‘The Last Ride’ Interview: Jesse James On His Portrayal As Hank Williams’ Driver SilasPosted: May 31, 2013
Playing the Silas to Henry Thomas’ Hank Williams, Jesse James had the fantastic opportunity to recreate the last few days of country music legend Hank Williams’ life in The Last Ride at the young age of just 24. Starring alongside Henry Thomas as Williams, James recently chatted with me about playing the driver from this infamous real-life story, and what scene was the most challenging, yet memorable.
As many music fans know, at the end of 1952 Williams asked a young driver, Silas, to drive him to some New Years shows in West Virginia and Ohio. But after keeping his identity a secret from the young driver during the Appalachian countryside travel, Williams was eventually found dead in the backseat of the car. Though the incident grew controversial, pills and alcohol were ultimately to blame.
The Last Ride will be coming to Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, June 4.
What was it like to take on the real life role of Silas in this film?
JESSE JAMES: It was kind of a challenge but fun at the same time. I never met him before. We didn’t ever speak with the real driver—or at least I didn’t until after we wrapped the film. I got a chance to meet him at one of the film events and he’s really, really cool. He’s old at this point and it was great to show this chapter of his life. I think he was touched.
There’s a lot of history with this Hank Williams story. Did you do some research?
Yeah, I was already a Hank Williams fan and into old school country music, so I was already familiar with Hank, but the driver—not a whole lot. He sort of laid low after the whole thing happened because a lot of people were asking about the whole thing and wondering if he had anything to do with it and all kind of things like that.
Interesting how Silas only knew him by Mr. Wells for most of their trip. What are your thoughts on their relationship?
I think they had a special dynamic because for the most part he doesn’t know who Hank is. He doesn’t know who he is so he isn’t afraid to talk down to him. Also, I think the relationship is special because it’s really sort of this man on his way out and a boy who’s kind of on his way up to becoming a man.
What was it like to play Silas to Henry Thomas’ Mr. Wells?
He was already cast when I came onboard, which I was excited about because I’ve admired and respected him for a long time. I started acting when I was really young, about 5 years old, and I always looked at actors like Henry and Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale. These are the actors that started when they were really young and they didn’t end up falling into the trap of child stardom or any of that. They were able to maintain respect and dignity and now that they are adults they have these amazing careers. It’s really inspiring.
The film puts a lot of emphasis on when Wells is found dead in the car you’ve been traveling in. What was it like shooting it?
That was actually one of the very first scenes we shot. I hadn’t even met Henry yet and it was the second or third say of shooting, so that was particularly difficult. I had to use my own experiences to aspire those emotions. That was actually from the first shot of the exterior of the car. We did two full days of shooting on just inside of the car on a sound stage. It was interesting actually. It was one whole day. We had a couple extra days scheduled but we ended up deciding to put our heads down and power through it and doing it all in just one day, which is really difficult. I think it was something like 19 pages of dialogue. We did it in order all day long on this sound stage, so because we were doing it in chronological order it was interesting because our characters really developed their relationship during that day. There were other scenes, but that particular scene in the car we got to build it chronologically from beginning to end so by the end of the day when we filmed the scene of me finding his body in the back it was really emotional for me. I just spent all day in this car with this man and we were really close. So yea, it was emotional and special.
It definitely seems like the most challenging to get through. What would you consider your favorite scene?
Definitely the scene with the car was very special. The fight outside—that was important and special. That was one of the last things we filmed and we had the wrap party there. It’s a little bar, and we had the wrap party and it was a lot of fun. I’ve actually been back there for promotional tours. That tour was interesting. I hurt myself pretty bad when we were filming it. I fell when I go to tackle that guy. I went to tackle him and I landed on my hand and I landed on some cement or gravel or something. I couldn’t wear a Band-Aid because it would be in the shot! I had this big bloody hole in my hand and we just kept going because it was only the first take that it happened so we had to keep going. Also, its important to me because the bartender, the gentleman that blows the shot gun to get everyone back inside, that’s Rick Dial who’s a fantastic actor and really sweet gentleman. He passed away before the movie was released. I believe that was his final on-screen role.