In Chris Eska’s new film The Retrieval – a Civil War era, post-Emancipation morality tale – young teenager Will, played by Ashton Sanders, travels north with his uncle to lure freed man Nate, played by Tishuan Scott, back down south, so that Will’s employer can collect a bounty on Nate’s head. We spoke with Ashton Sanders and Tishuan Scott. Here, Tishuan Scott talks about what it was like filming The Retrieval, about its historical significance, and about who Nate is. You can also find our review for The Retrieval here, and check out our interview with Ashton Sanders here.
Martin Keller: I read that when you were filming the movie that it was this commune experience, that you were all living together and then you would go film. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Tishuan Scott: It was great. Jason Wehling, our producer, would get up in the morning and make us breakfast and when we’d finish at night from shooting he’d make dinner while working the entire day. There was the cast house and the crew house. The houses were right across the street from one another. But I hung out a lot at the crew house with the guys who were over there hanging out. I am not a beer drinker. I drank the most beer I’ve ever drank in my life hanging out with them over there.
What did that do in terms of bonding with the other actors? Especially with Nate and Will, you guys, it’s pretty much you guys throughout the entire movie, so how did that help?
Right, so living together, that was more so on a personal relationship and how that built our relationships with one another. As far as specifically performance wise, I mean Chris had us…he was in L.A. rehearsing with Ashton and, I almost called him Marcus, but Keston and then he came to Texas and rehearsed with me. And when we got to Gonzalez, we spent about a week rehearsing over and over and over. We would go through the entire scene, much like we do in the theater world. We’d run the entire scene, but it was the rehearsal process that really fostered our relationships on camera. And we rehearsed in the actor house as well. We would be in the backyard rehearsing there also. The first night, actually when I met Ashton, we were there in the house. I think I came in after him and we spent the evening, I think he was watching Karate Kid. And we just spent the night chatting with each other and talking about the script and going over some of our scenes.
That sounds like a pretty great experience. Maybe you can talk a little about Nate and about how a man with this strong moral compass comes to exist in this harsh environment.
I think one thing that people look at during the time period…I mean, our film is post Emancipation Proclamation so it deals nothing with slavery. But looking at the images of American men back in that time, they didn’t smile. And looking at a people that were enslaved and came out of slavery, there had to be, sort of, happiness in there, somewhere. They weren’t always forlorn or unemotional or unexcited. The African race of people are very exuberant and excited people filled with music and laughter and the connection of family and the collectivist culture that we are. There was, of course, extreme difficulty in the role spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally having to play someone like that. Because Nate, the time period, and circumstances under which he lived…During that time, many people who lived were unfortunate, extraordinarily oppressive, repressive, suppressive, depressing. I did research. In 2009, I was doing the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon and I read Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s Georgia Lynch Law, which tells many stories. She’s kind of like the Soledad O’Brien of her day, with her many stories of the atrocities that happened to African-American men in Atlanta. Eight Men, which is a novel by Richard Wright, he recounts the same thing. However, these stories are fiction. So a lot of research when into the standing of who it is that I was to become. So that the audiences, when they watched it, looked at a human being and not someone who was a slave or a former slave. But look at someone who was human and they would connect on a very human level with Nate.
For a character who doesn’t speak all that much you do get a very strong sense of who he is. Watching the movie there is strong sense of who he is and of his and his loss and he doesn’t have to speak for that to be evident
Well thank you.
And again I find Nate very interesting because you have other characters, Marcus or Burrell, where everything is survival of the fittest and Nates seems to be trying to move beyond that. Or has already moved beyond that. And he stands alone in that way.
Nate and Will have this father/son, mentor/protege type relationship. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Nate lost his son very, very early and I am not a parent, but I’m an uncle. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like. First of all, mind you this is 2014. But the mindset I had to be in was the mindset of a man living in the 1860s and living with the reality that though you have a family, your child can be stripped from you at any moment and sold to someone else. His son wasn’t lost that way. It was even more tragic that it was by death. So I personally couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent and lose your child. So I think that is a whole other layer to who Nate is as a person, and he leaves behind Rachel and how difficult that had to be for him. So the connection that he made with Will, I think it was kind of like almost a pick up. He says to him that Will would be the age of his son had he lived. So it was almost kind of like picking up…the circle was reconnected. The relationship that was fostered between the two of them was serendipitous in that it was almost like he was having his son return to him. And the responsibility he felt looking at the unfortunate situation that Will was in being with his uncle who wasn’t necessarily the most positive role model. Nate noticed that. He picked up the energy and sensed that and wanted to instruct Will on how he should become his own man.
How did the empty and open landscape influence you when you were shooting the movie?
The landscapes…well first of all, I was amazed when we drove fifteen miles into green country and realized where we were shooting. I couldn’t believe that Chris had found what they had found, as far as locations where we were shooting. There very magical and I felt that we were on very sacred ground in green country and territory that’s been pretty much untouched by humans. One scene in particular is the scene with the vines, where Will is climbing the vines and Nate is carving. Onscreen it’s absolutely beautiful and breathtaking, but in person it’s just…I felt as if I was transported to a completely different planet, a different world, a different place, a different time. So where we shot had a huge impact on our performances.
The story feels pretty universal but there’s something specific about it taking place in this sort of limbo: it’s post Emancipation but it’s still the Civil War and geographically you seem to be in a place where there’s not a lot of law or order. Maybe you could speak to why it’s important that it takes place where and when it does.
Right, right. The country was totally lawless during that time, especially in the South. The only sanity and sanctity for African-Americans was being north. Down south in Louisiana, the state where I’m from, the Africans who were enslaved were not informed that they had been emancipated. And it’s a little wild because here we are, the United States of America and there has been a federal law enacted and yet states would think they have the right to do as they please. I think clearly the film illustrates that and it brings it to the forefront. It shows what happens in our history.
It’s definitely not something that we’ve seen very often in movies talking the Civil War or slavery.
Right. That’s the huge thing that drew me to the film. I got to audition in 2010 and I’d never, in cinema history, seen anything like this. So I thought, “This is absolutely groundbreaking. This is original. This is something that I would work very, very hard to be a part of. It’s just a huge honor to be a part of this project so we can continue the conversation about our American history and hopefully move us forward.