‘Accidental Texan’ Interview with Director Mark Bristol

Accidental Texan is the second feature film directed by the award-winning Mark Bristol. It stars Thomas Haden Church, Rudy PankowBruce Dern, and Carrie-Anne Moss in a classic and heartwarming tale of small-town America. After a phone ringer triggers an accident of explosive proportions on a New Orleans film set, Harvard-educated Erwin Vandeveer (Pankow) loses his first real gig as an actor. He flees Louisiana, on his way back home to lick his wounds. But things aren’t done going wrong yet for Erwin. His car breaks down smack dab in the middle of Texas oil country. 

A compassionate waitress, Faye (Moss), takes pity on him, but it’s still not enough to fix his car. Broke and stranded, Erwin takes a chance with an offer from a gruff oil man named Merle (Haden Church) and discovers another man at the end of his rope. In their mutual desperation, an unlikely plan takes shape, one that might just need Erwin’s hidden talents and a little help from Faye’s shotgun. At its core, Accidental Texan is a story about community and acceptance and will give you all the feels. We sat down over Zoom with Mark Bristol in an interview to talk about directing the film and what makes it so folksy, and a showcase of the best in humanity. 

Thomas Haden Church, Carrie-Anne Moss and Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Thomas Haden Church, Carrie-Anne Moss and Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

The Interview with Accidental Texan Director Mark Bristol

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Ayla Ruby: Hi. It’s nice to meet you.

Mark Bristol: Hey there. Likewise, Ayla.

Ayla Ruby: I’m very excited to talk about this movie. I watched it. I loved it. It was so happy, so this is awesome.

Mark Bristol: Oh, well you make me so happy. Thank you.

Ayla Ruby: Okay. I’ll just get right into it. Can you talk about what drew you to this story? Why did you want to work on the project?

Mark Bristol: Absolutely. Well, I grew up in Texas, so I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing so many of these incredible larger than life characters like Merle Luskey. And I’ve had the great opportunity to work on so many Texas movies. And my little league baseball coach was Bill Wittliff, who wrote Lonesome Dove. And so I’ve just been in this world of Texas storytelling and felt it was my duty, my honor, to tell a truthful dramedy such as ours and be truthful with the characters.

Mark Bristol: And then we had the incredible gift of this cast who really brought these people to life. And yeah, it’s a dream project, again for somebody who’s worked on so many Texas projects and has grown up in this world. And I have such an affinity for small town Texas and small town Americana. And so I wanted to… It’s such a rich, beautiful tapestry to be able to operate in. And yeah, hopefully our love for the project carries through to the audience and that we wanted to make a film that puts a smile on your face as you’re walking out the door.

Thomas Haden Church and Carrie-Anne Moss in Accidental Texan Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Thomas Haden Church and Carrie-Anne Moss in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Ayla Ruby: It really did. I went in without expectations and I’ve told five people via text message that they have to see it when it comes out. It’s the mom chain.

Mark Bristol: Thank you.

Ayla Ruby: The mom chain is alive and well.

Mark Bristol: Oh, thank you so much.

On filming Accidental Texan in Texas

Ayla Ruby: Okay. This is obviously a Texas film. You filmed in Texas. What was filming in Texas like? Was there anything challenging? Interesting? I think I read that you filmed in October.

Mark Bristol: Right. The great joy for me is I grew up in Austin and I’ve grown up with so many of these filmmakers. The costume designer, she and I went to college together. Koen Wooten, who co-wrote and produced the movie with me. And Julie Denny was a prop master that I befriended years ago on Secondhand Lions. And so we were able to hire so many of our friends and the people that we deeply respected.

Bruce Dern in Accidental Texan Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Bruce Dern in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Mark Bristol: And I’ve worked on so many movies in the area, I knew the landscape. As we were writing it, I knew the world that I wanted to depict that was appropriate to tell the story. And then, yeah, we really lucked out by finding this town called Bartlett, Texas, which is just northeast of Austin. And it’s really a ghost town now, at least the downtown, which was perfect for us.

Mark Bristol: And it’s a Schitt’s Creek story where this investor bought the entire town. And he has big plans for it, but at the time he gave us free rein.

Ayla Ruby: Oh, wow.

Mark Bristol: “You can do whatever you want.” And really what sold me on it was what we turned into the cafe was a derelict building, but it had this magnificent Bull Durham advertisement from the 1930s painted on the wall. And it was just, you couldn’t art direct anything better than that. And so, as soon as I saw that, it was like, oh, this is our town.

Mark Bristol: And it had the train tracks, which were very important to me to open the world to Erwin as he’s stepping into this new environment. It was a great gate, literally a gate to this strange new world that he’s entering. It had everything that I was looking for.

Mark Bristol: And yeah, Texas just has an incredible plethora of actors. Somebody like Julio Cedillo, who I’ve worked with. I try to cast him in everything I do just because he’s my good luck charm and he brings such joy. He played the sheriff in the film. I’ve known all these actors, I’ve known all this crew. And so, to be able to bring our own film and utilize all that talent was just an incredible joy.

Mark Bristol: And everybody brought their A-game, which was just from our incredible cast down to our crew. Hats off to them. I think the success of the movie is very much due to their hard work and of course the incredible performances in the movie. Thank you.

