Eric Braeden is best known for his role as rich, conniving Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless. For years, he wanted to make a movie about revenge in a little-discussed area of the Old South just after the Civil War. In the feature below, Braeden discusses how The Man Who Came Back reignited his passion for the business. This feature was part of my Virtual Sitdown series at Pop Syndicate. I approached Braeden about doing an interview after I watched the film – and loved it. It ran January 15, 2009.
Virtual Sitdown with Eric Braeden
The Man Who Came Back is fast becoming a favorite among DVD watchers across the nation. Starring Y&R‘s Eric Braeden, the film takes you through the journey of one man’s ultimate heartbreak – and ultimate revenge.
Today, Braeden sits down with Pop Syndicate’s Angela Wilson to share a behind-the-scenes look at the film.
After 40 years working in film and soaps, actor Eric Braeden felt the routine of his profession.
But his new film, The Man Who Came Back, lit a fire inside of him that reignited his passion for acting and the desire to share stories that entertain.
This revenge tale set in the Old South just after the end of the Civil War was a labor of love that took nine years to execute. With the help of friends who believed in the
project with a fervor that rivaled Braeden’s, he was able to produce an intensely riveting tale on a tight budget – one that continues to build a following in the DVD market.
“It just revived my passion for this profession,” Braeden said in an interview with Pop Syndicate’s Angela Wilson. “I am honored to be in it and honored to be able to (act) for the last 40 years. I am very privileged.”
In The Man Who Came Back, Braeden plays Reese Paxton, a battle-weary Confederate sniper who is tired of killing and the injustices man does to man. What keeps him strong is his lovely young wife and small son.
Paxton supervises former slaves for a powerful judge played by veteran actor George Kennedy. When he confronts the judge’s mean, spoiled son about abusing the workers, he is fired. The workers eventually strike.
The judge’s son isn’t done terrorizing the blacks – who he sees as no more than cattle that need to be whipped and brought to heel. He and his friends hang a black man who dared stand up to them near Paxton’s cabin.
Paxton takes the body to town to confront the men, but the accusation is turned around on him by the spoiled son and Paxton is convicted of the crime. They bind and gag the man and put him in a cage, then drive him past his home, where the men rape and murder Paxton’s wife and son.
Paxton is jailed, but eventually escapes and returns to the town to exact revenge on the evil men who stole his family and his freedom.
The Man Who Came Back was produced on a shoestring budget of $2.5 million. That did not lessen the film’s intensity – or its popularity.
The film was No. 1 non-theatrical rental in the nation the week of Dec. 14, and continues to remain in the top five. It was also in the top 10 DVD buys, following high-budget blockbusters like The Dark Knight.
The German-born actor kept costs down by filming in digital. Actors like George Kennedy collected small salaries because they believed in the film. After debuts in three cities, the film went straight to DVD, which cut about $15 million needed for print and advertising.
“I just have a newfound respect for how difficult it is to make a film,” Braeden said. “It is so difficult. When you do it like we did – on a shoestring – you battle for everything. You fight for everything. You scratch for everything. Then, you hand over distribution and it is out of your hands.”
The set had an authentic feel rarely seen in films today. Instead of using fronts or CGI to make up for what they did not have, Braeden says they shot the film at a Texas town constructed by John Wayne in 1959 for The Alamo. The town is on a ranch and was left untouched, but well cared for.
Cabins in the middle of the woods were also located in Texas. A private land owner purchased property with the 19th century structures and left them intact – something rare in a world where the old goes out for a subdivision of cloned McMansions.
Braeden is quick to credit the expertise of Women in Film, a Texas group that helped find these historical treasures.
“We were very lucky to have access to them,” Braeden said. “I was very concerned about that. When I went location hunting, I said, ‘Now we have a film.’”
The film came to Braeden’s attention nine years ago, when former Olympic boxer chuck Walker brought him a revenge-scenario screenplay. Braeden liked the script, but it needed something – a historical context – to flesh it out.
