Local actor appears in feature film

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, July 2, 2016

“You’ll have to excuse the beard and the long hair,” Terence “Terry” Easterling said as he came down from his office of the family business, TD’s Tires and Accessories. “They told me to keep my beard; they may have some other openings for character spots.”

For a good part of 2015, Easterling’s long hair and beard served him well as an actor in the movie “The Free State of Jones,” starring Matthew McConaughey, which is the story of Jones County farmer Newton “Newt” Knight’s rebellion that overthrew the Confederate government in Jones County during the Civil War and established what was called the Free State of Jones.

He was also an extra in the remake of the western classic “The Magnificent Seven.”

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These movies weren’t his first experience with Hollywood. About 20 years ago, Easterling had a part on the McConaughey film “A Time to Kill,” which was filmed in Madison. He also had parts in the Tom Cruise movies, “Jack Reacher 2” and “Mena.”

“I had always wanted to be an actor; ultimately I wanted to be a producer and produce quality family-oriented films, but that’s kind of hard to do from Mississippi, so I got married, had kids and just kind of settled in,” he said, adding, “I kept in touch with some people in the industry, and when they decided to shoot this movie, I got an opportunity to try out for that, and I had a beard at the time. That helped.”

But it almost didn’t happen. Six months before he received the call, he said, his mother died, and about a week after that, his 77-year-old father, who founded the business, fell and broke his neck.

“I’m an only child, so I’m like trying to run the business and take care of him and deal with all that,” he said, after he managed to work through the crises, “A friend of mine and I decided to take a road trip and go to L.A. and drove a hot rod back across five states.

“While I was on the trip, they called me to come get fitted for my costume and to interview me and see what we were going to do,” Easterling said.

He worked a total of 30 days during the four-month period the movie was shot in various areas of south Louisiana, because of the tax breaks offered film companies to produce movies in the state.

He added the “Magnificent Seven” was also shot in Louisiana.

The East Feliciana Parish, La., town of Clinton, he said, was turned into an 1800s town, building facades on building fronts and covering the street with dirt.

The East Feliciana Parish courthouse served as the Ellisville Courthouse in Jones County.

Easterling said he is a Knight’s company man, a member of Knight’s group involved in the rebellion.

“I started out as a Confederate soldier, then I’m a deserter, and then fighting close to Newt Knight. I’m the one of 10 that were pretty much with him in all the battle scenes. So we were featured actors, but I didn’t have any lines.

“A couple of guys I was with actually got bumped up to some lines; that’s kind of what you hope for. As a matter of fact, that’s how McConaughey got his start in his first movie. They actually ended up writing a part for him.”

One interesting aspect of the film, Easterling said, was the attention to detail in the actors’ costumes and makeup.

“Everything had to be so period correct,” he said. “They wanted to make sure everyone looked period; haircuts, the buttons, the stitching … they had military advisors on set to make sure everything was correct. It was shocking at first to see all these people looked like they’d walk back in time.

“We got pretty much an education with our guns and the clothing. They said the soldiers back then used bear fat in their hair and they had fancy little grooming kits. They would groom themselves before they went into battle, because if they died, they wanted to look good when they died. They greased us down with coconut oil.

“Not only did we have makeup, we had a dirt man. His job was to put dirt on us, and he had this bag of dirt and he would dirty our clothes and our hair and faces. At the end of the day, I would go back to the hotel or to a restaurant and I’d still have this makeup and I’d forget how I looked. That, and all the hair and the beard, people thought I was homeless or a crazy person.”

And the wool uniforms and clothing the actors wore, coupled with temperature extremes and locations, provided other challenges.

“It was pretty tough conditions; a lot of people dropped out at the very first,” he said. “(When) we started out, it was freezing temperatures and it quickly changed to 80 and 90 degrees, and wearing wool clothes in direct sun. It was tough. A lot of people didn’t come back; it’s work.”

Because of the remote locations, he said, the production company hired snake wranglers to hook snakes. “We had alligators around us, so it was the real deal,” he added.

Easterling said McConaughey “is a nice guy. He’s laid back; but when he’s working, he’s very serious; he’s a professional. Between shots, he’d sit around and talk with us and joke with us, but our days were so long, we didn’t really get any hangout time. We worked anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a day and night.”

He said he never knew the story of Newt Knight, until after he got the part.

“It’s a story that needs to be told, as far as an individual in that situation; it’s very interesting. I just hate the way Hollywood always paints stories with such a broad brush — either good or evil, (and) the Civil War had that on both sides.

“From what I was involved in, some things concerned me, because I think they were kind of painting with that broad brush the South being evil. Hopefully by telling this guy’s story, I hope it will be more fair. The director, Gary Rush, was very passionate about the story and met the author of the book (the film was based on), Victoria Bynum.

“Matthew McConaughey saw him as a man fought for what he believed in, and that was the way he went at the story.”

Easterling said he has seen himself in some of the trailers for the film, but doubts he’ll turn his passion into a second career.

“I have a business to run,” he said. “I took off way too much time last year doing that, but if the right opportunity came, I’d try.

“You don’t always get those opportunities. I’ve been called since for several opportunities. You want to get that chance to get that line and get discovered.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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