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BACK FORK: Josh Stewart To Shine A Light On Opioid Epidemic With Upcoming Film

Josh Stewart – Photo by James Acomb

Through the years, Josh Stewart has become a familiar face to audiences around the globe. His journey began as a young actor on the stage of the Landmark Theatre in Sutton, West Virginia. His path would soon lead him to New York City where he studied at the T. Schreiber Studios and became a company member of the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. He continued his theater work in Los Angeles where he performed in Light Bulb and Beacon alongside industry legends such as Robert Forster and Brooke Shields. A multifaceted actor, his talents didn’t go unnoticed and he quickly branched out to other mediums. Stewart made his studio feature film debut in David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2008. His other film credits include two directed by Christopher Nolan—“Interstellar” and “The Dark Night Rises” (as Barsad, right-hand man to Tom Hardy’s malevolent Bane), “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp and co-starring roles in “The Collector” and “Beneath The Dark” (opposite Jamie-Lynn Sigler). 

On television, he has played a series of wide-ranging roles: Holt McLaren in the FX series “Dirt,” Detective William LaMontagne, Jr. in “Criminal Minds” and Benjamin Finney in the final season of the NBC series “Third Watch,” along with appearances in such shows as “CSI,” “Grimm,” “The Mentalist,” “Southland” and “The Walking Dead: Cold Storage,” a series of webisodes based on “The Walking Dead.” His passion for creation led to his directorial and writing debut, “The Hunted,” in which he also stars and co-produced. In this “found footage” film, two fame seeking hunters trek into the secluded woods of West Virginia armed with only bows, a camera and their desire to grab some big-time media attention… only to find themselves the prey of savage supernatural forces. The film, which screened at TIFF, was been picked up by eOne Entertainment for North American distribution. 

In 2017, Josh Stewart’s journey has led him back home to West Virginia. He has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to bring his new film, “Back Fork,” to life. With the project, Stewart hopes to shine a light on the prescription opioid epidemic that has ravaged his home state and continues to impact people from all walks of life around the nation. “Back Fork” is the story of an everyman, Waylon, struggling to hold his life and family together after a heartbreaking tragedy. He and his wife, Nida, barely recognize themselves. Their inability to continue on and to heal, leaves them hopeless. With the growing burden of the unanswered questions of why, and a heavy dose of self-blame, it’s only a matter of time before Waylon turns to the magic of the pills to make the problems disappear. He finds a kindred spirit in his sister, Raylene, as he sleepwalks through life with addiction. It’s only a matter of time until Waylon finds himself at a crossroads. He learns that he’s been asking the wrong question all along. The question isn’t why, rather, where do I go from here? He’s then able to see that we’re all wounded animals. Sometimes we die, but sometimes we live. 

Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Josh Stewart for quick Q&A to discuss his journey as an actor, the lessons he has learned along the way and the challenges he faces in bringing his creative vision for “Back Fork” to life.  

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved with the creative arts early on in life?

To be honest, I didn’t find acting until I was in college. I grew up playing sports. A teacher of mine from high school worked in a community theater company and got me in a play and that was it. I was hooked. I finally had found something that made sense.

You got started on stage at the Landmark Theatre in Sutton, West Virginia. What are your fondest memories of cutting your teeth and performing there?

You know, it was just this crazy time of finally having that thing in my life that I knew I had to do. At the risk of sounding cliché, I had found my way. We all wait for that moment when we know what we want to do with our life. That, and also working across the street at this Italian place called Café Cimino. Their meatballs were amazing.

When did you realize a career in the entertainment industry was something you wanted to pursue?

Pretty much straight away from theater. I was 21-22 when I started. So I finished school then after a brief stop in North Carolina, I moved to NYC to study acting.

Did you have any reservations about taking the plunge?

Into acting? Not at all. I knew what I was supposed to do. It just made sense to me. there was no looking back at that moment.

Who were your biggest influences as a performer?
Terrence Malick and Chris Nolan. There are so many actors but two that I worked with, Tom Hardy and Casey Affleck. I have a huge amount of respect for what those two can do.

Were there any mentors along the way who gave you an extra push when you needed it?

Yeah. I mean, we all have those figures over the course of our lives that are always there to give you that nudge or kind word when you need it. There have been many that have helped me along the way. Some that I’m still very close to. All of them will be forever cherished.

Josh Stewart

The entertainment industry is a tough business to be a part of. Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration?

Creating. It’s so easy to become stagnant with the B.S. this business lays. It’s a constant struggle. Writing. It’s something I don’t need anyone else’s help to do. That’s really the unfortunate thing about film making, if you’re not playing by their rules with their money, good luck getting a film made. Unless, of course, you’re wealthy and can do it yourself. [laughs]

You have been a part of a lot of awesome projects in the past. Which of them have had the biggest impact on you?

Oh man. “Beneath the Dark” is special, “The Collector,” “Third Watch,” “Batman” and “Benjamin Buttons.” They’ve all been fulfilling but “The Hunted” I made. That’s my baby.

