The Good, The Bad And The Cuddly: Interview With Straw Dogs' Drew Powell

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Courtesy/copyright drewpowell.com

Actor Drew Powell

When speaking with Drew Powell it is difficult to believe that such a nice, down-to-Earth guy could play a not-so nice guy in the recently released feature film Straw Dogs, but then again, he is an actor, and a very talented one at that. Powell chuckles when asked about his audition for the movie.

“It was kind of a unique one,” he recalls. “I was visiting my parents back home where I’m from in Indiana when I received a phone call from my manager telling me about this character in a film that had been cast, but the casting had fallen though and I needed to audition for it immediately. So I put my audition on tape, which I’ve done in the past. It’s a great tool for an actor who might be traveling, working on-location or otherwise not in Los Angeles all the time.

“In this case I had my dad read the off-camera lines and recorded the audition in my old childhood bedroom. I edited it on my computer and then drove to a Chic-fil-A restaurant in Indianapolis, because I knew they had wireless, and e-mailed it. A day later I heard from [Straw Dogs director] Rod Lurie, who had seen my tape, liked it and asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to come and hang with us?’ So it was a really cool whirlwind type of process and I was thrilled that things worked out.”

 

Straw Dogs is a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah-directed psychological thriller of the same name and, like the first movie, based on the Gordon Williams novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm. Was the actor at all familiar with the original Straw Dogs prior to auditioning for and booking a role in this new version?

“I’d heard of it but never seen it,” says Powell. “The original movie is somewhat infamous and one of those that you always hear about. When I got to Shreveport [Louisiana], which is where we shot the film, I borrowed a copy of the 1971 version from the production office and watched it. I was quickly educated as to why it’s so infamous and how intense it is. I remember sitting there in my hotel room that night and thinking, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be quite an experience.’”

In the 2011 Straw Dogs, a Los Angeles scriptwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife, TV actress Amy (Kate Bosworth), move back to her childhood home in Blackwater, Mississippi to rebuild Amy’s recently deceased father’s home, and where David can also finish a script.

 David hires his wife’s ex-boyfriend Charlie Verner (Alexander Skarsgard) and his three friends, including Bic (Drew Powell), to repair the house’s roof. Amy is subsequently raped by Charlie and one of his pals, which leads to a brutal struggle for survival between the couple and the four men. The situation is further complicated when David and Amy help an injured Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), a local handicapped man being bullied by former high school football coach Tom Heddon (James Woods). Balancing his onscreen light and dark sides was an acting exercise that Powell relished.

“I fell in love with the Bic character when I first read the script because he’s kind of the comic relief in an otherwise suspense-filled film,” says the actor. “He’s a bit of a goofball, too. Bic is the one who’s quick to cut up and make a joke. The character isn’t as brooding as maybe some of the others in the movie, which from an acting standpoint makes it a bit easier when you get to keep it light and don’t have to be in a dark place all the time.

“That’s not to say that Bic isn’t sinister. All four of these guys have their own type of mob mentality. Also, Bic is not a character from the original film. He was created for the remake, so I was lucky in that I didn’t have to worry about a prior actor’s performance and trying to emulate that.

 

“The Bic scene that I most enjoyed doing is where he comes into David’s and Amy’s house and helps himself to beers from their fridge. He then grabs a peach and eats it as he’s talking to David and asking him questions. That’s the first time where the couple’s home is breeched by one of these men and an example of the dichotomy of what they’re used to as small town Southern folk and what David is used to as one of the intellectual elite.

“That was a fun scene to do and to play that moment of being menacing in a way that’s not overt. Getting to work with James and Kate on that was fantastic ,too. There were also a number of wonderful scenes towards the end of the film, specifically the siege, and working with James Woods, which was very educational for me. He’s been in the business for a long time and was terrific at keeping the energy up and making sure that the intensity was there in those scenes.”

