Exclusive Interview with Drew Powell of Straw DogsInterview by Jamie Ruby and Dede TaylorWritten by Jamie Ruby
Indiana native Drew Powell has been singing and dancing since he was young. Though an English Literature major and Media Fellow in college, the theater department was a part of his life, and he wrote and performed in multiple campus films and television productions.
Powell's first role in television was on the series Malcolm in the Middle
. He also appeared in series such as CSI
, House M.D.
, and Leverage
. He also starred as Eric 'Hoss' Cartwright in the series Ponderosa.
The actor also has worked on films such as Starship Troopers 2
, The Marine
, and 1408
Powell can now be seen in the thriller Straw Dogs
, which opens in theaters today, and soon in the movie Touchback
Powell recently sat down with SciFi Vision for an exclusive interview to talk about his work. Straw Dogs
is a remake of a Sam Peckinpah film of the same name from 1971. "It's a psychological thriller about a couple that comes back into the wife's hometown and runs into the locals, including her ex-boyfriend. It's a real story about conflict between different kinds of people, and how in a small town outsiders can be threatening, and also the kind of differences between people. You've got intellectual pacifists and people who are more blue collar and have violence as a part of their lives, whether it's hunting or football or whatever. So in a bigger sense, that's what the movie's about."
There are some parts of the film that are similar to the original, but other parts were changed. "There are things that are very much like the original. I mean Rod Lurie is a student of cinema, so he's a good one to take on a remake because he can appreciate the original, but also see places where maybe the story needed to be updated or changed. So I think the movie has a great balance of, on the one hand, kind of an homage to the original film and film maker, but also it's updated. They've moved it from Cornwall in England to the Deep South in America, and some of the scenes in the story have been changed, because we've come forty years since [the original] was made. So it's weird because on the one hand it's very different and on the other hand it's similar, because there are ways in which the context of the original movie was 1971 - we were in Vietnam, the Kent State shootings had happened, and you know, I think Peckinpah was making a commentary on the violence. Here we are forty years later and we have two wars going and there's still a lot of discord in the country, a lot of difference between the Red States and the Blue States, if you will. So, in some ways we haven't come that far in forty years. So, I think the movie is, whether it was originally intended to be or not, a pretty interesting commentary on how things have changed or remained the same in the last forty years."
Powell's story of how he got the part in Straw Dogs
is rather unique. "I got a call from my manager a couple years ago; I think it was the end of July. I was actually visiting my parents in Indiana and I got a call saying, "Hey listen, I need you to put yourself on tape for the movie right away and email it to me right away." Apparently they had an actor originally that had fallen out and they needed to recast it right away. So, in my old bedroom actually, I put myself on tape with my dad reading the off camera lines and...I had to go somewhere and I said, "We've got to find somewhere that has wireless.
"So I stopped at a Chick-fil-A in Indianapolis and I edited and emailed my audition at the Chick-fil-A in Indianapolis.
"And I got cast off that tape. I never actually met Rod or the producers, and it was pretty great. I ended up on a plane when they finally decided at like ten at night that I was the guy. So when I landed at midnight at LAX, my manager was waiting for me saying, "You have to go home and repack, because you're going to Louisiana for three months tomorrow." So, it was quite a ride just to getting into this job and it's been a fun ride ever since."
Powell plays one of the "bad guys" in the film. "My character's name is Bic, and I'm one of the group of locals that are hired to fix a dilapidated barn of the Sumner's, which are played by James Marsden and Kate Bosworth. There are four of us, I would describe Bic as kind of the leader of our group. We were all football players in high school and then stuck around in town, and kind of haven't done much since, kind of peaked at eighteen, if you will.
"So my character specifically amongst the four "straw dogs" is the kind of the more comic relief - the lazy one, the one that's more prone to cut up and be a goof ball. And so, it was a fun character to play, especially in an intense film like this, it's nice to be the character that has more funny moments; so that's good."
The actor enjoys playing the "bad guy," and actually thinks in some ways it's easier to do. "In some ways it's fun to play the bad guy, because the truth is, sometimes playing mean and bad is easier because that's an easy reaction or the easy emotion to play, where as a nuance role where you play a sheriff where you're kind of not sure if the guy's bad or good, that can be sometimes more difficult.