Let’s talk about “The Hunted.” What inspired the story?

Well, I had a ghost screaming at me and my roommate in West Virginia for about 6 months. [laughs] Pick up the DVD, the full story is in the extras!

What was it about the project that made this the right feature to explore the world behind the camera?

I think the simplicity of what I wrote with the intention of making it on a budget on accelerated schedule. It’s really hard getting anyone to take that shot on you, give you the money to go make a movie. So, writing something in a way that would minimize that risk, was essential.

You have a new project called “Back Fork.” This is a film very close to your heart. What can you tell us about it and the impact of the epidemic it highlights?

“Back Fork” is a story about life, love, loss, and the prescription opioid epidemic. It’s a simple story at heart and I think that’s where a lot of these stories live. Everyday people in everyday situations and life turns on its head. And it’s crazy how quickly that it happens and we’re all left to pick up the pieces. I think the takeaway is, we’re all wounded animals in some capacity, you know? None of us are perfect and we’re all just doing the best we can given the circumstance and that’s all we can do. So, this story highlights addiction on the personal level. On a family level, and it wonders slightly into the community as well.

You grew up in West Virginia and your heart seems to bring you back there quite often. What inspires you about this area of our country?

West Virginia is just an amazing place. Cinematically, it’s beautiful. The people are amazing. They’re very passionate in a lot of ways which I think is something that gets overlooked. I think the landscape, physically and metaphorically speaking is relatively untouched from a cinematic stand point as well. There are so many stories to be told.

What goals or aspirations do you have going into the process of bringing this film to life?

I think with any project, it always starts with a story that’s living inside of you and you have this fear of it going untold so it becomes about this journey of getting it told. And that, I think becomes the biggest goal, is just being heard with it.

You will be working with AJ Cook on this project. How did the two of your originally cross paths?

AJ and I have worked together on “Criminal Minds” for quite some time. I think it’s been 12 years now since the first episode I did.

What do you feel you bring out in each other creatively?

Well, there’s just a comfort level that comes along with a 12 year working relationship. Everyone has their own way into a character or into a scene, however you want to look at it. Knowing and having an understanding the way someone does that makes your life easier. You know what someone is going to bring to the table and vice versa so now we can just focus on telling the story, which is what we’re there to do. There’s a good amount of trust that gets established over that many years of work.

What can you tell us about the other people either in-front and behind-the-scenes who will be bringing this story to life?

I’ve got to producers from West Virginia that I worked with on my first feature that will be back for the second round, Bob and Jeff Tinnell. Once you walk through the fire with someone, it’s easy to do it again. They’re West Virginia boys and film makers themselves, so they get the land and they get the process.

You recently launched a Kickstarter to fund the project. What can you tell us about the campaign and the hurdles you have to overcome as an indie filmmaker in this day and age?

Yes, I’ve wandered into the deep waters of crowdfunding, which is no easy task. I think it’s nothing short of a miracle any time a movie gets made, especially an indie. A film takes an incredible amount of time and energy to complete on any level, then with an independent, you’re doing all of this for very little to no pay. It’s a lot to ask and a lot to commit to for that kind of time. So it’s just the dance of finding that right fit. Finding those people who care enough about your story and have enough faith and confidence in you that you can pull this thing off. And look, from a business stand point, I get it. You’re giving someone hundreds of thousands to a couple million dollars to make film. That’s someone’s hard earned money that they don’t take that lightly and rightfully so. This process can take years to get film made.

When it comes to your work as an actor, is there a role or genre you always had your eye on tackling?

Nah, there’s never been anything specifically. I mean yeah, everyone wants to be a cowboy at some point, but it’s more of finding those great characters and stories. Something that grabs ahold of you, you know? I’ve been blessed enough to play in a little bit of everything which has been great. There’s something that’s interesting and fun about all of them.

What stands out to you as some of your creative milestones?

I don’t know about milestones, but I think writing a script might be one of the things I feel the most accomplishment from after I finish. For me personally, it’s so hard to get it right or get it to where it works the way you want it to. There’s a reason everything starts from the script. You get the script right, and follow it, you should have a good movie.

Looking back on your career so far, what do you consider your biggest evolution as a performer and filmmaker?

I think just continuing to grow and evolving into a more rounded story teller. Starting to write more, direct more, tell more of my own stories. That seems to be the area I’m finding the most interest or more fulfillment these days.

We can definitely look to you as an inspiration with you have accomplished. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?

Oh man, I think I’m still learning that about myself and what I’m getting out of life. I hope that we all tell the stories that we have in hearts, because they deserve to be told and the world deserves to hear them.

Are you involved with any charities or organizations related to this epidemic that we can help spread the word on?

I’m not involved in any specific groups but I think the most important thing is continuing to shine a light on this problem. Help to keep the conversation going. Contributing to that narrative in whatever way you can.

To learn more about Josh Stewart’s Kickstarter campaign for “Back Fork,” visit the official page for the project at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1159798350/back-fork.

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