Johnathon Schaech stars as the sheriff of a small mountain community torn apart by a murder.
There’s a new sheriff in Blue Ridge County. Mind you, he didn’t go there looking for trouble. But trouble, as it often does in movies like Blue Ridge, wastes little time looking for him.
At the start of the western-flavored crime drama — which premieres at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT Saturday, and repeats at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT March 28, on INSP — former Green Beret and big-city lawman Justin Wise (Johnathon Schaech) arrives in a small Blue Ridge Mountain community to assume duties as sheriff, a job he accepted primary to be close to his ex-wife (Sarah Lancaster) and their young daughter (Taegen Burns).
Wise doesn’t expect he’ll have to do much hard-core policing in the sleepy little town. But during the opening minutes of Blue Ridge, he has to lay down some rough justice on three perpetrators when he walks into an armed robbery. And not so long afterwards, he must launch a homicide investigation when an ambitious local real estate developer is found murdered at the Blue Ridge County Apple Festival after her pitch for constructing a lavish golf resort falls flat with the crowd.
The killing rekindles a longstanding feud between families led by Cliff McGrath (C&I reader favorite Graham Greene), the victim’s father, and Jeremiah Wade (Tom Proctor), a gunsmith who doesn’t aim to please. Sheriff Wise must take pains not to get caught in the crossfire — or risk the lives of his loved ones and loyal deputies — while following clues that suggest, much like in the classic mystery Chinatown, water is the cause for the criminal behavior here.
Veteran actor Johnathon Schaech — whose lengthy list of IMDB credits includes everything from rock band leader Jimmy Mattingly in Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! to scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — called us a while back to talk about Blue Ridge. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Cowboys & Indians: Johnathon, you’ve worked with some pretty impressive collaborators throughout your career, from cult-fave indie filmmaker Gregg Araki to director-actor Tom Hanks, and co-stars ranging from Kenneth Branagh to Ed Harris to Gwyneth Paltrow. Who do you think ever gave you the best career advice?
Johnathon Schaech: Wow, good question, man. The best advice? “Show up on time and know your lines.” I got that from Tom Hanks. Yeah, that's what he said while we were making That Thing You Do! And he always said to find my equipoise — which I had to look up.
C&I: Over the years, you’ve gained weight, you’ve lost weight, you’ve bulked up, you’ve slimmed down. You're no stranger to getting yourself literally into shape for a role. What were the unique physical demands of Blue Ridge? Because you certainly look persuasive, twisting people's arms and things like that.
Johnathon: I’ve done a lot of action films, with people like Bruce Willis and [director] Renny Harlin. So I’m good with the action stuff. I’ve always been a fighter — I boxed for a long time, studied Krav Maga. I even did a film called Road House 2: Last Call. It was a sequel to Road House, and I thought it was going to be the greatest thing ever because I love Patrick Swayze’s film. [Laughs] But it turned out not to be exactly what we wanted, with how it was marketed and all that.
C&I: Was there anything specific in your own background that helped you get into character to play Justin Wise?
Johnathon: I grew up just outside of Baltimore. My father was a Baltimore city cop for 36 years. Being a police officer, he always studies all the cop stuff in movies. And I’ve done some intricate cop things over my career as an actor, things I think I did better because of advice I’ve gotten from my father. Also, I love going to meet with small-town police officers in various areas, sheriffs and stuff like that. I’ve picked their brains over the years.
C&I: What was the most difficult scene for you to handle in Blue Ridge?
Johnathon: [Laughs] The new thing I had to learn was how to drive the four-wheeler — which I got stuck. They told me to go through this field, and I literally sunk into this mud bin. I got the four-wheeler stuck, and it held us up for half of a day. They had to come get me. Literally had to come get me. Oh my God, it was a disaster. I guess didn't learn that well enough.
C&I: What was it like working with Graham Greene?
Johnathon: I was very excited when they told me that they got Graham into this film. He’s a professional. I’ve worked with a lot of great actors, and he was incredibly professional. He was uncertain of me until I got in there with him. And then he could see that I was, number one, a professional myself, but also very seasoned. I’m very present. And Graham was as present, if not more present than I. Every scene I worked with him, I wanted my character to be tough, but I also really wanted him to be vulnerable and very open and caring for people. I would listen to Graham and what he was saying beyond just the words of the script. And he got me very emotional many times. I was very, very connected to Graham Greene.
C&I: I have often asked actors what they think they learned from working with certain collaborators. What do you think you learned from working with Graham Greene?
Johnathon: Wow, man. I got a whole book on that one. I’ve learned so much from different actors over the years. And Graham, we were uncertain about how to end the movie between our two characters. We knew we needed an arc, and I was uncertain. I was a little skeptical. I was like, “God, we're going to make this really fine little movie, but we might not function at the end properly.” And he just stayed true. He stayed true to who he was, and he knew that the solution was going to come. He was okay with us just not knowing just yet when we started, and allowing it to happen, and then trust that it would be there. And that’s one of the biggest lessons I learned from him — patience. He was trusting that we would come up with it.
C&I: Well, not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but Blue Ridge ends in such a way that leaves the door wide open for a sequel. Justin Wise could pop up again and solve another murder. Would it be presumptuous to ask if you've already thought about that?
Johnathon: I would definitely love to play him again. I really enjoyed working with everyone on Blue Ridge, and I really enjoyed making the movie. And my goal here, from age 50 on, is I want to enjoy what I do. I want to be able to spend time with my family, and be part of a group of really creative and inspiring people. And everyone associated with this film was that. I'd love to see it go on. There was one beautiful line I read in the script: "Handcuffs, not body bags." I’d love to see Sheriff Wise keep educating us like that.