Chad Willett, a Canadian actor whose body of work over the past 20 years includes starring roles in the Emmy-Nominated TV series "Joan of Arc", guest star roles on "Bones," "House MD," and a recurring role on "NCIS," produced and acted in the new feature film "Becoming Redwood." The film starts it's theatrical release April 12th in Canada, and will be distributed in the United States on DVD and VOD May 28th in stores like Walmart and Redbox through Screen Media Films.
"Becoming Redwood" is a story with heart, anyone with divorced parents will find unpredictable and touching. It follows the life of 9 year old Redwood Forrest Hanson, who dreams that if he can beat Jack Nicklaus at the 1975 Masters of golf, he'll reunite his parents forever. Young Ryan Grantham, who plays Redwood, has been given rave reviews for his performance by critics. Chad Willett plays Ethan Hanson, Redwood's hippie father, who's raised him alone in Canada since his mother turned back at the border. When Ethan is arrested, Redwood goes to live with his mother and her new family in Northern California.
The movie has a great '70s style soundtrack with an exclusive Tom Cochrane number, "I Just Want to Celebrate," as well as music by Phil Collins, Cat Stevens and Klatuu. The Vancouver Sun reported that the movie is "everything from "Stand By Me" to a pint-sized "Rocky."
Willett (who is a new father) talked about making the jump to the other side of the camera, but he's not giving up acting for producing. You can see Willett in the upcoming movie with Christopher Plumber and Simon Pegg "Hector and the Search for Happiness."
How was the transition from being in front of the camera to behind the camera? Which do you like better?
A lot more paperwork. I don’t really like anything better, it’s more that I like taking on challenges. “How do you do this? Let’s try to figure this out.” When I went to fix my motorbike, I didn’t learn mechanics in school so I looked at my motorbike and tried to figure it out. Where a mechanic would fix it in two hours, it took me a week. Ok, but I learned it, and the next time that I do it, I will do it much better and more streamlined.
So for me, producing was exactly that. We jumped in and surrounded ourselves with people who had worked on great things. We were more managing a fantastic group of people more than we were telling them how to do their jobs -because we don’t know how they do their jobs yet. It was a really fantastic learning curve and it was fast and furious and you’re in the fire.
It worked out because we surrounded ourselves with good people. Thank God we reached out to really smart people and they helped us through. We all brought different things to the table but now that we have made a first film, I really do enjoy producing. Joely and I consider ourselves creative producers. There is so much more you have to do. You’ve got to balance money, you’ve got to balance budget, you’ve got to manage people. It’s a whole thing and I do enjoy it but it is a LOT of work. It is very hard, time consuming, but the payoff is fantastic. You get to watch the film and see that people love it.
Financially it’s not paying off yet. Maybe it won’t for this little film because there are no names in it, but it is such a good movie that you’d hope there is an audience out there for films like this. we are pushing it out internationally and trying to make a buck here and there to pay our investors back.
AMFM: What do you hope people take away from the movie “Becoming Redwood?”
Well from my personal perspective it touched my heart because it is about a boy with an imagination that dreams big. If you dream big you can accomplish big things. I think that is really important for the youth of today, even for adults who are trying to make a transition in their life, to remember that dreams are not just things to be pushed aside, they are things to be looked at and chased after.
So the the movie is kind of like a metaphor for what you’re trying to do in your life?
As an actor, people always joke about how your work is paralleling your life or vice versa, but that is the case. That is the energy that you have as a person in those moments, so those are the projects that you are attracted to. I don’t know, I just got a role with Simon Pegg, Christopher Plummer & Toni Collette on a new film “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” We are always like “Wow it’s such a coincidence,” but is it really?
I understand that while you were filming and going through the editing process you were actually expecting a child?
No, it has been almost a two year process. We weren’t pregnant through that whole process. When we had our big premiere at the Vancouver Film Festival in October he was 8 or 7 days overdue at that point, and literally a couple days later we were going through our birthing time here at home. Rhodes was really cool he waited for us to go through the whole crazy festival time over in Vancouver, which was such a success, and then he popped out for us. Funny enough Jessie, our director, also had a child just a couple of days prior to us with his wife Jennifer, who is the lead actress in Redwood. So here the director and the producer are both celebrating in the same way and ended up having children.
AMFM:Tell me about starting your new business, did it start with Becoming Redwood or did it start earlier?
It started earlier because I had been shopping around a script I had been developing just privately – not under a company banner, and I brought to my friend Joely whom I had known for 20 years. We did a show called Madison together, this was just a highschool show. We grew up on set here basically learning how to act and trying the television camera, interesting journey.
