Clint Black Shines As an Actor—But It’s a Rough Ride (1998)

Originally published in the March 10, 1998 issue of Country Weekly.

Bleeding and beaten, Clint Black is having the time of his life.

"I've been trying to get this movie done for two and half years. Here we are, three days away from finishing it, and I'm not ready for it to end," he confides. "I've loved every second of filming."

As he strolls inside fake prison walls, his black convict shoes kick up dust with each step. Fake blood streams from a nostril and a nasty fake bruise covers his left cheek.

COUNTRY WEEKLY is on the Fort Worth, Texas, set of Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack, the CBS-TV movie Clint and his actress wife, Lisa Hartman Black, have bulldogged into the spotlight. She's his co-star and his co-executive producer.

"I've acted on the TV sit-com Wings and in the movie Maverick, but this is my first starring role," Clint says. "The best way I can describe the experience is to say it feels every way you can imagine."

The true story of Jack Favor, a rodeo champion wrongly convicted of murder, has been Clint's driving passion since 1994. The movie is set to air this spring.

In one scene, Clint walks into a visiting area where prisoners and their families are talking. By adding shotgun-toting guards and barbed wire atop chain-link fences, the former Federal Aviation Administration facility has been transformed into the Louisiana State Penitentiary. A Louisiana State flag pops in the brisk breeze.

As the crew moves the camera for close-ups, director David Burton Morris comments, "Clint is doing very well as a lead actor. A lot of the qualities Jack Favor has in the script, Clint innately has, too. In real life, Clint's a 'man's man' when it comes to doing a task, and yet he's a gentle, caring person. That was Jack Favor -- a man who stands by his word and his name means everything.

"This is an ambitious script. It's not your typical movie of the week, because of the story's scope. It's a very difficult picture to do in 19 days. I've done eight TV movies and this has been the hardest. So many locations and stunts. We spent five days doing the rodeo sequences."      

Filming on location in Texas was a special thrill for Lisa. "Clint and I are both Houstonians, so we feel like we're home," she says. "Clint's mom and dad have been here to watch. So has my mom.

"This is the first time Clint and I have worked together, and we're having a ball," says Lisa, who portrays Favor's wife, Ponder. "It's difficult to find a project that's right for two people, especially husband and wife. We feel lucky to have this movie.      

"Working together has been an incredible experience. I'm going to look hard for another project. I'll even screen some old movies. Maybe we could do a remake of something, like an old Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film."

Morris calls "action" and Clint and Lisa do the scene again. Afterwards, Lisa details the Jack Favor story.

"Jack Favor was 'it' in rodeo. He was the guy," she declares in her dressing trailer next to the set. "He still holds the world's record for bulldogging at 2.2 seconds. He was a good family man, a Christian and loved by everyone.

"He picked up a couple of hitchhikers one night in Louisiana. He bought them dinner and gave them a few bucks to get a motel room. Jack went on his way and these guys robbed a couple who owned a bait-and-tackle shop. They killed the couple and got about $30.

"The two guys blamed the crime on Jack, and he was arrested. He was a victim of horrible circumstances. He did eight years in prison.

"Ponder lost their house and worked numerous jobs to stay afloat. On appeal, Jack got another trial and was found not guilty. The movie is about Jack's struggle to prove his innocence, and about how this remarkable couple kept their marriage and family together."

A few minutes later, back on the set, crew personnel scramble to set up the next scene. Clint discusses the movie's tough rodeo sequences.      

"We had three different rodeo locations around Dallas and Fort Worth," he notes. "Jack Favor was a saddle bronc rider and steer wrestler, so we had to show me doing both kinds of rodeo action."

So, Clint, how much of that steer wrestling did you actually do?      

"All of it," he declares. "I just jumped right on those steers and took them down." Then he grins. "Sure I did . . . I may act crazy every now and then, but I'm not that crazy."

He confesses the saddle bronc riding scenes were rough enough.      

"Before we filmed, I spent time with bronc riders to learn their techniques. I learned how they set themselves in the saddle and the length of their rein. I practiced what they taught me.

"When the camera started rolling, I knew how to imitate them without thinking about it. We shot scenes of me on horseback in the chute and in the arena. It was really exciting.

"I worked out on a bronc rider training machine that was pretty tough. The cowboys training me said the moves they put me through are as close as they can get to what a real bronc would do.

