“Touchback,” a heartwarming, family-friendly and inspirational sports drama, explores the unique opportunity a man receives for a second chance to live the life he always wanted. The film focuses on a former high school football star turned farmer and family man, Scott Murphy (Brian Presley). Scott finds himself with a unique opportunity to revisit his glory days during the Ohio State championship game, where he permanently injured his knee in a game-winning play. Given a second shot at destiny, Scott seeks counsel from Coach Hand (Kurt Russell), Scott’s longtime mentor on and off the field, to help him decide whether to let his fate unfold or follow a path that will change his future. Written and Directed by Don Handfield, “Touchback” also stars Melanie Lynskey (“Up In the Air,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”), Marc Blucas (“Knight and Day,” “The Jane Austen Book Club”) and Christine Lahti (“Smart People,” CBS’ “Chicago Hope”). Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the film’s leading man, Brian Presley, to discuss his work on this inspiring film, the challenges involved and much more!
Tackling a career in the entertainment is not for the faint of heart. What drove you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Well, I started young. When I was 19, I happened to book a McDonald’s commercial. I decided to keep going after that and, slowly, I was able to start making a living as an actor. It has been a crazy journey! I started my company, Freedom Films, about eight years ago. We make movies that have a message, movies that bring a secular audience in with faithed audience, movies that help bind those two audiences, whether it is a true story or something powerful. It has been a long journey but that is where we are at today. “Touchback” is a modern day version of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” set in the world of “Friday Night Lights.” We are really excited about it!
Obviously, your company is always looking for great new projects but how did the project initially come about?
Yeah, we are. The project came to me through a friend of mine. He called me and said, “I have a project I think you should take a look at.” I was hooked immediately after reading it. I played high school football and I played quarterback. We even won a state championship. Now, I have been out in the world, I have a couple of kids, I have been able to experience life and its lows and highs. There are times when you are at the bottom of the barrel and there are times when you are on top. This movie is really about life itself. Life has a lot of curveballs and challenges, how we handle those and address them make up the journey. I always say, “The true sign of a champion is not how many times you get knocked down but how you get back up.” That is one of the things that we wanted to convey in the movie, sometimes that some of the lows you experience in life are some of the greatest teaching points and can end up being some of the greatest blessings as well. In addition, I think the movie will be interesting for both males and females. It is not just a guy football movie. It is more than just a football movie. It is a love story and it is about family and community, so I hope people enjoy it!
Those elements are something that isn’t the norm these days. Do you feel they are a difficult balance when making a film?
Yeah, it is a difficult balance. It has been a challenge that we have gotten it to this place. Ya know, Hollywood might say, “We don’t know how to show this. We don’t know.” But when we tested and screened the movie, the reaction was, “Why aren’t there more films like this out there?” We tell people, if you want more films like these out there, when they do come along, you need to go out and support them as much as you can. Doing that sends a message back that you do want more of these kinds of movies to be made. I think it is something that is different and that there isn’t a lot like it out there right now. I feel that people can load up as a family on a Friday or Saturday night, go to the movies together and really enjoy the ride that “Touchback” will take them on.
You mentioned having some background as a high school quarterback, which certainly ties into this project. What is your typical process for bringing a character from the script to the screen?
For me, when I look at a character, I really like to be able to see where it starts and where it ends — their journey, their story, conflict and struggle. There was a lot that I identified within this character. I think he has a lot of traits that people in general will be able to identify with. As I said, we all know life throws us unexpected challenges and that is what we can all relate to. That is one of the main reasons I wanted to play this character.
“Touchback” features a great cast. What do you think your fellow actors brought to the table for this project?
Kurt Russell is obviously a legend. He has done some of my favorite movies, from “Tombstone” to “Backdraft” and right on down the list! When he became involved, it just elevated the project to a whole new level. He came in and was very down-to-earth. A pleasure to work with! Christine Lahti and Melanie Lynskey are terrific as well. We got really lucky and have a great cast. I felt that everyone’s chemistry really gelled on set and I think it shows on screen. I am really excited about it. I think people will find it interesting to see Kurt and that 20-year time gap as an older man. It is a really different role for Christine and Melanie as well and I think it is something that their fans will really enjoy as well!
Each project is a learning experience for an actor. What did you learn from your time on this film and with this cast?
You know, I think what I walked away with, from a purely acting standpoint, was the embodiment of the same man I play, both young and old. A lot of changes take place within a person over a 20 year time period. It is a matter of playing that same character but also playing those changes, for example, how you conduct yourself and carry yourself. It was really a great experience for me to play that and to personify that with this role.
Jumping back a bit. Who were some of the actors you looked to for inspiration when you were coming up?
Kurt Russell was one that always springs to mind, even before I worked with him. The Kevin Costner’s, Robert Deniro’s, Brad Pitt’s and Tom Hank’s of the world are up there too. They all did so many classic movies when I was a kid and throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Their ability to commit 100% to every moment they do in a movie is something which has always inspired me. They are some of the guys that I have aspired to model my career after. I am really lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Kurt Russell, so this film is one of those experiences that is truly a highlight of my career and something very special.
Looking back on your career so far, how do you think you evolved in your craft since starting out?
I think that with both work and time, you get better with each project you do. You grow as you live and as life plays out its course, you experience different things, as an actor, you are able to then draw upon those experiences. You are constantly studying human behavior and that also plays an important part of how you grow as an actor as well.
Keeping in the spirit of the film, I was wondering if you could go back and change anything in your life, would you take that chance?
Ya know, there are a few auditions that I wish I had back! [laughs] But for the most part, I am content with where I am at in life. The hard times I have gone through have given me the integrity and character that have made me into the man I am today. I know God knows where I am going and has a plan for my life. Right now, this is where he wants me.
Your career continues to be very diverse. Is there a particular role you are still hoping to tackle in the future?
I don’t have anything specific in my mind as far as, “I have to play this type of character.” I am a storyteller. I love telling stories and I love making movies. As long as a movie is telling a story that I find compelling, I don’t have to be the main guy. I like being a part of putting stories out there which I think should be told and should be heard. That is my main focus!
What else do you have on the horizon, both long and short term?
I did a project called “Thunder Run” with Matthew McConaughey, Sam Worthington and Gerard Butler. It is about the first team that stormed Baghdad and is from the writer of “Black Hawk Down.” That is going to be the next big one and we are just about to begin shooting. I have a few other ones in the works that are pretty big ones but I don’t want to jinx them! I think they should be coming to the surface in the next month or so!
That’s great! We will be on the lookout! Thanks for letting us help spread the word on this project. Is there anything you would like to add or let the people know before I let you go?
I hope people go out and see “Touchback” and I think it will really impact them. I think they will leave the theater being really glad they saw this film. It is really uplifting and inspiring.
Thanks so much, Brian!
Thank you and have a great day!
Check out the official website for Brian Presley’s Freedom Films, LLC at www.freedomfilmsllc.com.