Erin Way plays young Sam Doonby’s mom in “Doonby.”
In September, British filmmaker Peter Mackenzie’s mystical thriller “Doonby” hits U.S. movie theaters. John Schneider stars as American drifter Sam Doonby in a daring adventure perfect for our times.
Schneider and several of his “Doonby” co-stars, including Joe Estevez, Jennifer O’Neill, Robert Davi, Jenn Gotzon, Erin Way and Will Wallace, spoke to WND about what compelled them to do the film and why they think it deserves an audience.
“I think ‘Doonby’ is unlike any other film people have seen before – and those films are hard to come by,” Wallace said.
When Sam Doonby arrives in Smithville, Texas, Leroy (Ernie Hudson), a legendary musician and owner of the local blues bar, happens to need a bartender. Leroy hires Sam and discovers that his new bartender is also a gifted singer/songwriter who could, with a little help, become a legend, too.
Laura Reaper, played by Jenn Gotzon, is daughter of the town’s wealthy Dr. Cyrus Reaper (Joe Estevez) and a party girl who finds Sam irresistible.
Soon after Sam’s arrival, however, Smithville is jolted by a series of near-tragic events nearly wreaking havoc. As each catastrophe unfolds, Sam always seems to be in the right place at the right time to save the day. At first the townspeople are grateful to their new friend, but then some, especially Dr. Reaper and Sheriff Tom Woodley (Robert Davi), become suspicious of the hero – the savior – with a shady past.
Who is Sam Doonby? Where does he come from? Why is he in small-town Smithville? No one knows until the stunning, unforgettable end of the film.
“The script was very cleverly written – it fooled me many times. I thought I knew where it was going, then I was sure I knew where it was going, and then I was completely wrong,” Schneider said with a laugh. “That, combined with the musical aspect, really made me want to play Sam.”
Schneider, whose work includes numerous TV roles (including the longtime CW series “Smallville”), country music, and co-founding the Children’s Miracle Network, was deeply influenced by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. After filming the 1986 CBS movie “Stagecoach,” Schneider lived with the Cashes for a year, and their authentic witness to life is reflected in Schneider’s portrayal of Sam Doonby, who believes in God.
“They didn’t introduce me to the Christian faith, but they exemplified it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of – shall we say – overly happy, albeit disillusioned people. But I’ve never seen a Christian I wanted to be like until I met Johnny Cash,” Schneider professed.
“If you like to think when you go to the movies, then ‘Doonby’ is for you,” he said.
Tommy G. Warren, a producer for “Doonby,” on set with John Schneider and Peter Mackenzie (Courtesy of Doonby the Movie, Copyright 2010)
“Now, for me, I’m hoping that people – especially in the [entertainment] industry – will see ‘Doonby’ and realize that there is more to John Schneider than an orange car and a dirt road. My gosh! It’s been 30 years. And yet, if I read ‘best-known as Bo Duke on the ‘Dukes of Hazzard” one more time, I just might have to get out my golf club and hit someone with it,” Schneider mused.
Distinguished actor Joe Estevez, all too often identified as Martin Sheen’s brother and Charlie Sheen’s uncle, relates to Schneider.
He told WND, “The script was absolutely perfect. Everybody wants to play Doonby, but I’m 35-years too old. John Schneider did great. I think this could be the start of the second half of his career; put him right on top of the A List.”
“From Joe’s lips to God’s ears,” Schneider replied. “From his mouth to Johnny Cash’s ears, and Johnny can nudge God for me.”
Erin Way, known for her roles in ABC’s “Detroit 1-8-7″ and Disney’s “I [Heart] Vampires,” praised Mackenzie for casting her as the fragile and alluring mother of Sam Doonby.
“Being a woman, an actor in Hollywood, I know that there are certain parts I won’t often get a chance to do,” explained Way. “I look very young, so if I’m ever offered the chance to play a woman or a woman with a child outside of teenage years, I’m going to take it. If Peter was going to give me a chance to play an adult role, I was going to grab it.
“I just felt like Lucy Mae was such a lovely, complex, human character that I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” she said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about taking care of her by taking ownership of her in the film.
“I hope that people really identify through the main character’s journey,” said Way. “He’s a drifter, but a really wise, powerful man without any ego. His intentions are really pure and you rarely see that portrayed in a heroic way. So I hope people will see the power of kindness and how powerful caring for our fellow human beings can be.”
“Sam really is innocent in his approach to life – pure, like Erin said. After people have read this and seen the movie, they might find a reason for his purity,” said Schneider. “It’s a very clever, very surprising film and I think that has everything to do with Peter Mackenzie.”
As for some of the daring parts in “Doonby,” Paul Bond of the Hollywood Reporter was granted the scoop that Norma McCorvey makes her acting debut in this film.
McCorvey was plaintiff in the infamous Roe v. Wade case used to decriminalize abortion nationwide. She has spent much of the last 20 years trying to make reparation for her role in that Supreme Court ruling.
Given her part in the film, already attacks are surfacing against McCorvey by people who haven’t seen “Doonby.” So WND asked the “Doonby” actors if they are braced for attacks by critics.
Schneider, for one, was upbeat. He said, “If critics attack the film, I would say ‘thank you’ because nothing sells more tickets than critics attacking a film.”
Way said actors have to walk a fine line in Hollywood, but she hopes that “Doonby” will speak to her generation of 20-somethings and generations to come.
“There is the whole abortion issue that is brought up,” she said. “My hope is that what is created is a very healthy dialogue about the various different sides.
“I’m interested in making films that make people think,” said Way. “Maybe ‘Doonby’ will haunt people for awhile and make them wonder, ‘What was that really about?’ And that excites me as an artist.”
Like Schneider, Estevez is undaunted by the risk of rash reviews. After laughing heartily, he said, “I’ve been around too long, I’ve been an actor for over 35 years and I’ve been making it mostly in independent movies. I say, ‘Hey, this is me. This is what I’ve got to say.’”
In a coming feature on “Doonby,” Estevez, O’Neill, Gotzon, Davi and Wallace talk about their roles.
In the meantime, Mark Joseph, who worked closely with the father/son team of Peter and Mike Mackenzie in co-producing the film, commented on John Schneider in “Doonby.”
Joseph quipped, “I hope that in 20 or 30 years, John Schneider will be sick and tired of writers saying he’s ‘best-known as Sam Doonby.’”