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Schneider's role: Thriller with a message

Robert Davi as Sheriff Tom Woodley in “Doonby.” (Courtesy of Doonby the Movie copyright 2010)

John Schneider stars in the mystical thriller “Doonby,” which debuts in U.S. movie theaters this September. Schneider recently spoke to WND about playing American drifter Sam Doonby, whose very life dares the residents of small-town Smithville, Texas, to transcend the status quo.

“Doonby” is the brainchild of British filmmaker Peter Mackenzie, who hired Will Wallace, Joe Estevez, Jennifer O’Neill, Jenn Gotzon and Robert Davi to play major roles.

According to Wallace, he was the first person cast in “Doonby.” Mackenzie was impressed with Wallace’s work and asked him to play Tony, a wannabe country music star. Wallace, in turn, was so taken by the screenplay, he helped to bring four other actors, including Joe Estevez, into the picture.

“Once I read the script, I was more than eager than to sign,” said Wallace. “Peter had told me that he wanted it to have the feel of ‘An Inspector Calls,’ originally a play by J.B. Priestley, then a film, and elements of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Hearing his vision on the phone really sold me on it.”

Wallace can boast many roles in Hollywood. He’s in “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick. “Tree,” with Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, is winner of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or award and in theaters now. (Incidentally, Wallace’s mother, actress Alexandra W.B. Malick, is married to Terrence.)

Here’s the trailer:

In addition to being an actor and a filmmaker who collaborates with Malick and Robert Redford, Wallace trains other actors at his own Will Wallace Acting Company. He told WND that he’s very proud because three of his students, Erin Way, Bridget Bassa and Pierre Kennel, landed roles in “Doonby.”

Wallace said, “Erin Way, who plays Sam Doonby’s mom, did such an amazing job.”

Way previously spoke to WND about her role as Lucy Mae Doonby.

“I think ‘Doonby’ is unlike any other film people have seen before – and those films are hard to come by,” Wallace continued.

“If I could recommend two films this year, they would be ‘The Tree of Life’ and ‘Doonby.’ I guarantee they will be thought provoking.”

In “Doonby,” Estevez plays the stern Dr. Cyrus Reaper: a husband, father, grandfather and physician with the power to help save lives. Estevez described Reaper as driven by money and material gain – until tragedy strikes the Reaper family.

Estevez has lost count of his acting in some 150-plus movies, including seven or eight with Wallace, who befriended him and his brother, Martin Sheen.

“Will Wallace knew that I always to try work as a positive person, and he said, ‘Joe, this movie is absolutely perfect for you and I want to arrange a meeting with the director.'”

Estevez enjoyed recalling how he strained to hear fast-talking Mackenzie through his British accent, then added: “Anyway, we went to Denny’s and talked for a couple hours – and I fell in love with him.”

Jenn Gotzon and John Schneider on set of “Doonby.” (Courtesy of Doonby the Movie copyright 2010)

After meeting Mackenzie, Estevez also fell in love with “Doonby.” He said, “The script was absolutely perfect.”

“We, as filmmakers, have been given talent and the great opportunity to help others,” said Estevez.

To that end, every morning he jogs and has a conversation with God.

“I used to pray every day asking God to send me work,” he said. “And God sent me work. I’ve been pretty steady all my life. Then about five years ago, I changed that prayer.

“I thanked God for all the work He sent, but I said, ‘Would You please send work that would have some change for the good in society? So that I could do good work in good movies and make a difference?'”

Estevez believes that his roles in “Doonby” and other movies over the past couple of years have been godsends.

“There’s a lot of movies that I look back on and maybe I shouldn’t have done them. I guess my excuse that I needed to make a living – I’ve got three daughters, I’ve got a wife – I guess it’s a copout to say that. The person I am now would not have done certain movies. I’m a tough guy now.”

In a sense, “Doonby” also reflects the personal conversions of two actresses.
As reported previously, Norma McCorvey, the Roe v. Wade plaintiff who became Catholic and a pro-life advocate, makes her acting debut in the film.

Jennifer O’Neill, a pro-life spokeswoman seen in some 40 films such as “Rio Lobo” and “Summer of ’42,” has a prominent part in “Doonby.”

As a spokeswoman for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, O’Neill often marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by standing at the U.S. Supreme Court and holding one of the group’s trademark signs saying, “I Regret My Abortion.”

She told WND, “For those who have suffered abortion, there is hope and healing; forgiveness in Christ. Both women and men have suffered. We must be billboards for the truth.”

In “Doonby,” O’Neill plays Barbara Ann Reaper, wife of the doctor; mother of Laura, Sam Doonby’s love interest; and a grandmother to boot.

She said, “Barbara Ann is tender in the center of a very dysfunctional family. She’s spunky too. I had a heck of a lot of fun playing her.

“The ‘Doonby’ story is what fascinated me,” said O’Neill. “I like the story because it makes one think of new life – the value of an opportunity to live life, and what can come out of that life.”

Jenn Gotzon, who got her big break playing Tricia Nixon in Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” has become one of Hollywood’s hottest leading ladies. She stars in “Alone Yet Not Alone,” “Dragon Day,” “September Skies” and “God’s Country,” directed by her husband, Chris Armstrong. Like “Doonby,” all these features are due out this year.

Mark Joseph, one of the “Doonby” producers, followed Gotzon’s work and offered her the part of Laura Reaper through Facebook – no audition required.

“To be completely honest,” said Gotzon, “when Mark Joseph sent me the script, I had no idea what I was going to read. But when I read the story and saw how it unfolded, I just fell in love with the entire journey that Laura Reaper goes on. She doesn’t know what her purpose in life is and she tries to cover it by drinking and partying.

“That’s where Sam Doonby comes in. He helps her to find strength. He shows Laura that she is made special and she can share her talents.

“As the daughter of wealthy Dr. Reaper, Laura had been to the finest dance and art schools in Europe, but she can’t do anything with her education,” Gotzon explained. “I think that reflects a lot of people who go to college, study a specific thing and then they get sucked into day-to-day life having nothing to do with their passions.

“I hope that the story of Laura Reaper’s journey will help people who struggle with any number of issues in life. There’s a little bit of Laura in all of us.”

Robert Davi got his big break in the TV movie “Contract on Cherry Street,” starring Frank Sinatra. His many feature film credits include acting in Steven Spielberg’s “The Goonies,” “Die Hard,” and the James Bond movie “License to Kill,” but he seems to be most proud of his own independent 2007 comedy “The Dukes.”

He adds comic relief to “Doonby” as Sheriff Tom Woodley, the lawman with a dangerously dry wit.

“I had a great time working with Peter,” said Davi. “He’s such a great guy, a really lovely gentleman director. He’s one of the things that attracted me to working on ‘Doonby,’ and I just did my part to act out his vision.

“People are unified by films. People watch things through the prism of their understanding,” he said. “You and myself might find something in a particular film. Somebody else might get something else because of their experience, beliefs or knowledge. Hopefully, ‘Doonby’ gives people something to think about.”