Actor Sean Stone was thrilled to tackle the leading role of Joseph Hoover in the soon-to-be-released Civil War movie, “Union Bound.”
He called Hoover a “grounded, levelheaded, sober character” for having the strength to escape from a notorious Confederate prison camp and “venture off into this sort of Huckleberry Finn type of journey.”
“That mentality, that mindset, the amount of calm that it took for him to actually embark on this journey, I just felt he was such a heroic figure,” Stone told WND in an interview.
“Union Bound,” set to hit theaters Feb. 12, tells the true story of Union soldier Joseph Hoover. The former New York farmer was captured by Confederate forces and taken to Andersonville, a notorious Southern prison camp. However, Hoover escaped and found his way back to Union-held territory with the help of slaves.
Stone noted the plot is similar to a famous Mark Twain novel, but in reverse.
“I tell you, it was a bit like a Huck Finn adventure, where you’re on this journey to freedom, and it was just the opposite – Huck was saving Jim, and here Jim basically is saving Huck,” Stone explained. “I would say it’s the Huck Finn allegory on its head.”
We know about Hoover’s story today because he left behind a diary from 1864 chronicling his adventures.
WND Books will be releasing the companion book to the movie, “Union Bound: He Went to War to Free the Slaves But Was Freed by Them,” on May 2, 2016.
Stone, the son of noted filmmaker Oliver Stone, said he can relate to the real Hoover because he, too, is a writer. In addition to occasional screenwriting, he said he is always jotting down notes and thoughts, although not in the form of a diary.
In addition, Stone claimed he shares Hoover’s outlook on the human race – an outlook that judges men based not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
“It felt like he was – even though, yes, there was still some level of racism just in the sense of looking at blacks as separate and a little bit different than whites – he seemed to be looking at men and judging them based on their characteristics and as individuals, as opposed to the blind racism of many people,” Stone explained.
Of course, Stone and Hoover have their differences as well.
“Frankly, he’s more heroic than I am,” Stone confessed. “I mean, he not only fought in the Civil War and was captured and survived Andersonville, but after this episode, upon reaching the North after this tremendous journey, he ends up reenlisting and going back to fight. So he was such a heroic, courageous man. I can only say I admire him.”
To prepare for the Hoover role, one of the first things Stone did was read the Stephen Crane novel “The Red Badge of Courage” to understand the dialogue of the Civil War era. He also watched Civil War films such as “Andersonville” and “Gettysburg” to gain a better feel for the era.
One thing he didn’t do is starve himself to try and look like an authentic prisoner of war.
“Andersonville really took a toll on the people there,” he said. “If it didn’t kill them, it left them probably 40 to 50 pounds lighter. And so I got a little skinny, but I definitely didn’t starve myself to that point.”
He said of his preparation: “It was more about getting into the feel of the time and the pace of the time, because remember, it’s a slower pace of living pre-cell phone and pre-television.”
He said it helped that they filmed the movie on an actual slave plantation in North Carolina. The environment was so authentic that a chigger crawled up Stone’s leg during the shoot and bit him, causing a painful itch. At one point, someone informed him one of the two port-a-potties on set had a snake in it.
Stone praised his fellow cast members, particularly Randy Wayne and Tank Jones, for their commitment. He said the camaraderie was great during the shoot.
“As a crew, I think everyone banded together,” the lead actor said. “By shooting on this actual slave plantation – we all were housed together nearby – but it very much felt like you’re pretty much in this world.”
Stone said the cast and crew would try to scare each other with ghost stories some nights about parts of the plantation being haunted. Some claimed to have heard or felt something.
It was all in good fun, according to Stone.
“We were in this adventure together on this massive property, and I think aside from the snakes and the ticks and the chiggers, we made it through,” he said.
In Stone’s view, the Joseph Hoover story still resonates today because it allows Americans to look into the past and make amends with an era and a topic that might make many people uncomfortable. He pointed out when he began work on this project, “12 Years a Slave” had just won the Oscar for Best Picture, suggesting moviegoers are still very much interested in films about slavery.
“You could say there’s something about people wanting to sometimes make amends with the past,” he said. “Part of, I think, our interest in the past and history is seeing it to better understand it, sometimes to make amends.”
But “Union Bound” is not a reprimand to white America over the evils of slavery. In the end, it’s just a really compelling adventure – like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” according to Stone.
“I keep mentioning Huck Finn, but literally this guy is escaping from a prison camp, running off into the woods, nearly starving and dying, finding slaves to help him, then the slave himself becomes a major character, player in the story, and they go off on this journey to freedom,” Stone enthused. “Well, that’s just a good story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Odyssey and the guy’s trying to get home 2,000 years ago, or if it’s set right now. It’s an eternal concept.”
See the trailer: