Copperhead (2013)

Opened: 06/28/2013 Limited

Playhouse 706/28/2013 - 07/04/20137 days
AMC Theaters06/28/2013 - 07/04/20137 days
AMC Loews Meth...07/19/2013 - 07/25/20137 days
AMC Empire 2507/19/2013 - 07/25/20137 days

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Genre: Period War Drama

Rated: PG-13 for an unsettling sequence.

Patriot to some. Traitor to others.


Copperhead is unlike any Civil War movie to date. It is a film of the war at home -- of a family ripped apart by war, of fathers set against sons and daughters, of a community driven to an appalling act of vengeance against a man who insists on exercising his right to free speech during wartime. A story of the violent passions and burning feuds that set ablaze the home front during the Civil War, Copperhead the Movie is also a timeless and deeply moving examination of the price of dissent, the place of the individual amidst the hysteria of wartime, and the terrible price of war -- a cost measured not in dollars but in fractured families, broken loves, and men dead before their time.

Based on the extraordinary novel by Harold Frederic, who witnessed these conflicts firsthand as a small child, Copperhead tells the story of Abner Beech, a stubborn and righteous farmer of Upstate New York, who defies his neighbors and his government in the bloody and contentious autumn of 1862. The great American critic Edmund Wilson praised Frederic's creation as a brave and singular book that "differs fundamentally from any other Civil War fiction."

Copperhead is the great untold Civil War story. Far from the Virginia battlefields whose names etch our history, the war of Copperhead visits the devastation and unimaginable loss of a civil war upon a family and a community whose strength and very existence are tested by fire, rope, knife, and betrayal. This is the Civil War come home.

With Copperhead, director Ron Maxwell, who with Gettysburg and Gods and Generals established himself as our foremost cinematic interpreter of the American Civil War, takes on the War from a stunning and unexpected and richly, unforgettably humanist angle.

About the Filmmakers

Ronald F. Maxwell (Director)

His epic films of the Civil War Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003) have established Maxwell as cinema's leading interpreter of that complex, lethal, heroic period in American history. Copperhead extends that study into the realm of small town American life, where the conflicts hundreds of miles from the battlefields are no less vigorous or violent.

Raised in Clifton, New Jersey -- son of a World War II veteran and his French war bride -- Maxwell studied filmmaking at NYU and made his first mark directing Sissy Spacek and William Hurt in Verna: USO Girl, a television feature for which Maxwell was nominated for an Emmy. His first theatrical film Little Darlings (1980) was a box-office smash that starred Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol. Over the course of the next decade, while gathering the support to realize his ambitions for Gettysburg, Maxwell directed other features (The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Parent Trap II, Kidco) and a documentary study of the Nicaraguan Civil War: In the Land of the Poets (1987). Maxwell looks upon Copperhead as a natural extension of his interest in the American Civil War -- an intimate story that holds up a distant mirror to divisions still afflicting the United States today. He is by no means finished with this preoccupation. In 2007, Maxwell optioned Speer Morgan's 1979 book Belle Starr, about the woman who rode with Quantrill's Raiders -- the Confederate guerilla group that included Jesse James -- and who headed west after the war, where she was known as Queen of the Outlaws. Maxwell is currently in preproduction on an epic trilogy of movies: Joan of Arc: The Virgin Warrior.

Bill Kauffman (Writer)

Novelist, biographer, memoirist, and self-confessed delirious localist who years ago left Washington, D.C., to return to his small hometown, Bill Kauffman's politics are difficult to categorize. Is he left-wing, right-wing, libertarian? Kauffman resists all labels and has made a prolific career of debunking any accounts that mythologize the past rather than explore its complexity. His many books -- most notably Ain't My America and Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet -- have been praised for their rigor and honesty by such diverse figures of the American spectrum as Christopher Hitchens, Ron Paul, and Gore Vidal. The late liberal Senator George McGovern called Kauffman: "A conservative of the highest order, unlike the false brand now conducting our national affairs." This is Kauffman's first screenplay. As a born and bred native of the Upstate New York region, he has long been aware of the novels of his fellow landsman Harold Frederic, upon whose 1893 novel Copperhead is based.

Harold Frederic (Novelist, 1856 -- 1898)

Born and raised in Utica, New York, his father killed in a train wreck when he was less than two years old, Frederic was raised primarily by his mother and witnessed as a small child the events he would transpose into his 1893 novel The Copperhead. A rebellious and adventurous character as an adult, this New York Times London correspondent maintained two families in England. His best-known book was The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), about a Methodist minister's crisis of faith. Frederic died of a stroke not long after it was published.

Had he lived another ten years, he might have become celebrated on a level with his contemporaries Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane, but his reputation in death was badly obscured by the scandals of his personal life. Even so, his admirers have included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson. Most recently, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post called The Damnation of Theron Ware a minor classic of realism.

About the Cast

Billy Campbell (Abner Beech)

Best known for starring opposite Sela Ward in the beloved ABC drama "Once and Again", Billy Campbell is a veteran actor whose most recent credits include the critically acclaimed AMC television series "The Killing," and award-winning comedy feature Fat Kid Rules The World. Campbell will next be seen as Abraham Lincoln in the National Geographic Channel's docudrama Killing Lincoln, based on Bill O'Reilly's best-selling novel of the same title. Campbell's other credits include Gettysburg, The Night We Never Met, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Rocketeer with Jennifer Connelly, and Enough, opposite Jennifer Lopez.

When Campbell is not working, he is following his other passion: sailing. Campbell recently built a schooner in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. From 2005 to June 2006, Campbell served as part of the crew on the 179-foot tall ship, the Picton Castle, to circumnavigate the globe.

Angus Macfadyen (Jee Hagadorn)

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Angus Macfadyen attended the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He easily found work on stage and screen, quickly gaining international acclaim for his tour-de-force performance as Robert the Bruce in the Oscar-winning film Braveheart.

Over the course of his twenty-year career, he has appeared in dozens of feature films and television shows. His extraordinary range as an actor has led to roles with some of the greatest talents in Hollywood, including starring roles in projects such as Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood opposite Sandra Bullock, Equilibrium with Christian Bale, Julie Taymor's Titus with Anthony Hopkins, and playing the role of Orson Welles in Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock. He also continues to perform on stage, most recently starring in Medea opposite Annette Bening.

His most recent project was We Bought a Zoo, written and directed by Academy Award-Winner Cameron Crowe.

Peter Fonda (Avery)

Two-time Academy Award nominated actor Peter Fonda is a cinematic and cultural icon. Since his seminal role as 'Captain America' in Easy Rider, Fonda has continually delivered impressive performances. Fonda made his professional stage debut on Broadway in 1961 in Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, for which he received rave reviews from the New York Critics, and won the Daniel Blum Theater World Award and the New York Critics Circle Award for Best New Actor. He began his feature film career in 1963, playing the romantic lead in Tammy and the Doctor and joined the ensemble cast of the World War II saga The Victors. Shortly thereafter, Fonda began what would become a famous association with Roger Corman, starring in Wild Angels, as the ultra-cool, iron-fisted leader of a violent biker gang, opposite Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, and Diane Ladd. Fonda also starred in Corman's 1967 psychedelic film The Trip, also starring Dern and Susan Strasberg.

Augustus Prew (Ni Hagadorn)

Since 2001, when he began acting in his early teens, Augustus Prew has appeared in more than five films and eight television productions -- most notably About a Boy (2002), directed by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz, and Charlie St. Cloud (2010), costarring Zac Ephron. His TV work includes Neil Jordan's critically acclaimed Showtime series "The Borgias," where he has appeared as Prince Alfonso II, ruling Naples for his senile father.

Lucy Boynton (Esther Hagadorn)

Lucy's first professional role was the young Beatrix Potter in the 2006 movie Miss Potter, with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. She then went on to play one of the three leads in the BBC Drama "Ballet Shoes," with Emma Watson, Victoria Wood, and Emilia Fox. Other credits include Margaret Dashwood in the BBC serial "Sense and Sensibility," Mo with Julie Walters, and a role in the 2011 BBC series "Borgia: Faith and Fear."

Casey Brown (Jeff Beech)

Born and raised in Montana, Casey Brown was drawn to the theatre at an early age, playing roles in productions ranging from West Side Story and Annie Get Your Gun to A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet. Casey currently resides in Los Angeles as both a professional actor, and as a USC student fulfilling his David Dukes Memorial Scholarship for acting.

Francois Arnaud (Warner Pitts)

Francois was born in Montreal, Quebec and attended the prestigious Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique de Montreal. He can currently be seen starring as Cesare Borgia (son of Golden Globe nominee Jeremy Irons) on Neil Jordan's critically-acclaimed Showtime miniseries "The Borgias," now in production on its third season. In 2009, he starred in the film Les Grandes Chaleurs (Heat Waves), an adaptation of a play by Michel Marc Bouchard. In 2010, he starred in I Killed My Mother, directed by Xavier Dolan and was awarded the Vancouver Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actor. That same year, he was nominated for a Gemini Award as Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for his role as 'Theo' in the drama "Yamaska," a long-running, one-hour television series.

