Actor Tank Jones received a script from his director friend Harvey Lowry – not a formal offer of a role, but simply a chance for Jones to read the script and comment about the idea, a Civil War movie called “Union Bound.”
But when Jones called Lowry back to offer some pointers, he had so much to say about one character in particular: Jim Young, a slave who helps a captured Union soldier escape back to the North, Lowry offered Jones the role of Young, which the actor accepted.
“I told myself I really could bring the depth that this character needs, and with him entrusting me to do it, I just wanted to make sure I put as much work into it as possible,” Jones told WND in an interview.
Jones is an experienced actor, having appeared in “Breaking Bad,” “Three Kings,” “CSI: Miami” and “Rules of Engagement,” as well as commercials for name brand products such as Budweiser, Sonic and All Detergent.
He told WND he welcomed the challenge of playing a character like Jim Young who has to make so many decisions on the fly and has “so many emotional parts it’s not even funny.”
“That’s what attracted me to Jim: reading the script and just thinking he’s got a lot that he has to go through, and I wanted the challenge as an actor to see if I could pull it off,” Jones said.
“Union Bound,” set to hit theaters April 22, 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 help from slaves, most notably Jim Young.
The script is great on its own, Jones assured WND, but he brought his own research on the Civil War period to his role. He believes he knows what must have been going through Jim’s head as the slave helped a white man escape to freedom, and that knowledge helped Jones better portray Jim on the silver screen.
“There were certain scenes with Jim that I thought some of the struggle and the peril he was going through, some of the emotional issues he was going through maybe just needed to be fleshed out a little bit more,” Jones said.
It took six weeks to film the movie, and the cast and crew had to deal with brutally hot weather, mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, heavy rain, and even the occasional thunderstorm. But Jones loved it. In fact, he said he wouldn’t have minded if the film had taken an additional six weeks to shoot.
“I love the craft so much I don’t mind being on the set for 14 to 18 hours [a day], even if it had ended up being two to three months,” he said. “I loved everything about ‘Union Bound.'”
Among the things he loved were his co-stars, Sean Stone and Randy Wayne, who played Joseph Hoover and Thomas J. Ryan, respectively. He didn’t know either of them before the shoot, but he said they are all friends now and spend lots of time together. They all took their roles very seriously as well.
Said Jones: “When we were driving to the set, we would have the script out, we’d go through the lines as much as we could to try and say, ‘OK, how about this? How about these choices?'”
The three actors would suggest subtle tweaks to Lowry and writer John Errington, and Lowry and Errington gave the actors room to experiment with their tweaks, many times making the script stronger. Jones, Stone and Wayne continuously gave each other notes, pushing each other to give better performances.
The camaraderie on set was something special, according to Jones, and something actors don’t get to experience when they work on films heavy on computer-generated imagery (CGI).
“When you do films that have a lot of CGI in them, you’re being asked to really, really use your imagination,” he explained. “You’re reacting to things that really aren’t there, and the computer afterward generates the image that you’re looking at and you say it’s pretty cool.
“But you can’t replace being able to sit down in front of another actor and riff off of one another. When you’ve got people who really take their craft seriously and you’re able to get into each other’s heads … there’s nothing like it, and green screens and CGI can’t replace that real human being next to you.”
“Union Bound” is a film with no CGI, and Jones hopes American moviegoers will eventually re-embrace films like that.
“I hope audiences do want to make a return back to that,” he confessed. “I hope people start to say, ‘The action’s great, but I want something with some depth, I want something that’s going to move me, not just something with cool effects.'”
Jones believes “Union Bound” will move audiences on a deeply emotional level. He pointed out it takes place during one of the darkest periods in American history, namely the age of slavery. He hopes viewers will reflect on the evil of slavery but also the selfless courage of slaves like Jim Young.
“In our country’s darkest time, you had people who were subservient to others, willing to put themselves on the line to help those whom they didn’t even know who looked like their oppressors, still wanting to do the right thing,” Jones marveled.
All people should aspire to Jim’s high moral standards, the actor said. Here was a black slave who helped a white man escape to the North, even though white men oppressed him and even though he would have been severely punished for doing so. Jones hopes moviegoers will leave the theater thinking about the humanity that Jim Young showed toward Joseph Hoover in a situation where society may not have expected him to show such concern.
“You know what? Humanity rules and humanity prevails if we allow it,” Jones said. “Love in the end wins and doing the right thing is paramount. That’s what matters: doing the right thing and humanity, the humanity of us all, regardless of what we look like on the outside, we’re all the same on the inside and we all bleed the same color. I’m hoping the movie unites people more than it divides.”