"It's important to remember going in that it's a character, and I'm not a method guy, I believe it's called acting for a reason; you're not reenacting, you're acting. So I'm creating this character that certainly has parts of me involved, because it's coming from me, but it's a character that at the end of the day. You put it away and you go home. But in this case, one of things that I think was helpful, one of the things I love about this movie - I saw a final cut last week – is the camaraderie between the four straw dogs. There's Alex [Skarsgård], Rhys Coiro, who plays Norman, Billy Lush who plays Chris, and myself.
"You really believe that the four of us have been friends since high school, and in a large part, we are kind of this ominous figure in this movie, that kind of is looming, and you're like, "These guys, I don't know, they're saying "Yes sir, no sir," but you really feel like something bad is going to happen. When I felt that, watching the final cut, I felt like we had achieved our goal. And part of that I think was that we were all on location in Shreveport, Louisiana, sweating our brains out and we were living together. We all lived in the same hotel. We'd go out to dinner together, we would go out on the weekends together, and that really helped I think what you end up seeing on screen. So, in that regard, that made it that much easier because we were kind of living it out in a way. It can be tough, like the whole final scene, the big kind of climax at the end, is tough because we're shooting all night, a week of nights, and doing the same thing over and over, and you have to have that energy that emotion every time, or it doesn't make sense.
"James Woods, who's a real pro, who's done this a lot, was involved in those scenes with us. He was really great because he really drove us, helped set the bar high, and I really appreciated the opportunity to work with him, and he is a nasty character in this piece as well."
The actor made some great memories while working with the cast. "We had some nice times. There was a couple weekends where some of the local folks in Shreveport kind of took us under their wing and several of us went out, for example, to a guy's lake house there at Shreveport. We spent the day out skiing and jet skiing and all that stuff. Those are moments that are nice because we really did get along as a cast and as a group.
"Another fun memory that I had forgotten about until recently, was at the wrap party. I wrote a song called The Hilton Downtown Shreveport
to the tune of Hotel California
, because it's kind of the only hotel in town, and a couple of movies were staying there. It was just kind of a cursed experience. I'm sure the hotel is fine, but when we were there, the water went out in most of the hotel and we all had to go down to the second floor to shower. It was like being in camp again. There were a lot of little things like that that kind of went wrong. So I wrote that song and James Marsden and I played it at the wrap party and got a pretty good response. That was kind of fun and funny as well."
Bic is from the south, so Powell had to come up with a southern accent. "I'm from Indiana originally. Indiana doesn't really have an accent, although out here in L.A. people think I've got one, but that's just because people don't know what accents are out here. We actually had a dialect coach who was really great and we really tried to focus not only on the southern dialect, but also to get more specific like southwest Mississippi, which is where it takes place. So it was really great for me, because that really helped me get into character, to get into that frame of mind and to use that accent to kind of help along the way.
"I mean, she did really interesting things like had us listen to a lot of people who are originally from that part of the world, like Brett Favre, for example, the quarterback. I listened to a lot of his press conferences, and one of the things I noticed is that he didn't open his mouth very wide, and it was a lot slower. I have an aunt from Montgomery, Alabama, and have relatives in Georgia, so I've been around those accents my whole life...But it is difficult. I think people assume a southern accent is easy and those that know the southern accent know that it's not easy, and you can spot a fake a mile off. So I don't know if I accomplished it. I hope I did, but I guess you'll have to be the judge on that."
Another memorable role of Powell's is his character on Leverage
, a series which he will be returning to. "I'm reprising my role as Jack Hurley. It's one of my favorite characters I've ever played. I played that role in season one and it was a big hit and we had a lot of fun with it. They've been trying to find a way to bring him back the last couple years and it's been kind of hard, and they finally figured out a way. John Rogers is the executive producer, show runner, and creator of the show along with Chris Downey, and they finally figured out a way to get my character back, so I think it's going to air in November or December, [that] is what I'm hearing. It's the second half of the season.
"It's a lot of fun. It's a neat episode and I think people will really dig it. I particularly like how Jack Hurley and Tim Hutton's character relate. It's very much of a Midnight Run
kind of vibe where he's the straight man and I'm kind of the goof ball.
"So we had a lot of fun shooting that, and I'm psyched. I'm hoping that I get to do some more at some point."