Josh Cruddas (Jimmy)

Josh Cruddas is a young actor based in Canada. His previous credits include principal roles in HBO Canada's "Call Me Fitz" with Jason Priestley and Discovery Channel's "Titanic: The Aftermath." In addition, he has performed for many years in professional theatre and has worked as a voice-over artist. Also a singer, Josh trained at Dalhousie University's Acting Programme and writes music for film when he's not onstage or onscreen.

Genevieve Steele (M'rye Beech)

Born in Montreal but raised on the east coast, Genevieve Steele is a Halifax-based actor whose work has taken her across Canada, the US, and even to Iran. She has worked primarily in theatre but recent film and television work includes Stephen King's "Bag of Bones," in which she appeared with Pierce Brosnan; All the Wrong Reasons; "Haven"; "G-Spot"; and Trudeau.

Andrea Lee Norwood (Till Babcock)

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Andrea works both in front of the camera and on the stage. Her most recent theatre project was a production of Educating Rita, in which she starred as the Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita White. She has also recently been seen portraying the silent heroine of Game, a horror-comedy short film which is currently playing in film festivals across Canada and the US.

Mary Fay Coady (Janey Wilcox)

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mary Fay has worked as an actor for six years. She graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2010 and returned to Nova Scotia where she has worked with various companies throughout the Maritimes including Neptune Theatre, Shakespeare by the Sea, Eastern Front, Chester Playhouse, Forerunner Theatre Company, etc. Film/TV credits include All the Wrong Reasons, "Call Me Fitz," Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day, and Sunfish.

Hugh Thompson (Hurley)

A New York native, Hugh has been working in the theatre and on camera for over twenty five years, and is currently filming the new TV series "Forgive Me." Among his many credits are The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Our Fathers, The Christmas Shoes, Flashpoint, and Blessed Stranger. He has been nominated for two Gemini Awards, winning in 2001 for Blessed Stranger.

Brian Downey (Preacher Taggart)

Born on the magical Canadian island of Newfoundland, Brian grew up with storytelling and song. Since those early days he has acted in countless stage plays, television and radio shows, and films. He is best known for his lead roles in the sci-fi cult hit TV show "Lexx," as well as the films Hobo With A Shotgun, and The Disappeared. Most recently Brian earned the best actor award from the Atlantic Film Festival for Whirligig.

Ciaran MacGillivray (Ray Hare, singer)

Ciaran is a multifaceted actor and virtuoso musician/singer from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He got his start in acting when he was 7 when he appeared in the television series, "Pit Pony." Since then he has performed on stage, in film, and on television as an actor and in concert halls, festivals and on many recordings as a musician and singer. He's won 2 East Coast Music Awards, 2 MIANS Awards, The Tic Butler Memorial Award and has been nominated for a Gemini Award. He is currently a member of the 2012-2013 graduating class of the prestigious Neptune Theatre's acting school.

Elizabeth Richardson (Tabitha Watkins)

Elizabeth Richardson is an accomplished Canadian actress with over 30 years' experience. A graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) she has performed in major theatre, film and television productions in England and Canada and has worked with acclaimed actors and directors including Peter O'Toole, Brian Cox, John Madden, Adrian Noble, and Roger Michel. She has played leading parts in London's West End, the Bristol Old Vic, the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, the Shaw Festival in Ontario, and Canadian Stage in Toronto. She has recently been touring her successful new one woman show, Going On, which she wrote a year ago.

Wally MacKinnon (Baker)

Wally MacKinnon is an award-winning actor with over 30 years experience acting and directing in film, television, and theatres across Canada. Wally makes his home in Fredericton where he teaches acting for film at the University of New Brunswick.

Daniel Lillford (Lambert)

Daniel Lillford has worked as a character actor in film and theater for over thirty years. Although based in Canada now, Daniel was born on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, and he spent his formative years in Melbourne, Australia. Married with three young sons, living in a small country town, he continues to pursue his actor and playwright passions in Nova Scotia.

Charlie Rhindress (Ticknor)

Charlie Rhindress is an actor, playwright, and director living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a co­founder of Live Bait Theatre and was Artistic Director of that company for close to twenty years. Rhindress has written ten full length plays, including The Maritime Way of Life, Flying On Her Own, and Boo. He has acted in a number of film and television productions including "Bag of Bones," "Haven," and Red Rover, and at theatres across Canada. He is the former Associate Artist for Neptune Theatre and the current Artistic Producer of Eastern Front Theatre.

