast and Steven C. Miller is a great problem solver, very quick to put things together. When you have these actors, they know where the story is, they improved to help the story. Take after take, they were turning different things and able to just do it all because they’re such good actors.
When Nicolas Cage’s character Eddie comes on, he has an intimidating presence, and there are many scenes where you both have intense back-and-forths. Did you feel that intimidating weight to his character when you filmed those scenes?
As an actor, the way I approach everything is I’m very competitive. I’m like this so the other individual could raise up my presence. He just wanted to take centre stage and steal the show. He challenged me every bit of the way; he once just picked up a glass and threw it across the room. It shattered and went all over the stunt guys. And I thought if he steps across and grabs me, I’m just going to kick his ass. So the tension is real. He wasn’t apologetic for any of it which I was so appreciative of that. He did nothing wrong but he wasn’t apologetic. People tend to think it’s a bad thing to step outside the bubble, but you must be willing to take risks.
You’ve had a fairly busy career, one that I’ve noticed has especially spanned various different TV appearances. It must be fun jumping between all these big shows and different characters – the likes of Quantico and Legends of Tomorrow which you both did last year. Is that variation in you career quite an important thing for you?
Yes, that’s my career man. I’ve been able to march from project to project. At the beginning of my career, I had a lot of time knowing how long before I had a shoot. Like, when I played Harry Houdini, I spent 2 months learning to be a magician with some of the greatest magicians, in Vegas. I went there, stayed in a hotel and studied with these magicians every day. Nowadays, you don’t get that much time to prepare, maybe 2 weeks at the most. For Mikey, I went to my marine buddies and they talked to me about the troubles of PDST and the guys that got bad conduct charges because of it and it was horrible, I found out about thousands of soldiers that got bad conduct discharges and they can’t get other jobs.
Finally, I just wanted to ask you about your upcoming projects and what’s next for you. Because you also co-wrote a film which you’ll also star in which is coming out pretty soon.
I just finished filming Stoic with Antonio Banderas which I think is going to be an incredibly good film. Then I’ve got two fighting films. I never really boxed but, as something on the side, my father trained me in boxing when I was a kid and I love fighting movies. So I’m looking forward to seeing if they come to fruition. And then I’m a writer so I’ve worked on a couple of my projects and I don’t know what’s going to happen with them but they’re looking pretty dang good. I then have another film, Day of the Dead, which I haven’t heard anything about; I filmed it for about 2 and a half months in Bulgaria last year. So, they’re two films I have coming out. For Jonah Hex, there’s no official paperwork yet but they’ve told me they would like him to come back, I don’t know to what capacity. Right now, though, I’m looking to solidify a regular role in one of these network programs. I’ve worked so hard with Southern Fury and Marauders to make sure that the critics and reviewers are putting my name out there. Whether it’s good or bad, I just wanted to be reviewed. And I got great reviews. So now I’m out there trying to find the next thing that will make the difference and take me to the next level… of security, but also of opportunity.
You can currently catch Johnathon Schaech in Southern Fury, starring alongside Nicolas Cage, Adrian Grenier, John Cusack, directed by Steven C. Miller.