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Interview: Ed Harris and ‘Frontera’ Director on Immigration Laws
Preston Barta // Film Critic
Covering family hardships and a search for answers, “Frontera” closed the USA Film Festival last night. But before the film screened, NT Daily had the chance to sit down with four-time Academy Award-nominee Ed Harris (“Apollo 13”) and first-time feature director Michael Berry to talk about their new film, collaboration and their thoughts on immigration laws.
This is a very dark and gritty film that touches on relevant subjects. What made you want to tell this story?
Michael Berry: “I was born and raised in Arizona and my closest friend in the world is a Mexican-American guy who grew up in Douglas, Arizona. He was the seed of the idea. He’s the one who wanted to write a screenplay about this area and this situation, and I really wanted to write about the humanity of it because I grew up, working with a lot of the men who crossed over from Mexico and the men like Ed Harris’ character. I wanted to write a story about the humanity of those people, opposed to just the situation itself.”
Is that what attracted you to the movie, Ed?
Ed Harris: “I was asked to [Laughs]. I read the script and thought it was good and strong and had interesting characters. My character had a little bit of an arc in his attitude about the whole situation. I liked how it ended up. I like Michael a lot. He really wanted me to do it. He wanted my wife, Amy Madigan, to do it as well. We like working together. I like Albuquerque. Acting is what I do, so I said sure.”
So was it hard to perform that scene with your wife when her character dies in the beginning of the movie?
Harris: “You just got to go for it. Something like that – who knows how you would react. I don’t know how I would react. So you just have to make a choice and let yourself be in the moment and see what you do.”
Did you feel any kind of connection to the subject matter, as far as immigration and the border situation goes?
Harris: “I live in California. I don’t live near the border, but I am certainly aware of it all and the problem the government is having with the issue. At least President Obama has some ideas about what he wants to implement, which keeps getting shot down. I am aware of the problem and that a lot of the people who cross the border do a lot of the work that citizens don’t want to do in this country.
If you go to school here and you’re paying some kind of tuition, then you get out of college and they want you to go to Mexico, instead of granting you a visa to work here – it’s preposterous. The whole idea of the border in the first place is preposterous, but that’s been in existence for a couple of hundred years. So, what are you going to do?”
Berry: “It’s not working the way it is now. We need to figure something out. There needs to be some kind of change.”
Ed, since you’re well-known for your directing works too, with “Pollock” and “Appaloosa,” do you ever find that your own ideas as a director ever intrude on projects where your working strictly as an actor?
Harris: “I wouldn’t say intrude, but it depends on the director and my relationship with him or her. If I have an idea, I will say it and offer it. I’ve never really gone too far with that.
However, one time in the cutting room for ‘The Way Back’ – that I made with Peter Weir – after seeing the film, I had a few thoughts. I kind of said one too many things [Laughs] and he just turned to me with a stone face and said, ‘Well, maybe you should come into the editing room and cut the film.’
Berry: ‘Whoa, that’s the first time I heard this story. But I think it’s a collaborative work. Ed had some great ideas. You know, some things to tweak here and there. When the actors get inside their characters, nobody knows them better than them.”
Harris: “And sometimes you just can’t keep your mouth shut [Laughs].”
Berry: “There’s that too. But I like it, especially since Ed has a little bit of experience as a director.”
If you could teach a college course of your creation, what do you think you would teach?
Harris: “I wouldn’t mind teaching an acting class for beginners, to get people off on the right foot.”
Berry: “Yeah, same here. It’s about telling the truth. That’s what I would be interested in based on my experience.”
“Frontera” opens in September.
Feature Photo: Star Ed Harris and director Michael Berry during our interview at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Gadi Elkon.
Center Photo: Ed Harris stars as retired sheriff who’s out to find the person who killed his wife in “Frontera.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.