Director's Statement

"After making two epic Civil War pictures, I found I was still interested in the subject," Ron Maxwell says with a smile, when asked what drew him to Copperhead. Renowned for not only writing but also directing the massively-scaled, hugely popular epics Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), a deeper challenge remained.

"I wanted to explore something more intimate. My previous pictures focused on officers and leaders, but, in reality, the war was fought by teenage boys, most from small towns whose families ended up devastated by the war even if no battles were fought nearby.

"In the past, I'd contrasted two dominant viewpoints, charging at each other with bayonets. In the South, you had the Secessionists, who were willing to die for the rights of American states to break away from the union, while to the North you had the Unionists, who were just as bravely committed to defending a 'United' States. During the time-period of this film, in 1862, the abolition of slavery became an additional Union war aim.

"What has remained unsaid, and what Civil War films never fully show, is that within each society, North and South, there were many, many factions. You had Southerners with no interest in owning slaves, or seceding from the union. To the north, you had differences of opinion that were just as fractious, even violent. Not everybody who hated slavery or loved the U.S. Constitution was willing to send their children off to die or be maimed in a bloody battle against fellow Americans. That fascinating reality is the force driving Copperhead."

"If there's a political point to the film," says screenwriter Bill Kauffman, "it's a defense of dissent."

Kauffman is himself a heretical political thinker and prolific author whose books (such as Ain't My America and Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet) have been praised for their rigor and honesty by such diverse figures of the American spectrum as Christopher Hitchens, Ron Paul and Gore Vidal. The late liberal Senator George McGovern called Kauffman: "A conservative of the highest order, unlike the false brand now conducting our national affairs."

As Ron Maxwell has long been yet another admirer, the pair had for several years explored other screenplay ideas before Kauffman proposed Copperhead. Both were aware of the 1893 novel by Harold Frederic. Kauffman, as a native of the upstate New York region where the novel is set, had long been aware of the works of Frederic (1856 -- 1898) who had witnessed firsthand the Civil War-era events that he later transposed into his novel. Maxwell knew of the book because he'd come across it as part of his voracious reading in preparation for Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.

Both sparked to the intimate scale of a story set in a small town hundreds of miles from the war and centered on a man who is a sympathetic human being, even as he stands against what we now know to be the tide of history. If anything, Maxwell and Kauffman felt Abner Beech to be all the more sympathetic to a mass audience precisely because he must fight for his beliefs without knowing how things will turn out.

"There are huge, consequential choices before us at every turn in history," says Maxwell. "We have to choose without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Bill and I wanted to explore this important aspect of human life, which has not been sufficiently explored in the popular culture. You have a guy saying 'no' when everybody around him is saying 'yes.' His stand is thoughtful and principled, yet to his colleagues, his neighbors, eventually his family, he is viewed as a pariah, even a traitor."

Kauffman and Maxwell believe that too often dissent is dramatized in films by centering on the one person in a hostile society whom history has later proved to be right.

"Everyone says they're in favor of dissent," says Kauffman, "but you're flattering an audience, and falsifying history, if you stack the deck so that all the right-thinking people of today already agree with your dissenter -- if he or she alone is defending Darwin's theory of evolution, say, or standing up to the mob that wants to hang the witches at Salem. It's much harder, more truthful, and introduces more interesting complications if your protagonist is like Abner and opposes the very thing we now know that history has ratified: the war to uphold the United States and end slavery. It raises the moral question, not of slavery, but free speech: 'Okay, lovers of Dissent: Are you going to defend this guy?'"

Kauffman stayed close to the structure of Frederic's novel, its cast of characters, and rich sense of spoken language. As Maxwell observes, "That line where an ear of burnt corn is described as 'tougher than Pharaoh's heart' is so good you'd be crazy to cut it. The book was filled with them, illuminating a time and a place and a mind-set that's been positively informed by the memorizing of scripture."

Their one radical departure was to provide a more tragic fate for the passionate, ultimately violent abolitionist, Jee Hagadorn. "Frederic quite possibly based him on a relative he didn't like," says Kauffman. "We gave him a darker, more costly loss to deal with at the end and let him choose his fate within that. This allowed us to give our audience a deeper sense of Jee's humanity without violating the integrity of the world as Frederic observed and re-created it."

