Bryan Brown to Lead Clint Eastwood's THE BALLAD OF STOMPIN TOM
Australian actor Bryan Brown has signed to star opposite Canadian country pop icon Shania Twain in a big screen biopic of Stompin' Tom Connors.
The Ballad of Stompin' Tom will be written and directed by legendary actor-director Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, 2003; Million Dollar Baby, 2004; Letters from Iwo Jima, 2006).
Eastwood has made frequent forays into cowboy territory during his nearly 60 year career, including: Rawhide (1959-1966, CBS), Sergio Leone's trilogy of spaghetti westerns (1964-1966), Honkytonk Man (1982), Pale Rider (1985), and Unforgiven (1992), which garnered 4 Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture.
Eastwood first encountered Connors' music while researching songs for Honkytonk Man. Executive producer Fritz Manes had given Eastwood a copy of Tom's 1971 album, Pistol Packin' Mama, which includes a version of 'Honky Tonk Girl'.
Although Hollywood insiders were convinced Eastwood's next project would be an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys, he confirmed the Connors biopic to The Hollywood Reporter (March 30), since acquiring the rights to Connors' two autobiographies.
Stompin' Tom: Before the Fame (1995) details his begging on the streets at age four, surviving orphanages and a foster home, and running away at thirteen with his guitar, his songs, and a dream. The Legend Continues: Stompin' Tom and the Connors Tone was published in 2000.
Eastwood told The Hollywood Reporter: "Connors was a true original. Canada's troubadour. He sang about the everyday Canadian experience in the same way Woody Guthrie sang about the American experience." Eastwood revealed that Canadian jazz vocalist-pianist Diana Krall, who has recorded songs for three Eastwood films, encouraged him to do the biopic.
Auditions begin this month in Toronto, St. John and Charlottetown for the roles of Connors as a child, teenager and young adult.
Brown is best known to television audiences for his Golden Globe and Emmy nominated role as Luke O'Neil in The Thorn Birds (1983), starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel WarD. Brown married Ward later that year. His most recent film was playing Dr. Buster in Love Birds (2011), the New Zealand romantic comedy. Brown also appeared on a 2012 episode of The Good Wife, the CBS legal drama.
Connors' son, Tom Connors Jr., said Sunday: "Bryan is focused on getting Dad's mannerisms and speech perfect. It's an uphill battle, because he had such a unique power and resonance in his voice."
The Aussie actor has begun studying intensively with a University of Toronto linguistics expert to master Connors' "accent"--common to those living in rural Ontario. Brown joked in a phone interview conducted last week: "Learning to speak Canadian is a lot harder than I thought! The Leafs are gonna win the Cup fer sure, eh?"
But Brown is relieved that singing lessons will not be required, as original recordings will be used throughout the film. Songs such as 'Canada Day, Up Canada Way,' 'The Hockey Song,' 'Bud the Spud,' and 'Sudbury Saturday Night,' have come to be regarded by many Canadians as veritable national anthems.
Twain will play Lena Welsh, who married Connors in 1973 on a live broadcast of Elwood Glover's Luncheon Date (CBC Television). Following a lobster buffet, the wedding party went to the Imperial Six cinema on Yonge Street for the premiere of the documentary: Across This Land with Stompin' Tom Connors.
In 2011 Twain was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards, and released her autobiography, From This Moment On.
Although Twain began a two-year residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on December 1, 2012 (Shania: Still the One), she is thrilled to be involved in the film. She told CBC: "Stompin' Tom got his big break at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins. I sang there more than a few times myself!" Twain recalls: "Because my family struggled to make ends meet, I started singing at Timmins bars at age 8, often earning twenty dollars between midnight and one, after they stopped serving liquor."
Shania was born Eilleen Regina Edwards. From her childhood diary, dated Nov. 3, 1973: "Mom woke me up at 11 therdy [p.m.] but we got to the [Maple Leaf] bar in time. The ppul wer real lowd. Stomping Tom got maryed and the ppul got 2 free drinks to sellabrate."
In 1964, Maple Leaf Hotel bartender Gaetan Lepine offered Connors a beer if he would play a song. This offer turned into a 14-month contract to play at the hotel, a weekly spot on CKGB in Timmins, sixteen recorded tracks, and the beginning of a professional career. Lepine became a lifelong friend, as well as a frequent songwriting partner (ie. 'Alberta Rose,' 'Country Jack').
Connors had a series on CBC Television [74-75] in which he met Canadians from coast to coast. The full season of Stompin' Tom's Canada (26 half-hour episodes) will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in December.
The biopic will include a brief cameo by Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who led the UNAMIR peacekeeping force in Rwanda during that country's 1994 genocide. Dallaire reported that he played a recording of Tom's song 'The Blue Berets' (about United Nations peacekeeping forces) to keep up his troops' morale while their headquarters was under bombardment.
The Globe and Mail called Connors "one of the great Canadian story-tellers." He died of kidney failure on March 6 at his home in Ballinafad, Ontario. He was 77. A memorial was held on March 13 at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ontario.
The Ballad of Stompin' Tom begins pre-production in May, with filming set to begin in Saint John, N.B. and Skinners Pond, P.E.I. this summer.
The film is scheduled to open in theatres on June 27, 2014--four days before Canada Day (July 1).
Photo by: Tess Peni/Rex/Rex USA