"The scenes you'll see of me riding took every bit of strength I had to stay in the saddle and finish the ride. I'd come out of the saddle and I'd pull myself back in. When the horse puts his head down, you spur him up on the neck and use the rein to pull yourself into the saddle.      

"I came off that machine worn out. I loved it." He pauses. "You know, if I wasn't just a little bit sure that I'd end up hurting myself, I'd have to try saddle bronc riding for real."

Clint's preparation for the role started before the rodeo scenes.       

"Clint took on one of the hardest roles an actor can tackle," acknowledges Lisa. "He's in almost every scene and has the bulk of the emotional ride, which goes from joy to rock-bottom despair. How he has coped with that as an actor and as a human being is amazing to me.      

"When he got ready to walk in front of a camera, he was extremely prepared. I'm so proud of him. I have so much respect for him. I always have, and now he's just heightened all of that."

The next scene requires the bloody nose and bruised face. The make-up artist changes Clint into a prisoner who has been gun-butted by a guard.      

"I see them being cruel to a horse, trying to break him with a whip, and I know there's a better, gentler way to do it. They treat us like animals and I can stand that, but when I see them abusing a horse, I go nuts. I attack two guards and they beat me. Then I'm thrown into the 'hole,' or sweatbox, for seven days."

With his fellow convicts looking on, guards carry a slumping, battered Clint to the windowless sweatbox and slam the door shut. Then the camera is repositioned to catch Clint in the sweatbox at the end of his solitary confinement.

When Morris yells "cut," Clint's mother, Ann Black, is beaming. "I realize I'm biased, but I think Clint's a natural actor. He surprised me about how good he is in front of the camera. He could get an Emmy for this."

An Emmy would be a tremendous accomplishment, but Clint wants the movie to do something even more important.

"I want this movie to draw attention to Jack Favor," Clint proclaims, "and I hope it will ultimately cause Jack to take his spot in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. His records as a rodeo champion and an advocate for the profession should grant him his place in the Hall. That honor would bring a sense of closure for his family."

Cint's contribution to the movie is also heard on its soundtrack.

"After we wrap filming, I'll work on the movie's music," he explains. " 'Cadillac Jack' from my greatest hits CD will be in there. So will 'Still Holding On,' my duet with Martina McBride that's on my Nothin' but the Taillights album. We have a great montage for that duet, which occurs at the most heart-wrenching part of the movie."      

While he awaits fans' reactions to the movie, Clint can revel in the success of the album which has already spawned three hits. He says it was produced under ideal Clint Black conditions.

"I came off the road in October 1995 and from that point until July of 1996, I worked on and off on Nothin' but the Taillights. I wrote songs and pre-produced the album on my equipment at home. I'd record songs in Nashville and in L.A.

"The off-and-on approach is the best way for me to make an album. It gave me time to write songs with people I'd been wanting to write with for three years. 

"It gave me the chance to get Alison Krauss, Steve Wariner, Skip Ewing and Chet Atkins in the studio with me. It was great."      

Clint started his long-awaited tour Feb. 6. "The one thing I promised myself in 1995 after seven years of touring was that I wouldn't go back out until I was itching to do it," he says. "I wanted to be at a place where I missed touring before I did it again. I didn't miss it enough to tour in 1996, but now I'm ready -- and I'm itching to do something I truly love: perform onstage.

"I think the acting process I'm going through now will help me on the road. I'll always be centered in the song, no matter what's going on onstage or in the crowd. I really feel as a songwriter and as a performer, this experience will deepen my well to draw from."

Lisa says she'll be right by Clint's side when he's on the road.

"I'll get a lot of needlepoint done, read a lot of books and I work out," she notes. "Being on the road is tough, but I love it. I love to go to Clint's shows. I like watching the women scream and go nuts. It's just the greatest rush. I love how they love him."

With Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack about completed, where does acting fit into Clint's future?

"Acting is another way for me to expand my creative canvas. Getting to try something new has been great. I love to challenge myself. There's nothing like looking at something new and being a little afraid, a little anxious, and then doing it.

"When the movie's over, I told Lisa, it's going to be heartache. I'm not ready. Nineteen days of this is not enough. I'm proud that we finally got this movie done -- and I'm ready to do this again."

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