Toward this humanizing end, the actors chosen for Abner and Jee were essential. "You live or die by who you cast," says Maxwell. "For Abner, you needed an actor who could, at a glance, make you feel the man's warmth, his groundedness, his gravity, his honesty. Billy Campbell has all those qualities. I'd worked with him well on both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, and thought of him right away for Abner. I'd also been long aware of Angus McFadyen because of his terrific work in Braveheart and elsewhere. He was ideal for Jee. There's a tornado in Angus -- he's such an inventive actor, so alive to what's happening at any moment. He takes Jee into the historic but larger than life rage of a John Brown, wherein a person becomes capable of deadly violence for their ideals."

Another key piece of casting was Peter Fonda, as Abner's neighbor Avery. This role is built up beyond the simpler character-sketch provided in the novel, for two reasons: "There was a need to articulate Abraham Lincoln's point of view in a way that was organic to small town life of the time," says Kauffman, "but we didn't want to fall into the trap of imposing a character who is an alter-ego for 21st century thought. Avery provided us an opportunity to keep the argument local and true. Casting Peter Fonda also enriches the film in terms of his particular screen presence. You're free to think of his Dad playing Young Mr. Lincoln, or Peter himself as the man 'in search of America' in Easy Rider." One of Kauffman's prized possessions is an original poster for that film, which fills one wall of his office.

Maxwell had done such extensive location-scouting for both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals that he could draw on a deep database of first-hand memory for those places in North America that had either preserved or restored their 19th century architecture to "living museum" level, the better to evoke upstate New York in mid-1800s without capsizing the budget. One place in particular stood out: King's Landing in New Brunswick. "That place made Copperhead possible," says Maxwell. "To build even a tenth of it from scratch would have pushed us into the 50 million dollar range or beyond."

The one set that needed to be constructed was the burnt ruin of a village home, after the climactic scene. "We weren't about to harm any of the historical buildings," explains Maxwell. A charred skeletal replica of the existing house was instead constructed close by on the same property. "We shot all the scenes that take place inside the ruins first, then we burnt them to the ground as part of the riot scene -- all while the King's Landing Fire Department stood behind us, with their big hoses."

To achieve a persuasive 1862 in this setting meant "peeling away, not building." Anything of a later period was carefully removed. The large cast of mostly young actors rehearsed for a week before shooting began. This not only included table-readings of the script, the better to grow familiar with long-ago rhythms of speech -- but lessons in wagon driving and barn dancing.

Because Bill Kauffman is "a born and bred native of upstate New York," the dialect coach urged the actors to study his accent -- a prospect, in his view, that makes him laugh just thinking back on it. "My wife, who's from Los Angeles, said that if they were serious about learning my accent, all they have to do is ask me to say 'Halle Berry.'" (Kauffman pronounces it: "Hailey Bairy.")

To cast the key parts: Abner, Jee, Avery; and the young people: Esther, Jeff, Ni, and Warner, Maxwell freed himself to choose from the entire pool of English speaking actors, using Skype to meet and audition many, such as Angus McFadyen from his home in Panama, or Lucy Boynton and Augustus Prew in England, both of whom are very experienced young actors. Francois Arnaud, who plays Warner the returning war veteran, was already well-established elsewhere as Cesare in Neil Jordan's Showtime series "The Borgias."

The rest of the cast (Genevieve Steel, Andrea Lee Norwood, Mary Fay Coady, and Hugh Thompson, among others) was assembled from the wealth of talent in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Maxwell is particularly proud of discovering Casey Brown for the role of Abner's son Jeff, who had been acting in student films at USC, and of young Canadian actor Josh Cruddas, who plays Jeff's adopted brother Jimmy.

The actors bonded well during the seven weeks of shooting through the spring of 2012. This was particularly gratifying for both Maxwell and Kauffman. Kauffman, who was present for four of those weeks, says: "Stubborn as he is, Abner comes to a deeper understanding of the value of his community," says Kauffman. "That's not going to come across unless the feeling is there among the people onscreen."

Maxwell could not agree more -- citing what both men see as the key exchange of the film that comes when Avery, taking Lincoln's position, directly challenges Abner's antiwar stance. He asks: "Doesn't The Union mean anything to you?"

What Abner says in reply grows out of a deep bond between all the characters that Maxwell and Kauffman so vividly create in this long-ago time that could just as easily be this morning:

"My family means more to me," Abner tells his loyal opponent. "My farm means more. Even though we disagree, Avery, you mean more to me than The Union."