The actor also enjoyed being directed by Rod Lurie. “He’s a smart guy and approaches directing from a very unique perspective, being a West Point grad as well as former movie critic,” explains Powell. “I had a good time working with Rod. He seemed to really understand the film and I liked the fact that he had his own take on it. I also loved that Rod had created the Bic character for me.”

 

Although there is plenty of animosity amongst all the characters in the movie, that was not the mood off-camera with the cast. “A lot of times when you do a movie like this, a couple of the big stars will go off and rent houses or whatever, but that was not the case here,” says Powell. “We all stayed in the same hotel in Shreveport and we’d go out together after work, including to various events.

“So we had a great experience off-set, which I feel then translated to a real camaraderie on the set for us four ‘Straw Dogs’ as well as James [Marsden] and Kate. It also lightened up what I think could have otherwise been a really intense process. I mean, at a certain point you’ve got to be able to leave the intensity on-set and go back to living a normal life, and we were able to do that.”

Growing up in Lebanon, Indiana, Powell was always interested in acting but was not exactly sure how to seriously pursue it as a career. A graduate of DePauw University, he majored in English literature and was also a Media Fellow (an honors program in media studies). The actor was involved in the school’s theater department as well as wrote and performed in campus TV shows and student films. Slowly but surely all the pieces fell neatly into place when it came to Powell’s professional life.

 

“At one point I thought I was going to be a broadcast journalist because that was a ‘legitimate’ way to be in front of a camera,” he says, “but I soon realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do, either.  I then got the opportunity to come out to Los Angeles and give it [acting] a shot, and it’s the best thing I ever did. My first job was in a show called Malcolm in the Middle. I was in the first episode after the pilot and played a military school cadet. That’s what got me my SAG {Screen Actors Guild] card, and I was able to do 13 more episodes after that. It was an amazing first learning experience and it was kind of off to the races for me after that.”

Hot on the heels of Malcolm in the Middle, Powell booked a series regular role playing Eric “Hoss” Cartwright in Ponderosa, the 2001-2002 PAX-TV remake of the legendary Bonanza TV series. “That was another big acting education,” notes the actor. “I also met my wife on that job, so that makes it all the more memorable for me.

“Playing Hoss was not unlike playing a superhero in that he had tremendous strength and a sort of mythical status.  Bonanza was so iconic and I knew of it, of course, but I don’t think I ever really grasped the enormity of that show until I was a part of Ponderosa. To this day fans of the series will come up to me and introduce themselves. They’re still very loyal and I really do feel honored to be a part of that legacy.”

 

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Monk, Psych and Leverage are among the actor’s other TV credits. Along with recent guest-starring roles in Memphis Beat, Ringer and American Horror Story, Powell flew to New York earlier this month to shoot an episode of CBS’s Unforgettable. He also plays Dwight Pearson in the upcoming feature film Touchback starring Kurt Russell.

“That’s another project I’m extremely proud of and I had a great deal of fun shooting it,” says Powell. “I’d met the writer/director Don Handfield years ago through some mutual friends and he told me about this film he wrote about a football hero in a small Ohio town, and the fact that you think your life is going in one direction but then it goes off in another, and what does that mean. I had a wonderful time working with Kurt Russell, who’s one of my favorite actors, and getting to hear lots of great stories about his 50+ years in the business.”

For Powell, variety is definitely the spice of choice when it comes to his work as an actor. “I’m someone who likes to have his finger in a lot of different pies, and this job allows me to do just that,” he says. “I think that feeds my soul, the fact that I get the opportunity to work all over the world and have difference experiences with every new role.

“I’m getting to do my dream job and not many people get to do that. That's not to say that it’s easy. It’s a tough job and I honestly would not recommend it to anyone who does not have the absolute drive as well as passion inside them. It makes you call yourself into question time and time again and you have to be resilient, but when you’re working, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world,” enthuses the actor.

Please note following copyrights on all photos above: Straw Dogs (Screen Gems), Malcolm in the Middle (Fox Television) and Ponderosa (PAX-TV). All photos courtesy of Drew Powell and drewpowell.com.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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