On the themes of Accidental Texan and how Mark Bristol brought them out as a director

Ayla Ruby: There are some really cool themes in this movie. I was expecting a fish out of water story and it’s that, but it’s also this amazing story of community and acceptance and coming together. And I just would love if you could talk about that. Was that… Obviously there’s a script and then it’s adapted from a book, but can you talk about how you bring that from a directing standpoint?

Mark Bristol: Well, thank you. Yeah. And I’m so glad that resonated with you because that was very important to me and to Julie Denny and Koen Wooten when we were working on the screenplay. Because the book is very different. And thankfully Cole Thompson is a huge fan of the film. It’s very much, we were telling a cinema, we’re telling a story, and so we needed to adapt it. And in that journey, we wanted to make it much more heartfelt and much more dramatic and really add those themes of tolerance and forgiveness.

Thomas Haden Church and Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Thomas Haden Church and Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Mark Bristol: For me, It’s a Wonderful Life was a big influence for me. I was really looking back at more classic cinema and the themes and small town American stories. And so, we wanted… It’s set in Texas, yes, but in order for it to be successful it has universal themes. And one of the… Merle, he’s a saving angel to Erwin. They’re both backs are against the wall. They’re both in troubled times. But he’s such a giving soul. He is able to take a stranger off the street and take him under his wing.

Mark Bristol: And so I wanted to really showcase the very best in humanity, regardless of where you’re from, that these are qualities that we all aspire to. And I think that’s the great joy of cinema or of great novels, is for just a little while you’re entertained. But it may also speak to you and remind you of our better angels. Aspects of ourselves that may inspire you to maybe open that door to somebody that’s in need.

Mark Bristol: Remind you that also when you’re in a difficult place, that there are others out there that can help. That’s what… We can go to the movies to be entertained, but if it can speak to you on a deeper level, then there’s a lot more layers to the film.

Ayla Ruby: Oh, well, I think it achieved that. I think it did.

Mark Bristol: Thank you so much.

On how Thomas Haden Church, Rudy Pankow, Bruce Dern, and Carrie-Anne Moss came on board

Ayla Ruby: You’ve mentioned your actors, your amazing cast. You have Thomas Haden Church, you have Rudy Pankow. How did they come on board? Were they on board before you? How did that all work?

Mark Bristol: I’ve been associated with this project for 20 years. We tried to get it made 20 years ago, and we couldn’t quite bring the pieces together. And Julie Denny, the producer, screenwriter, came to me in 2019 and said, “I’ve always wanted you to make this movie. We’ve got the financing now. Let’s go make it.”

Mark Bristol: Well, Thomas Haden Church was the greatest gift to our production. He was the very first actor to sign on. And I always told Julie, who had never made a movie before, “Casting can be very difficult. You’re going to get a lot of nos. It’s going to make you want to give up. You’ve got to persevere. And eventually we’ll get to that place where the perfect actor who you can never imagine anybody else inhibiting that role will eventually come to the film.”

Thomas Haden Church in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.
Thomas Haden Church in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Mark Bristol: And it’s so true in this movie, I could never imagine anybody else playing these cards. And Thomas was the very first one. And then once Thomas came, then Bruce Dern joined us, and now you’ve got two Academy Award nominated actors. And really, they just become like this gravitational force that’s pulling all these other talents to the film.

Mark Bristol: And Carrie-Anne Moss and Rudy…my son, was a huge advocate for Rudy as a fan of Outer Banks. Every night he was like, “Dad, you got to watch Rudy. He’s so great. He’d be so great as Erwin.” And his audition was wonderful. And again, what an amazing gift. I’ve said it before, but 90% of directing is casting. And it’s so true. And because you’ve worked so hard on the screenplay, and then they just bring their magic. And there’s so little effort on the director, you’re just making these adjustments here and there.

Mark Bristol: And also, I’m a type of director that gives full latitude for your actors to bring your talent, bring your ideas. This is a collaborative art, so you have the great honor that you’ve brought this talent to the table. Well, trust them and see what they bring into the role. And you have to help craft it and shape it and push it in the direction that you want to go as a storyteller. But when you have a cast like this, in so many ways, you step out of the way and let them do their thing and you’re going to get goldmine.

Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Rudy Pankow in Accidental Texan. Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

On the lasting message of Accidental Texan

Ayla Ruby: Well, that’s wonderful. And I know we’re just about at time, but I wanted to know, is there anything that you want to leave people with that you want people to know about this film, besides to watch it?

Mark Bristol: We’ve had so many people that came out of some of the screenings we’ve done that were just so happy to see a really well-made, heartfelt film that left a smile on their face when they were leaving the theater. They laughed, they cried. It was a full gamut of the cinematic experience. And that there’s just not enough movies like this today.

Mark Bristol: Like I said, It’s a Wonderful Life and some of these classic films were a big influence on me. And Thomas really feels that this is very much a classic movie. And that’s what I set out to make, and I’m so happy it’s resonating with people. And so yeah, we’re offering, as much as I’m excited for Dune 2, this is a different story and a different opportunity to experience a joyful movie that’s really going to surprise you as it did for you as well. Yeah, expect something different that maybe has been missed in cinema for a little while.

Ayla Ruby: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was lovely to meet you.

Mark Bristol: Oh, likewise. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the film.

Accidental Texan will be in theaters on March 8, 2024.

Are you excited about Accidental Texan? What do you think of the trailer? Let us know on X @MoviesWeTexted. 

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