The multitasking singer-actor takes a ride on the dark side in the new western now available on home video and digital platforms.
Just how mean and nasty is the character Rob Mayes plays in the new western A Soldier’s Revenge? Consider this: Late in the film, which is now available on digital platforms and DVD/Blu-Ray, when someone inquires about the whereabouts of Major Briggs, the sociopathic galoot Mayes portrays, someone else replies: “Well, it appears Briggs is looking for a dog to kick.” And, mind you, the guy isn’t smiling when he says it.
If Mayes look a tad familiar, chances are you’ve seen the Cleveland-born actor in such TV series as Mistresses, Frequency, Jane By Design and The Client List, or as the title character in the well-received 2012 indie horror flick John Dies at the End. Or maybe, if you’re into holiday-themed TV-movie rom-coms, you remember him as the lead in My Christmas Inn (2018) and The Road Home for Christmas (2019).
But odds are you’ve never before seen Mayes as full-out ferocious as he is in A Soldier’s Revenge. It takes a formidable protagonist to battle a fearsome antagonist like Briggs, and that’s just what the movie provides in Frank Connor (Neal Bledsoe), a Civil War veteran turned relentless bounty hunter. Trouble is, Connor may not be quite up to the task: He’s deeply troubled by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and reluctantly sets out to settle an old score with the major only after two desperate children arrive on his doorstep and enlist his help to find their missing mother (AnnaLynne McCord).
During a recent long-distance call, we had the opportunity to talk with Mayes about working on A Soldier's Revenge, making music during the pandemic lockdown, and an upcoming podcast project that harkens back to the golden age of radio drama. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Cowboys & Indians: We’ve occasionally talked with actors who were so good at playing bad guys, they actually intimidated their fellow players during filming. Did you ever do this while making A Soldier’s Revenge?
Rob Mayes: Oh, no. I was scared shitless of everybody. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. Actually, it was an interesting thing, because this is my third time collaborating with Mike Feifer, my director, who’s just amazing, and just gives you such freedom. I never have more fun than when I get the opportunity to work with him. And when this came to be, I was shooting a movie in Utah and he called and said, “Hey, what's your schedule like? Do you think you might have any interest, or be able schedule-wise, to do this movie?” I said, “What is it?” He’s like, “It’s a western about PTSD.” I said, “Wait, what? Yes!”
And then I read the script and this character, this Major Briggs, is a complex, dynamic, damaged person. I saw there’s a lot to play there, and Mike really let me go for it. It’s the kind of role that, man, I think a lot of people never get the opportunity to play. In an actor's career, you hope that you get — you dream that you get — to sink your teeth into something like this at some point. I think at this point now, I’ve gotten the opportunity to do that a few times in a different capacity. Like with John Dies at the End. [Director] Don Coscarelli really let me go with that. And with this, I was able to give as bold of a performance as I could muster.
C&I: What were some of the unique challenges you faced playing Briggs?
Mayes: Well, this isn’t just a superhero movie, where they tell you, “Oh, you're the bad guy, be the bad guy.” You know what I mean? There’s a reason for it. You’re not creating this crazy portrayal of a character who is just evil, or just a bad guy, or just the villain without cause. There’s a bit of — what am I trying to say? There’s a more sensitive, delicate approach that was called for. [Laughs] Of course, I was working with some intense actors, and acting royalty. Legends. Like, we had Val Kilmer [in a supporting role]. And Jake Busey — who’s a force. Yeah, that guy is a force. We had some scenes where we just went toe to toe, as much as I could with someone who’s as intense as he is. Yeah, I think we all really dug in, and gave everything that we could and then some to this movie. And I’m super proud of it.
C&I: You’ve also pursued a parallel career as a singer-songwriter. You released your first country music EP, Closer, just last year. And during the current pandemic shutdown, you’ve been actually been able to write, record and digitally release other songs, correct?
Mayes: Thanks for asking. Music has always been important to me. And it’s been the one thing that I can do in my solitude that gives me solace and helps me. It's really my meditation, and how I process things I think. And with this [shutdown], there’s been a lot of — well, I want to say sitting at the house on the sofa, but also a lot of pacing. A lot of, call it nervous energy. Call it uncertainly. Call it cooped up-ness, whatever it is. A lot of this is energy that needs to go into something. There's only so many times a day that you can work out.
So nightfall comes, and I’ve usually got time to pick up the guitar, and try to get some things out, off my chest. I didn’t have this planned out. I just thought, well I'll pick up the guitar and just play and see what happens. And sometimes you write something and sometimes you don’t. But over the last couple of months I have written a handful of songs that I thought had a similar thread, and told the story of what we’re going through right now. At least, what I’m going through right now. And I’m certain that I’m not the only one feeling this way. It’s a little bit more of a somber, unplugged, lonesome songwriting. I probably have the next 12 months plus already lined up with song releases, one a month.
C&I: Finally, can you tell us a little about another upcoming project, a scripted podcast called Make It Up as We Go? It sounds almost like an old-fashioned radio drama with a 21st-century twist.
Mayes: And it’s really, really cool, because I think that being able to listen to something, and not see a visual, really allows you and forces you, invites you, to open up your mind and to use your imagination that much more. So that’s an art form that I’m so happy is coming back, and I'm proud to be a part of this show that iHeart is putting out. And we’ve got an insane cast, with Miranda Lambert and Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid, and just the best of the best storytellers on both sides of storytelling media. So whether it’s from the music side or from the film side. It’s been really, really cool.
C&I: Did you finish recording it before the pandemic shutdown?
Mayes: Yeah. They haven’t told me when it’ll be released yet. But it tells the story of my character and Scarlet Burke’s character. We’re making music together in our hometown in Texas, and this publisher comes and sees us play live and says, “Wow, you guys are fantastic. Come to Nashville, I want to help you out.” Is he the most trustworthy guy? We don’t know. But we drive across the country and we get to Nashville and we start making music, we start writing — and it’s not at all what we had expected or had hoped it would be.
There are a lot of trials and tribulations and disappointments and egos and all that fun good stuff. So that’s a backdrop. But what’s really cool is, we get to make music over the course of telling this story. And then these songs end up coming to fruition, and become a part of the story, and are going to be released. I can’t wait for people to hear it.