So I took it to her, and I knew she was interested in more than just being an actress, and we had a good relationship so we said ‘lets just do it.’ We took on this really really big project and we are still trying to find a home for. It’s gaining momentum and doing it’s thing but it is so big that it’s taking it’s time. So in the meantime the “Becoming Redwood” script came along.
So during the development of that first project, which is about the beginings of Greenpeace, when 12 guys get on a boat and go to Alaska to stop Nixon from testing a nuclear bomb in an Alaskan Nature reserve, well I have the life rights to that story and we have been developing it and it is a really awesome project. But it is big, big budget. And anyway we thought it would be a good idea to make a movie in the meantime. So we got a hold of a script that Jessie had written and read it and were like ‘You know what this is the perfect little film for us to sharpen our teeth or dive into and give it a go. And that’s what we did and it’s been super successful. So yeah, that was our first film for StoryLab.
It builds confidence within people who are looking at these projects, I mean we are new we are actors, but I enjoy the producing side of it. I enjoy all sides of filmmaking and television making so this is an area that I want to learn about then I want to learn about how to direct one day and I’m learning all these different things so it’s a big pie and hopefully it will encompass my career and my life.
Tell me about Cradle of Storms.
“Cradle of Storms” is the big inaugural journey of Greenpeace before they became Greenpeace. About 12 guys, on a boat, tried to stop Richard Nixon back in 1971 from detonating an underground test atom bomb in a nature reserve in Alaska. That is what it’s about. It shows us how much we are still fighting that fight 40 years later. That was actually the beginning of the “Green Revolution,” if you can call it that.
One of the billboards that one of the Greenpeace founders put up a long time ago said something like ‘Ecology, look it up, you’re involved.’ It was the beginning of that time. I personally had the opportunity to talk with Jim Bohlen. Jim Bohlen is an American man that moved to Canada to dodge the draft for his son with his wife Marie. They were advocates of the Sierra Club at the time and the evolved in their community and they got to Canada and found out that this atom bomb was going off and they decided to do something about it. And they formed a group of people. And that is what I had the chance to talk about with him and asked his permission to tell his person story about it and he graciously gave it to me. After 20 years of people approaching him he actually said yes to me and I was really honored and shocked and ecstatic about it. So we went off and we developed a script and now we are pushing it to people. And we have had people reading it, big actors in Hollywood have been reading it and responding and we are trying to find a good director and we are trying to find natural partners and it is a journey, it is a really big journey for this. I feel that film itself is also reflective of the journey I’m taking to try to get the thing made. IT takes this whole group of people to make this film, as it did for the beginnings of greenpeace. That is where we are at with it, it is a dream project and we will see how far we get with it.
Greenpeace never really did stop that bomb, but it raised awareness and forever the awareness of the issue of the environment. Even though they did not succeed in that mission they succeeded in the big picture. That is the whole point, that you can make a difference, that you just have to put time in and believe in what you’re doing and not feel that you are just one but that you’re many.
Are you a member of Greenpeace too?
Oh yeah! I’ve been a member for years, but that’s not the reason I got involved in it. I was just a Greenpeace member giving them money every month. I’ve never been a worker at Greenpeace or a volunteer – I just believed in what they were doing.
Did this story just fall in your lap? or did it come up in conversation?
I was walking through Kitsilano here in Vancouver along 4th Ave, and I came across a bookstore (when there were still bookstores) and in the window was this book. It talked about the story. It inspired me.
I looked into it to see how I could tell this story, and Jim Bohlen is a great angle to go from. You are telling it from a American’s perspective who had gone to Canada, he actually worked at a weapons factory, and then he turned into a peace activist. I love the irony of that. That was about 7, 8 or 10 years ago now. It’s taken a long time to get where I am now with it.
I started making phone calls and found out that Jim actually lived across the water here on Vancouver Island and sent him a couple of letters and then called him one day. I found out he has parkinson’s disease so he had a very hard time communicating. My Brothers lived in Campbell River in Vancouver Island so on the way to see them I said I would stop and say hello to Jim. I rode out to his house and Maria was there, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me. She was done, I mean Greenpeace and that whole movement took over their life for a long time.
Now they are like elderly and don’t want to take that energy on, but Jim still had it in him. Even though had parkinson’s disease I could communicate with him because my grandmother had a similar disease. I could understand his plight and what he was going through and actually communicate with him.
He could barely talk, but he was so funny in the things he was saying, I understood his humor. He cracked me up, and I think that is what allowed him to trust me because I saw past his disease, and I could communicate with him and connect with him. From that point on we started communicating back and forth, and he passed away last year. So now this is in the honor of Jim. Marie did end up accepting me. It took her awhile to warm up, but she is an amazing woman, very strong.