Powell has worked in film, television, and in theater, but has a hard time choosing which he would pick if he had to stick with one. "It's like asking you to choose a favorite child, but if I had to give an answer, I think the answer would be movies, and only because movies in some ways combine what I love about theater and what I love about TV, in that theater is great in that you have a character that over the run of a play, you really get a chance to get into that character and live inside the bones and figure out who that character is. Now, that's not always true. When I did The Pee Wee Herman Show
, I did a mute dancing bear so I didn't have as much; I didn't have to go quite as deep for that one, but generally speaking, that's the idea. And then with television, you have the beauty of a film schedule, which can be really heavy at times. You're working fourteen, fifteen hours a day, but then you get days off and then your weekends, where with Broadway what I realized when I did The Pee Wee Herman Show
, is that you're working six days a week, eight shows a week, and even though you're not working during the day the first couple of months when you're doing previews, it's a real time commitment. You're committing to that show; you're not going anywhere. You're not taking a vacation, you're there. So, in some ways, film is where you have more time than in TV to really get under the skin of a character, but you have more of a flexible schedule in some ways, and there is still something very special about sitting in the theater and watching your movie come up on the big screen. There's something special about that. So if I had to choose, that's what it would be."
Powell has more projects on the way after Straw Dogs
. "I've got another film called Touchback
that comes out the beginning of next year, which I'm excited about. In a lot of ways it's similar to Strawdogs
, in that it's a small town kind of story, but it's a family film.
"...I'm excited about that film. It stars Kurt Russell, who plays a coach, and we had a lot of fun with that. Melanie Lynskey's in it, and Christine Lahti, and that's coming out which I'm excited about that. And I have a couple of TV appearances popping up. I will be popping up on screens this fall, but otherwise, I'm excited. Go see the movie."
Powell grew up in a spiritual family and is grateful for his getting to do what he loves and wants to be able to use his fame for good. "One of the things I had a talk my dad about before I started this thing was, I hope that if I ever am lucky enough to get some of the fame and the recognition that goes along with my chosen career that I can find ways to use it for good. I'm amazed at how several people that do get that fame and recognition don't do that. There are a lot of great examples of people who do and of course you can see that all over the place. And that is a beautiful thing in that we are very lucky in that we get to do what we love. The fact that I get to make my living as an actor is unbelievable to me; it's a dream come true. I feel like because we are blessed with that dream than we have an obligation to do something to help other people.
"So I do try and stay connected somewhat through the church that I grew up in. They have a thing that's called "The Week Of Compassion," that I give my time to that you basically go around the world in places of need, the disasters of the world, and they're on the ground helping out, but there's a lot of great causes.
"My wife and I just rescued a dog. There're a lot of great organizations that help educate and save animals. As you know [there are] all these disasters going on, people like the Red Cross for example and some of the stuff they're doing with Haiti and now the hurricane.
"I'm doing a benefit play actually, for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer three day walk, called Snapshots
, here in LA the last weekend of this month. It's something I've done before and it happens every year, and all the proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen organization. It's a lot of fun and that's something I wish we could do on a larger scale and take it around the country.
"...Marc Cherry from Desperate Housewives
has written a piece, Nadine Velazquez from My Name Is Earl
is in my piece. It's a bunch of one acts essentially, about eight one-act plays and there's a lot of stars and recognizable faces in this cast. I think people will get a kick out of it. But I sure hope that as my career progresses that there are more opportunities and more ways that I can give back, because it is important."
The actor participates in social media for his fans, but admits he isn't as great at twitter as some other actors. "The whole Twitterfication of the world is a fascinating thing...It allows people to have this mouthpiece as a kind of an anonymous person sitting at a computer somewhere or the phone and it does as we've all seen, put celebrities specifically in an interesting position of needing Twitter.
"I mean I got on Twitter originally because I realized that's the way it's going and I don't feel like I'm a very good "Twitterer." I kind of try, and I am A.D.D. enough that it fits into my lifestyle of tweeting my thoughts every now and then, but there are people, friends of mine for example, that really know how to do it...I think that people that do it well can really gain something, and certainly the interaction with the fans, from the fans' standpoint and from the celebrity's standpoint, is great."
You can follow Drew Powell on Twitter @TheDrewPowell
or visit his official site
to find out more about the actor. You can also see him now in Straw Dogs
, at a theater near you.