King excels as director and star of the emotionally rich drama about a rancher struggling to make peace with his past.
Perry King, the Ohio-born actor who will turn 70 on Monday, April 30, can look back at a career littered with enviable highlights: Co-starring opposite fellow up-and-comers Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler in The Lords of Flatbush (1974); playing major roles in movies as diverse as Mandingo (1975), A Different Story (1978), Switch (1991) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004); and appearing in well-regarded TV series and miniseries like Captains and Kings (1976), Aspen (1977), The Last Convertible (1979), The Hasty Heart (the 1983 drama for which he received a Golden Globe nomination); Riptide (1984-86), Melrose Place (1995), and Big Love (2010).
But here’s the thing: Perry isn’t looking back. He’s looking forward.
In The Divide, his debut effort as a feature film director, King gives an extraordinary performance as Sam Kincaid, a Northern California rancher who, during the drought of 1976, struggles to remember what is important — and transcend what he cannot forget — as he is gradually diminished by Alzheimer’s Disease at a time when the malady was not yet acknowledged as anything other than advancing senility.
Working in concert with screenwriter Jana Brown, he has fashioned an uncommonly compelling and emotionally rich drama that gives himself— not unlike John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, which last year showcased Harry Dean Stanton at his all-time best — the chance to do what his admirers have always known he was capable of doing: Be drop-dead brilliant without working up a sweat.
But wait, there’s more: King surrounds himself with such sterling supporting players as Bryan Kaplan as Luke Higgins, Kincaid’s hired hand, a man yearning for his own shot at redemption; Sara Arrington (of Amazon Prime’s Bosch) as Sarah, Kincaid’s estranged daughter, who’s reluctant to admit her feelings toward Sam or Luke; Luke Colembero as C.J., Sarah’s son, who desperately needs a grandfather and a father figure; and Levi Kreis (who earned a 2010 Tony Award for playing Jerry Lee Lewis in the original Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet) as Tom Cutler, a deceptively charismatic fellow with a score to settle with Sam.
The Divide had its festival premiere last weekend at WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival, and was screened Friday evening at the Arizona International Film Festival. The movie reportedly will be screened at next month’s Cannes Film Festival in France for the benefit of potential distributors in overseas markets. As for North American distribution — well, it all depends on who’ll tale a chance on releasing, theatrically or digitally, a black and white film.
“The Divide for me is me finally saying this is something I want to do for myself,” King told us at WorldFest/Houston. “Like so many people, I’ve always dreamed of doing my own film. And it was always a black and white film in my head, because that’s what I love — that’s what’s always appealed to me. The old black and white films, those are what I love the most. Especially from the ‘30s and ‘40s.
“But I have to say: If there was one film that I was trying to — well, I wouldn’t say copy, but perhaps extend out of — it would be Hud, which is a great film. And also Lonely Are the Brave, with Kirk Douglas. Which Kirk Douglas, I think, once said was his favorite movie. Those are western-themed, black and white movies. John Ford famously said, ‘Black and white photography is real photography.’
“I can’t imagine this film being anything but black and white. And, really, I figured if I were going to make my own movie, I’d make it my way. For about 50 years, I’ve been working for other people. And you have to do it their way, because it’s their money, their choice. But you might find yourself thinking, ‘Well, if it were my choice, I wouldn’t do it this way. This is not the choice I’d make. But I’m doing your movie, so I got to do it your way.’ But this time — I figured, I get to choose.”
Here is a trailer for The Divide.