Finding the courage to survive in an endlessly frustrating society that you no longer understand, and ultimately suppressing the desire to just give up hope in the seemingly cruel world, is often a difficult process for anyone to undergo. But attempting to endure life’s challenges is even more strenuous when people are forced to struggle between either following their own faith, or doing whatever’s necessary to protect their family, who disappointingly may not share the same beliefs. Ethan Embry’s upstanding character, Seamus Riley, in the thriller ‘Echoes of War,’ which will be released on DVD by ARC Entertainment this Tuesday, July 7, is one such admirable familyman. But the idealistic father in first-time feature film director Kane Senes’ independent drama harrowingly realizes that his well-intentioned visions don’t always accurately reflect reality, especially when it comes to family.
Set in a rural Reconstruction-era Texas, ‘Echoes of War’ follows two neighboring families are grieving tragic losses while they struggle to survive. After serving for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Wade (James Badge Dale) returns home physically uninjured, but he still holds onto his battlefield mentality. While contending with emotionally moving on from the war, he temporarily moves into the Texas homestead of his religious and placid widowed brother-in-law, Seamus, and his teenaged niece and nephew, Abigail and Samuel (Maika Monroe and Owen Teague). While the Rileys are still mourning the loss of their family matriarch, Mary (Marie Mizner), to illness, they’re also desperately trying to survive financially, by trapping animals on their land and selling their fur.
After arriving at his family’s ranch, Wade soon realizes that they’re losing money because the cattle-ranching Randolph McCluskey (William Forsythe) and his family, who lost a son and their entire herd to the war, have been stealing animals from the Rileys’ traps. While the peaceful Seamus urges his brother-in-law not to become involved in his business with the McCluskeys, Wade instead decides to take matters into his own hands.
But the veteran doesn’t realize that the families have developed an interdependent relationship while he was fighting in the war, and the actions that were considered acceptable during his military service aren’t suitable for the civilian life to which he returned. So his intense drive to protect his family from who he perceives to be the enemy sparks yet another tragic and senseless war, as he stands by his vow to do whatever it takes to stop the McCluskeys from causing any more pain to his family.
Embry generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Echoes of War’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was immediately drawn to play Seamus in the western thriller, because he appreciates that it’s a character-driven film that focuses on diverse people who are struggling to raise their family through their morals; how he not only got into Seamus’ mindset by connecting with his co-stars, especially Dale, Monroe and Forsythe, but also watching Ken Burns’ Civil War television documentary in the short time between when he was cast and when they began filming; and how filming the drama independently created the necessity to shoot the majority of the movie in the Riley and McCluskey houses, but filming on location in Texas ultimately also helped him better understand Seasmu’s beliefs and views on life.
ShockYa (SY): You star as Seamus Riley in the western thriller, ‘Echoes of War.’ What was it about the script, and the project overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Ethan Embry (EE): Well, I love the character piece aspect of the movie. When I originally read the script, I didn’t really see it as a western; I read it more as a character piece. It has James Badge Dale’s character coming back from war. My character, Seamus, was just trying to raise his family through his morals and beliefs. He was also trying to pick up the pieces after losing his wife. William Forsythe’s character was also trying to pick up the pieces of his life, but he didn’t have the same morals as Seamus. So I really love the character aspect of the film.
Originally I went in to read for Wade, and that’s when I first met the director, Kane. A couple months later, he called me and asked if I wanted to play Seamus instead. Then Forsythe and Maika signed on, and James was already attached, and they’re all great actors. I loved the idea of working with them in a story set in a period I have never acted in, while I was playing a type of character I have never portrayed, before. So for me, the whole process was new, and was never something I had been a part of before, which was exciting for me.
SY: Speaking of the script, it was co-penned by the drama’s helmer, Kane Senes, who made his feature film writing and directorial debuts with the drama. What was the process like of working with Kane as both a scribe and director on the thriller, particularly since this is his first feature film?
EE: Well, with this being Kane’s first film, I think it was a lot for him to take on. We shot it on film, which is a more difficult process these days. We now have a lot of new technology that makes shooting movies a lot easier. But Kane stuck with the classic way of shooting the movie on film.
He had a great DP (Director of Photography), Wes Cardino, with him. Also, as actors, we’ve all been doing this for a long time, except for Maika. But she’s incredibly talented, and carries herself on set like she has been acting for decades.
For the most part, Kane let us do what came to us-he let us take these characters and own them. For the most part, he sat back and made sure he got the important aspects of the story.
SY: Also speaking of your co-stars, what was the process of building your working relationships with them, before and while you were filming the drama?
EE: We had a blast working together, and I had fun acting with them, especially with Owen and Maika. James couldn’t be a lovelier guy to work with on a film. This is a heavy piece, and there isn’t a single joke throughout the entire movie. The four of us had a blast, and I enjoyed working with the three of them as we created this family. There wasn’t a single moment between us where it was ever uncomfortable, as all of our personalities clicked very well.
SY: Aside from collaborating with your co-stars, how did you prepare for your role of Seamus individually? What kind of research did you do into the lifestyles of the families who lived, and struggled to survive in, rural post-Civil War Texas?
EE: I actually got the role not too long before I had to start shooting. So I didn’t have as much time to prepare as I would have liked to have.
But one thing that I did immediately do was watch the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. The stuff that he makes is an actor’s dream. It’s great how deep he delves into the lifestyles of the people who are featured in his projects. He also tells the history of the events that are examined, while making his projects personal. That allows the audience to easily attach themselves tot he people who are shown in the project. His documentary was what I really used the most, as far as relying on research from the period and way of life.
For a lot of the religious aspects surrounding Seamus, I relied on the fact that I grew up religious. However, I no longer am, so I had to refamiliarize myself with that aspects of the character. Having grown up being so religious, it was easy for me to emotionally attach myself to Seamus’ scripture.
SY: With the western thriller set in the post-Civil War era, and emphasizing the emotional and physical struggles that the Rileys and McCluskeys were contending with after the ending of the war, what was the overall process of shooting the movie independently?
EE: No, I don’t think that it being an independent played into the filming process at all. In the time during which the film is set, they didn’t have much, so you don’t need much to replicate that. The house were we shot the film is from the story’s period-it’s a historical property on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
I would assume that that period is the easiest to capture on a shoestring budget. In the film, the characters never went into town, which was helpful; if they did, it would make it more difficult to capture accurately, as it would have to be a larger scale film.
But the script was completely contained, as it all took place in the two family houses, so we didn’t have to build the town or dress extras. When the writers were working on the script, they probably took that into account. Minimizing the story as much as possible in the script helped with the budget. But I think it worked, because it is a character piece, and the focus is all on them.
SY: Speaking of filming the drama on location in the contained houses in Austin, Texas, how did that process also influence the way you approached portraying Seamus and the story? Do you prefer working on location, as opposed to at a studio?
EE: Yes, shooting on location has become an important part of my process. When you shoot on location, you leave your life, and remove yourself from your normal surroundings. You can then completely immerse yourself in the region where the story takes place.
So that process has really become beneficial, whether it’s for a film or TV role. When I was on (the Showtime drama series) ‘Brotherhood,’ we shot on location in Providence. Living in Rhode Island helped me understand the city and the people.
Austin is very modern and artistic, and is very different from any other city in the South. Going there and being around the accents and the overall Southern way of life definitely helped me immerse myself into the film.
Written by: Karen Benardello