ST. GEORGE — Marking the 40th anniversary of “The Electric Horseman,” Dixie State University is hosting a screening of the film and a Q&A with actor and Santa Clara resident Wilford Brimley on Sunday.
The event will begin with a wine-and-appetizer reception at 5 p.m. in the Dolores Doré Eccles Fine Arts Center’s Sears Art Gallery on the Dixie State campus.
Filmed across Washington County in the late 1970s, “The Electric Horseman” features extensive footage of Snow Canyon State Park, as well as St. George and the towns of Leeds and Virgin.
Directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Willie Nelson and Brimley, the film follows the efforts made by an idealistic rodeo rider, played by Redford, to rescue a mistreated horse.
Brimley co-stars as a farmer who assists Redford in his efforts. St. George News sat down with Brimley at his home to discuss the film. The accomplished actor sat perched forward at a colorful wooden table, his eyes lively and a color somewhere between sagebrush and sunlight, and shared his experiences.
Brimley was living in Salt Lake City shoeing horses for a living when he met with Pollack about the film. Pollack told Brimley that he was going to give him a certain part in it, but it didn’t happen.
“He gave it to someone else,” Brimley said. “That happens all the time. You cannot take that personally. … So on we went.”
Pollack later called Brimley on the phone to see if he could do him a favor.
“I said, ‘Sure.’ So (Pollack) sent a plane up there for me, and he brought me down here, and I worked a couple, three days in ‘Electric Horseman,'” he said.
The part Brimley played in the film was not scripted – it was improvised, something which Brimley said isn’t hard to do. He offered some words of wisdom that he said is the only advice a person ever needs to become an actor.
See, I was never good at pretending to be somebody I’m not. A lot of actors think that’s your responsibility. Well, it’s not. Your responsibility is to take a set of imaginary circumstances presented by a writer and put yourself in those circumstances, and the key is: yourself.
Brimley said he approached every film he was ever in with that philosophy.
“The key is to still be true to yourself,” he said. “I left all that acting to other people. And you catch them at it, and it’s not fun to watch.”
Though Brimley said he never wanted to be an actor, his good friend and fellow actor Robert Duvall encouraged Brimley to try out acting. He was 40 years old at the time.
“He said, ‘You got a lick here that you might be able to put to use,’ and that’s how I was able to do it,” he said, adding that Duvall was the person who taught Brimley that the key to acting was just “being yourself.”
Despite never having the dream to act, Brimley said he fell into the role because it was “easy money” and that it was an opportunity to work in the film industry not as an actor but as a horse guy.
“I was pretty good with a saddle horse or a team and a wagon and that kind of stuff, and they always need those kind of guys – or they did when they made a lot of Westerns,” he said. “So that’s how I got in.”
To hear more of Brimley’s seasoned experience, save the date for Sunday at 6 p.m. when DSU professor of English Stephen Armstrong will host a conversation with Brimley in the Eccles Concert Hall.
“Wilford Brimley is one of those actors I’ve seen in the movies and watched on TV most of my life,” Armstrong said. “To have the opportunity to ask him about his work on ‘The Electric Horseman’ is an honor and one of the highlights of my career as a film historian.”
The screening of “The Electric Horseman” will immediately follow the discussion, and both are free admission. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. DSU’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences, DSU’s College of the Arts, DOCUTAH and the Utah Film Commission are co-sponsoring the event.
Tickets to the wine-and-appetizer reception preceding the dialogue between Armstrong and Brimley are $15 and require a valid ID to purchase. They are available online or through Dixie State University’s Ticket Office by calling 435-652-7800.
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