Plugging into the screen
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.
There are zero degrees of separation between Wester Joseph and Kevin Bacon. For the rest of his life, whenever anyone wants to play the famous movie game, Joseph will know exactly where he stands.
'Jayne Mansfield's Car'
What: New film written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton features Gainesville's Wester Joseph in a supporting role.
Where: The film can be seen on video on demand on Cox Cable and other cable services.
That's because Joseph, a longtime Gainesville resident, musician and actor, was recently cast in a movie written and directed by Academy Award-winner Billy Bob Thornton. The movie, “Jayne Mansfield's Car,” stars Bacon, as well as John Hurt, Robert Duvall, Irma P. Hall, Ron White and Thornton himself.
Joseph got involved with the movie through a friend who told him, “You're going to get a call. Just say yes.”
The call turned out to be an invitation to audition for the role of Connell Lambert, a musician. Joseph went to the audition, and after it was over, he sat talking music with Billy Bob Thornton.
“He's such a music nerd,” Joseph says. “I'm a big gear head, and so is he. We just sat talking about music and gear. It was great.”
It didn't take long before Joseph found out that he had the gig, and he also got some great advice on how to approach the role from Thornton.
“Billy Bob told me that they hired me because they liked the way that I am, so just to act like myself. Then all of a sudden, I'm hanging out in a hotel room with John Hurt and all these other actors listening to them tell stories about their first movie roles. It was like, how did I get here?”
When Joseph speaks about the experience his voice gets excited. It clearly made an indelible impression upon his mind. Perhaps that was because he had the chance to hang out as an equal with some of his heroes.
“They were all so down-to-earth. I'm working with these guys, and I'm thinking to myself, I have all the DVDs of their movies at home. I'm such a big fan of guys like John Hurt, and Irma P. Hall is a legend. Working with her is a huge deal for an African-American. But, they just acted like normal people.”
Robert Teitel, one of the executive producers of the movie, had a chance to watch Joseph perform on set. “As an unknown actor, he did a great job while working with the greats like Robert Duvall and Billy Bob Thornton,” Teitel says.
“It's always great to have a new face in front of the camera especially someone who can hold their own.”
“Jayne Mansfield's Car” is set in Alabama in 1969, and it follows the story of a man whose estranged wife has died. According to her will, she is to be buried in Alabama. However, she has lived for decades with her new family in England, and when she is brought back to Alabama, the two families meet and must try to get along with each other. The result is a sometimes comedic, sometimes poignant family drama set against the turbulent South of the late 1960s.
“I'm from the South,” Joseph says, “so I definitely identify with the characters in the story.”
Joseph says he also was impressed by the great effort Thornton and the crew expended to make sure every bit of the movie was true to the era.
“Everything from the clothes to the cars to the musical equipment was so specific to the time period,” he says. “They were actually trying to find a vintage guitar for me to play, but since I'm left-handed it was impossible to find. They even called the Gibson factory, and Gibson said that if we found one to let them know about it because they knew how rare that guitar would be. I ended up having to use my own guitar, but that was the only thing that wasn't from the time period in the movie.”
Joseph's guitar has made the rounds in Gainesville's music scene. He has been involved with many bands including 3rd Stone, and he currently leads Wester Joseph's Stereo Vudu.
“He's a multi-versed musician,” says Joseph Saccocci, a Gainesville music promoter involved in promoting Joseph and his band, Stereo Vudu.. “He can pay any style, and he has. When he came here, no one knew who he was, so he went to jam nights, and he jammed with every type of musician — hip-hop, rock, singer/songwriter.”
Saccocci is part of a nonprofit called Shakerag Culture Center Inc. that works with the city of Gainesville and the Thomas Center to bring nationally touring acts to Gainesville. He has booked the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass guitarist, Peter Rowan, to play the Thomas Center in November.
“Wester surrounds himself with great musicians,” Saccocci says. “I think he's a diamond in the rough. He's an incredible talent.”
Teitel, the executive producer of “Jayne Mansfield's Car,” describes Wester as a performer with the potential to advance in films. “Wester is a fresh face that we could see for quite some time, if he plays his cards right,” Teitel says.
For Joseph, that prospect is incredibly exciting.
“Wherever this leads, it's just so great to know that I can hold my own with the greatest actors. It was just mind blowing. I'm still excited about it.”
The movie was released in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities on Friday to quality for Academy Award consideration. It can be seen locally on video on demand on Cox Cable and other cable providers.