I remember walking back to the make-up trailer with Fred Thompson shortly after one of the A.D.s announced to the crew, “Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s a wrap for Mr. Fred Thompson.”
The crew applauded – as is customary – for the actor who was now officially done with his work on the film. But there was a little extra warmth in the applause. Thompson was a great presence on set and he’d done a remarkable job that day.
Moments later as we reached the make-up trailer, someone standing in a gaggle of onlookers shouted out: “We wish you were our President!”
Thompson stopped, smiled, and without missing a beat, shouted back, “I wouldn’t be havin’ near as much fun!”
These are the things I remember, the way I remember them, about Fred Thompson and his work on THE LAST RIDE. And these are some of the reasons, besides just loving his work over the years, that I’ll always remember him fondly.
Hal Holbrook was originally set to play the role that Fred Thompson eventually signed on for in THE LAST RIDE. Holbrook, a longtime friend and collaborator of our director, Harry Thomason, would have been great. He’s always great. But it was clear as we neared production that Holbrook’s wife, the very talented, beautiful Dixie Carter, would need Mr. Holbrook’s full attention. Ms. Carter had been recently diagnosed with cancer. She died a few weeks after we wrapped production.
Harry Thomason and the producers held out hope that somehow Holbrook would be able to do the film but Harry wanted a back up just in case. The back up turned out to be another first round pick. Harry put in a call to Fred Thompson and explained the situation. Fred said he understood and assured Harry that he could rest easy – if needed, we could count on Fred to show up.
If Harry Thomason calling Fred Thompson doesn’t strike you as remarkable, then a little history lesson is in order. Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason are FOBs from way back. FOB stands for Friends of Bill (Clinton). The Thomasons were early supporters of Clinton’s run for the presidency and they were responsible for helping him make key connections in Hollywood, long before it appeared he had a chance at winning. They continued to work tirelessly alongside Clinton through the campaign, election, transition, inauguration, and into his terms as Commander in Chief.
Fred Thompson was a young Republican lawyer during the Watergate hearings. He went on to have a lucrative law career that morphed into a successful acting career, which he parlayed into a successful run for the U.S. Senate. Thompson was a sitting U.S. Senator on the committee that held impeachment hearings over the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Thompson agonized over the impeachment and ultimately voted against a charge of perjury and for a charge of obstruction of justice. A few years later Thompson made a run at the Republican nomination but ran out of gas early on. Quite a backstory for that fateful call from Harry to Fred in late 2009.
A couple of months before we started production on THE LAST RIDE, Harry came to Little Rock and we spent a few days scouting locations with Producer Benjy Gaither and Director of Photography, Jim Roberson. Harry had already secured a home in which to shoot Fred Thompson’s interior scenes. We went to scout the house and were greeted by the homeowner – another enthusiastic FOB.
“It’s going to be Fred Thompson,” Harry said to the homeowner as we arrived.
She sighed, “Well, we’re spending New Year’s Eve with Al Franken so it’ll all even out.”
Near the end of the shoot, in early March 2010, Fred Thompson arrived in Little Rock ready to go. We shot out all of Fred’s scenes in one day, two locations with a full company move – probably 7 or 8 setups. Such is the pace of independent filmmaking.
Thompson was an old pro by then having done many big budget features and a long stint on a network series. He took to the day like a duck to water and I’ll always cherish the memory of seeing him work. Standing outside the make-up trailer it occurred to me that if he had gone on to be President, we wouldn’t have had as much fun either.