In Ronald F. Maxwell’s “Copperhead,” the indie Civil War drama looks into the conflicts between warmongers and pacifists in the North. Even in the upstate New York, families are not quite immune from the horrors of war as they fight amongst themselves.
Latino-Review conducted a phone interview with actor Augustus Prew last month for “Copperhead.” He discussed with us about the themes of the film, his role and the production with Maxwell in Canada. He also talked about his role in the upcoming movie “Kick-Ass 2.”
“Copperhead” is in theaters this weekend.
Read the full transcript below:
Latino-Review: What attracted you to “Copperhead” in the first place?
Augustus Prew: I thought the script is just fantastic. It’s very rare to read the script that doesn’t pander to the audience. It doesn’t dictate on who’s the goodie or the baddie. It’s a real story about humans. It’s about the complexities of humans and how everybody is incredibly contradictory.
One of the contradictions, which make it interesting, is the people. I find that fascinating. There’s such a social upheaval and massive changes with its ideology abstraction on what’s right and what’s wrong. And then you pit them against family relationships and friendships. So you push them against each other into a very interesting conflict. I felt the film and the script is very fascinating and so interesting.
Latino-Review: Could you talk about your character you specifically play in “Copperhead?”
Augustus Prew: My character is called Ni Hagadorn. He is the son of the Hagadorn family, who is headed by Jee Hagadorn. [Jee] is an abolitionist. He is a very, very aggressive abolitionist. And he is one of the patriarchs of the village.
The other patriarch is a character named Abner Beech. Jeb Beech is his son and my best friend in the movie.
Ni represents as a symbol of pacifism. Pacifism as a movement didn’t really exist back then. It’s not something he knew about, but for all extent and purposes, he is a pacifist. He believes in sanctity of humanity, people not fighting and incredibly diplomatic the Civil War.
It’s interesting that upstate New York in 1862 that the war came relatively late to New York. No real action really took place in New York State. So it’s over what people has heard.
Movie, itself, is about the home front. It’s what happens when people are tested and how detrimental it will be to the fabric of society.
Ni is a humanist. He’s someone believes in all humans should try to understand each other and try to connect in any way possible. It’s incredible for someone in the village to hold a position like that. There are a lot of people who pressures others into going to war. It was a huge, huge pressure to go to war. It’s what everyone did. It was pre-conscription.
That’s a brief rundown of who I play in the movie. I don’t want to say too much and give away the plot. That’s the basic setup on where we start.
Latino-Review: Did you do some research for yourself with American history since you’re British?
Augustus Prew: I did. Ron Maxwell is an encyclopedia. He is an encyclopedia of Civil War knowledge. He gave us a lot of books. He is so open about questions. He sat down to speak with the cast about the story and what’s important.
It’s interesting in upstate New York that they didn’t hear much about the war. It wasn’t until the Battle of Antietam on that they realize how bad the war was and how bad it’s going to be. They lived in sort of a vacuum.
What was crucial for us as the cast was making that sense of community to seem to be real, connected and how it was transferred to the screen. That was very important to run down in three weeks of rehearsal on top of shooting. It’s very rare that it happens in an indie movie to get time to rehearse.
We looked at several wondrous picture books. Pictures are amazing. I find that pictures are an interesting way to look into their lives. Pictures tell a thousand words. It’s a very unusual to look into a character by looking through their eyes. And it’s about transporting ourselves back as to what they have felt.
And on top of that, it’s very interesting is the accent in upstate New York. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not like there’s any recordings in existence. It’s not definitive that people know about it really.
Latino-Review: Did you work with an accent coach on this?
Augustus Prew: We did. We all worked together with an accent coach, including some of the American actors. They had a real hard time to get their head around it too. It’s an accent that sounds…..well it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s bizarre. It’s very back of the throat. The key phrase is [imitates accent] “arwww” or “arny.” “The pardy got starded.” That was our go-to phrase to get into character.
In this country, this was the period of America that was in the making. This is when America became America. This is the Union being tested to its ultimate level.
It’s interesting that people wants to know how difficult to play an American as a British actor. Well, America was very different back then. It’s completely different to the America today. It’s about as a challenge for an American to let go pre-conceptions of their own country. And to be transported back to that time was a very, very different time.
Latino-Review: Could you talk about working with a director like Ron Maxwell and other members of the cast?
Augustus Prew: Ron is terrific. “Gettysburg” is a triumph. “Gettysburg” is one of those classic movies. It’s a real epic. When it comes to Civil War movies—Ron is the man. He is passionate with boundless energy. He is incredibly open to us with questions and his attitude on the set is a professional.
I have to say it’s very rare you would get a job where everybody clicks. Everybody makes friends. The three weeks of rehearsal was amazing, because it gave us the actors and the crew to essentially hang out together. It’s something very rarely happens before shooting. You’re creating these relationships.
We shot this movie in Fredericton, New Brunswick in northeast Canada. Nothing much happens. It’s a very quiet town. It’s nestled in this very peaceful countryside. Ultimately, there’s nothing really there. It’s wonderful for us since the surrounding is completely different. It’s a very foreign place. Consequently, we all bonded very, very strongly.
I feel like it translates on to the screen. I think this is Ron’s mastermind [plan]. He didn’t tell us this. It’s just something he allowed to happen.
Latino-Review: How did you guys entertain yourselves out there?
Augustus Prew: [Laughter] Road trips. We did a lot of road trips. For the first weekend, we went to one of the actor’s mother’s house. We spent a weekend in Halifax. It’s like five hours drive from where we were shooting.
There were a lot of picnics. The hotel on where we were staying was next to a river. There’s kind of a park next to the river. We had a cast barbeque every Sunday.
And we went to the theater one night and we saw the local amateur theater company. It was amazing. Perhaps not the way they wanted it to be, but it was amazing. We did a lot of stuff like that. We went on a lot of road trips. We went camping one weekend.
It’s something wonderful about getting back in touch with nature.
Latino-Review: Would you go back there personally?
Augustus Prew: Personally to visit? I don’t think I need to. We shot there for ten weeks. So I feel like I got a real sense of [the place]. We lived there for ten weeks. I would be happy to shoot there again. I felt like I got a real sense of the town. Of course, I would happily work there again. I don’t know if I go back there on a personal level.
It’s not the area, but there’s so much more of the world to see.
Latino-Review: I sense that you kind of missing Los Angeles, right?
Augustus Prew: I kinda do. I’ve been shooting a show in Calgary, again in Canada for the past few months now. I’m came straight from there to New York to do this junket. I’m going back to Calgary right after this.
It’s a lot of traveling. It’s a lot of moving around. I moved to LA last summer. My life is changing very fast. It’s constantly changing and in constant flux. Hopefully there’s some place I could put down some roots.
Latino-Review: One more question, can you talk about your role in “Kick-Ass 2” and other projects you have?
Augustus Prew: In “Kick-Ass 2,” I take over the role of Todd, who is Dave Lizewski’s best friend. [The character] was played by Evan Peters in the original movie, but he’s doing the “American Horror Story” now. So he couldn’t do the movie and role came up for me. They asked me to do it and it’s very exciting.
I [get to work] with a good friend of mine, Christopher Mintz-Plasse who plays the Red Mist and now it’s called the Mother Fucker. [Laughter] He’s also a friend of mine from LA. It’s great to join a show in which you already knew people rather than being the kid at a high school.
It’s the second movie that really upped the ante. My character specifically ends up on a journey. It’s a really cool franchise and I’m glad to be part of it. I saw the first movie and I’m glad I got the part. It’s a very unique movie and bites into the superhero genre.