Braeden and Walker teamed up with Glen Pitre, director of Belizaire the Cajun, to find the right context. After reading the book, Without Sanctuary, they found it. The book led them to research the Thibodeax Massacre of 1887 – the second bloodiest labor strike in the nation.
In Louisiana, three parishes were known as the sugar bowl, where plantations raised sugar cane.
It was hard labor and paid little. After the War, plantation owners were forced to pay former slaves. They got around this by giving the workers coupons – a sort of substandard check. These “scripts” were only good at the plantation where blacks worked. Plantation owners marked up goods so that workers couldn’t pay for what they needed, and continued to get deeper in debt. In Louisiana at this time, if you were in debt, you could not move from the land until your debt was paid.
Plantation owners “perpetuated slavery by economic means,” Braeden said. “That means if you owned money to the company store, you were, in fact, not free. That was an enormous problem at the time.”
This incident was exactly what the script needed. Pitre, who would go on to direct The Man Who Came Back, wove it into Walker’s original script.
One of the most intense scenes in this film is when Paxton watches his wife and son being beaten and killed. Viewers feel the sting, the pain, the anger, the disbelief.
Ironically, the cast and crew did not realize just how intense this scene was until it was in the final stages.
It took two days to film this scene. As Braeden beat on the metal cage while filming Paxton’s reaction, the noise and movement scared the mules pulling the cart. They ran off and had to be brought back.
Then, the cast and crew was focused on the behind-the-scenes necessities of filming, not what the scene would eventually be.
“You dissect it very technically as you do it,” Braeden said. “The art of the actor and the art of the director is to make that as real as you can within very artificial perimeters. You are worried about camera. You are worried about sound. You are worried about lighting… all of those things.
“While you do it, you are not really aware” of the scene’s intensity, he continues. “You were aware of it when you read the script. There is a visceral element that you only get once you put it together.”
One thing viewers can appreciate in The Man Who Came Back is the music. It doesn’t override the scenes – and it is always appropriate. As executive producer, Braeden says he paid close attention to the music. Several options were discarded before they got it just right.
“You have to be careful not to overdo it,” Braeden said. “In a lot of films, music is overdone. In a lot of films, I say, ‘Oh my God, what was this guy thinking?’”
There is a point where Paxton’s character could exact revenge and ride off into the desert with a woman who is coming to love him. Though the film isn’t in the Old West, it has a western movie feel. Most serious westerns have very dramatic ends with a lot of death.
Throughout the film, Paxton talks about how horrible it is to die of a gut shot. He saw it time and again in Civil War battles. Before he kills the rich boy – who hasn’t seen a true day of battle in his life – Paxton is shot in the stomach. He eventually makes his way back to the graves of his wife and son, and lies down between them.
Was it possible to have a happy ending for Paxton?
“We debated that,” Braeden said. “In fact, we debated that a long time.”
But after Paxton’s talk of a gut shot, and just how painful it was to die from, Braeden felt they would be remiss in letting him miraculously recover.
“I said, ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s being dishonest,’” Braeden recalled. “Perhaps we could have had him ride away and not show the ending, but I think there is something very touching and very beautiful about him joining his family at the end. There’s something very tragic in it. It was very honest.”
The Man Who Came Back is Braeden’s first film since James Cameron’s The Titanic in 1997, though he has guested on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Hope & Faith. In between making films, he stays busy playing Victor Newman, the powerful businessman whose battles with a younger rogue named Jack Abbott keep The Young and the Restless viewers on their toes.
Every time fans see Braeden, they think of Victor Newman. Did he worry that fans watching The Man Who Came Back would only see Newman dressed in period clothes, exacting rightful revenge as only he could?
“No,” Braeden said. “I knew that once you got into the story, that you’d forget about it.”
He’s right. Reese Paxton is a character who stands in his own right, and his journey will keep fans glued to the screen until the very last shot.
The Man Who Came Back is available on DVD.0