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Hometown Guy Makes Good

Louisville-born actor and writer Brett Edwards has had a memorable 20 months since we last visited with him in October 2013. The high point came on a movie set in San Clarita, California where, with sand in his eyes and teeth, he shouted, “Dee, I’m down to two mags.”

And the director, a wizened Hollywood veteran named Clint Eastwood, nodded and smiled encouragingly at the actor’s smart ad lib.

“My original line was, ‘I’m out of ammo,’” Edwards says, “but a few scenes later, I’m still firing my weapon, so that wouldn’t have made sense.”

The movie, of course, was Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated “American Sniper” starring Bradley Cooper. And how Edwards secured the role is just one of a series of great stories that have happened to him in the last 24 months.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

“My wife bought the book for me at an airport,” he recalls, “and by the time the plane landed, I was saying, ‘I have to be in this movie.’ She said, ‘How are you going to do that?’ And I laughed. ‘I have no idea.’ ”

Many young actors head out to Hollywood from around the country, hoping they’ll eventually read a book, say, “I have to be in this movie,” and have major producers say to them, “When can you be available?” and “Who do you want to direct?”

Cooper might be at that level now. Brett Edwards might be at that level some day soon. But Edwards has always had a clear vision of how he wants his California Dream to play out.

When we talked to the Louisville native and St. X graduate in 2013, his short film, “The Heeler,” was about to be part of the Louisville Film Festival.

The movie – an 11-minute film about bull-roping, featuring Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons – went on to win the Nevada International Film Festival, got a screening at the HollyShorts Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by the cable TV network Shorts HD.

Did Simmons’ presence help get the movie noticed? “Not necessarily,” Edwards says. “Some film festivals are turned off when you have a big name. Somehow, it seems ‘less indie.’ We shot on a budget of $8,400. That’s about as ‘indie’ as you can get.”

It was satisfying to get the recognition and validation but, Edwards says, the pay was “not so significant.”

“Let me put it this way,” he says. “We didn’t make anywhere near enough to make another short for $8,400.”

Then, in March, came the call from agent Michael Mogan for an audition in Clint Eastwood’s office at Warner Bros. Studio. It was for the movie he said he had to be in, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the soldier’s four tours of combat and how his life unravels because of it.

Edwards was reading for one of two parts, the role of a Delta sniper – one scene, one line – and a gate guard – one scene but five lines.

“It was a fairly quick read,” Edwards recalls. “The casting agent had me read a couple times, for both parts, and gave me some direction, which is always nice. It means there’s some interest.”

A month and a half passed, with no word and growing pessimism. Filming had already started.

“Then, on a Tuesday in May, I got a call. ‘Can you get your fitting tomorrow, and be on the set on Thursday?’

“It was the part of a recon gunner, fighting on a rooftop alongside Bradley Cooper and other Marines, during a sandstorm. It wasn’t either of the parts I’d auditioned for.”

In fact, Edwards says now, both those other parts were cut out of the final movie.

Ah, the vagaries of the glamorous movie business. “One minute you’re sitting at home trying to figure out what you did wrong,” he recalls. “The next minute you’re on set with Bradley Cooper, being directed by Clint Eastwood.”

As for the glamour, Edwards spent much of the shoot in a sandstorm and is hardly recognizable on screen. But he now has Clint Eastwood on his resume. He has a high-profile, Oscar-nominated movie on that resume. And he has the pay of an actor with lines in a big-budget movie.

“The pay was nice,” he allows. “It was the first big gig for me, it felt good to make a real wage in the business.”

He had a brief screen appearance in the first installment of HBO’s “True Detective” anthology, the one with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

And he has a new movie coming out this weekend: “The Longest Ride,” starring Britt Robertson, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Alan Alda and, ironically, Scott Eastwood – Clint’s son. It’s directed by George Tillman Jr., who directed “Soul Food” and “Men of Honor” and produced the two “Barbershop” movies.

“It’s based on a Nicholas Sparks book,” says Edwards. “I play Jared Midelton, a bull-rider.” The Internet Movie Data Base web site, imdb.com, lists him 10th from the top on the cast list.

He also recently optioned “The Black Hills,” Rod Thompson’s debut novel about the Dakota Badlands, and wrote a treatment of “Lions of Kandahar,” Maj. Rusty Bradley’s account of the bloody 2006 battle with the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan.

And he was married during the year to Alison, the girlfriend who bought him the book in the airport.

It’s always a longshot roll, but for Brett Edwards, The California Dream persists. VT