Brendan Wayne: carrying on The Duke's tradition
The 37-year-old actor — the grandson of the late, great John Wayne — co-stars in the Hallmark Channel's remake of Angel and the Badman, one of The Duke's most popular Westerns.
A younger Brendan with his grandfather, and Brendan now
"Following in the tradition of an icon," says Brendan Wayne, "gives you an interesting perspective."
The 37-year-old actor certainly knows whereof he speaks: He's the grandson of the late, great John Wayne. And on July 5 (9 p.m. EST) he'll be co-starring in the Hallmark Channel's remake of Angel and the Badman, one of The Duke's most popular Westerns.
Under normal circumstances, he would have appreciated a chance to take a shot at the lead role in the project. But because that lead role is one originally played by his grandfather — well, he admits, the circumstances weren't so dadgum ordinary.
"What's it like being John Wayne's grandson? It's the greatest thing in the world — I've never had a bad day because of it. But sometimes as an actor, you find yourself thinking, 'Gosh, should I do something like that? That's heavy stuff.'
"In this case, I have to say — I'm actually glad they didn't ask me to play the lead. I mean, that would have been painting the bull's-eye on my back."
As it turned out, Lou Diamond Phillips wound up cast as Quirt Evans — the role played by The Duke in the original 1947 Angel and the Badman — a wounded outlaw who gets a shot at redemption while taking refuge with a sympathetic Quaker family. Luke Perry — who, like Phillips, has a passel of other Westerns to his credit — plays Evans' lethal rival, and Brendan appears as Evans' ex-partner.
"When you know you're gonna do a remake of a movie that your grandfather did — and it's a Western — you think, 'Oh, God, I better be good,'" Brendan says. "But when you get there, and you find yourself sitting alongside these two guys who have done this sort of thing a hundred times already — it's really comforting, it really relaxes you.
"There's something about making a Western that brings out a camaraderie in actors. There's a certain relaxed state on the set. And there's definitely a community that comes out of it. Because you're all in this specific genre, you're all in this specific time period. And you all want to fulfill all the potential there is in this kind of story. It's an amazing process."
The youngest of eight children raised by Toni Wayne and Donald La Cava, Brendan — born Daniel Brendan La Cava — recalls spending much of his youth "thinking everyone's grandfather is a cowboy," an impression indelibly reinforced when he visited John Wayne on the set of The Duke's final film, The Shootist. "I was about six years old at the time," Brendan says. "And I've still got this picture somewhere that shows where he's got me, literally, in the palm of his hand. Because he had the biggest hands on the face of the earth. And he's holding me like a woman would hold a purse."
Years later, Brendan started his own showbiz career as Danny La Cava. "I'm proud of the La Cava name," he says, "because that's also a name with a proud Hollywood tradition. Gregory La Cava was my great-uncle — he directed My Man Godfrey and other movies. And I had other uncles who were great makeup men in this business for a long time. And my dad worked in the production end for quite a while."
For a long time, he rebuffed suggestions that he use his grandfather's name, "because it seemed like a cheap way to get ahead. And I was always raised with the idea that you earn what you get. Life always works a lot better if you earn it."
Before her death in 2000, however, Toni Wayne convinced her son to reconsider his legacy. "She told me: 'Look, your grandfather didn't work that hard to be who he was, and to create what he created, so that it wouldn't be of some benefit to his family. It's something that you should take a hard look at it. I'm not saying you should do it. But if you want to, do it.'
"Of course," Brendan adds with a laugh, "at the end of the day, my managers and my agent were absolutely off the charts about it. They were like, 'Yes! Great idea! OK!'""
Brendan got a graphic reminder of his grandfather's enduring stature as a beloved superstar — an icon, really — when, three years ago, he was filming the Iraq War drama Home of the Brave on location in Morocco with Samuel L. Jackson and rapper-actor 50 Cent.
"I think Samuel Jackson spread the word on the set, told everybody who my grandfather was, because he got tired of people lining up outside his door to get autographs.
"I walked out of my trailer one day, and apparently the news had gotten out, because there were, I'm not kidding, something like 400 people standing outside. And I'm looking around and I see, two doors down, 50 Cent's trailer. And, of course, there's Samuel Jackson's trailer. But I don't see anyone outside their trailers right now. And I'm thinking, "What is going on? Do I owe these guys money or something?" But then a production assistant tells me, 'Oh, these folks would like to know if you'd sign some autographs…'
"That should give you idea how much John Wayne still means to people. Here it is, thirty years after his death, and what, about 102 years after his birth — and yet he's still as big a star as anyone alive today."