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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Actor Dwier Brown Still Impacted By Iconic Role in Field of Dreams

The film Field of Dreams hits all the notes artistically, emotionally and as entertainment. It’s not just a baseball movie—it’s also as much about redemption, following dreams and the complicated relationships between fathers and sons. A significant character instrumental in tying the whole story together was played by actor Dwier Brown, who going on 30 years later, is still deeply impacted by his iconic role and the catch he played with Kevin Costner.

For the two or three of you who may not have yet seen the movie, Field of Dreams is about farmer Ray Kinsella, an Iowa corn farmer with a young family and a significant amount of regret. He loves baseball and talking about Shoeless Joe Jackson, the exiled and disgraced former outfielder, who was the subject of frequent stories he was regaled with by his father. However, as he got older, Ray fell out with his father and inflicted a final parting shot of refusing an offer to have a catch together. They never spoke again, and his father passed away shortly thereafter. Years later, Ray discovers that his corn field not only has the magical ability to re-connect him to baseball but may also help facilitate redemption in amazing ways.

Released in 1989, Field of Dreams was based on W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe. Starring Costner and James Earl Jones, one might think that the movie is dominated by its stars—but they would be wrong. The entire film is a wonderful ensemble effort, and Brown, who only appears in the final five minutes as John Kinsella, Ray’s father, steals the show with an emotional scene that can elicit tears from the gruffest of individuals.

Watch that scene here (SPOLIER ALERT): 

Not yet 30 when the film was made, Brown was already a veteran actor, having worked on notable projects like The Thorn Birds and The Twilight Zone. His experience was put to good use in making a role with so little screen time into one that will be remembered forever. Paired with Costner, he matches the legendary actor beat for beat with the result being an amazingly powerful and emotional scene.

Brown continues to act, both in television and movies. He has also published a book titled If You Build It...: A book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams. It’s a memoir of his life, working on the film and how that ended up impacting him in powerful and unexpected ways.

Keep reading for more about Dwier Brown and his once-in-a-lifetime movie role, and how to connect with him online and through social media.

Dwier Brown Interview

What was your experience with baseball growing up?: My father taught me how to catch with his split-fingered glove from the 1930’s. I was involved in Little League as a kid and played catch endlessly with my older brother and other kids from neighboring farms in Ohio, where I grew up. I was a good fielder but struggled for a long time with hitting. I was very sad when I didn’t make the cut for my freshman baseball team. But I sometimes tell my friends who were stars of that baseball team that I had the last laugh—it’s my picture that ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame (from the movie).

How did you become interested in acting?: Having grown up on a farm, my brother and sister and I were always looking for fun things to do that didn’t involve work. My sister started acting in school plays, then my brother created a little community theatre group and I started performing in their productions. I enjoyed pretending to be someone else and making people laugh. My sister and brother eventually gave it up, and I continued performing in college and then moved to Chicago to get involved in plays and improvisational theatre.

Please explain how you happened to land the role of John Kinsella in Field of Dreams.: The audition was one like any other that was scheduled for me by my agent. I had already read the book Shoeless Joe, on which the movie was based, and really loved it, so I worked very hard on the audition (which consisted of the last five pages of the script). I tried to create as much magic as I could in the tiny casting room, but I knew they were auditioning a lot of actors for the role (maybe 200-300 guys). It took them a long time to get back to me so I had pretty much given up hope by the time they finally told me that I was going to Iowa!

What's your favorite memory from the shoot?: Because I had been such a fan of the book Shoeless Joe, one of my sweetest memories of the shoot was driving down the long driveway of the Lansing farm location for the first time and seeing that perfect baseball diamond in the midst of cornfields like the ones I had grown up surrounded by. It really did feel like Heaven! There I was, merging my childhood on a farm with my impossible dream of becoming an actor, by shooting this magical movie on this beautiful farm. (Meeting James Earl Jones was pretty amazing, too, but you can read about that in the book).

How many takes (and how much catch did you have to play with Kevin Costner) for the closing moments of the movie?: Because director Phil Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley decided to shoot the final scene at “magic hour” (those fifteen minutes of golden light just after sunset), we shot a piece of that scene almost every night for two weeks. We would shoot as much as we could until it was too dark, then do a different angle the next day. One of the biggest challenges in the scene for me was trying to re-create the delicate emotional pitch of that final moment day after day so it would look like continuous action. For the final catch sequence, between the helicopter, the waning daylight and the 3,000 extras in their cars, we figured we would have just one take. It was very tense. The first take didn’t look right, so we tried another. It still didn’t look right so Phil made a small adjustment and we tried a third time. By then it was too dark to try another. Fortunately, the third take worked, because when they got the film back from the lab, the first two takes were black. Playing catch was the easy part. But I have to admit, I was never so nervous about dropping a ball…

When did you first know that you had something special with this movie?: For most of us involved with the movie, I think that happened at the cast and crew screening about a week before its release. It had been almost a year since we’d filmed in Iowa and most of us had worked on several other projects in the meantime. From the beginning, you could tell the movie had come out well—beautiful cinematography, tight editing, great score and wonderful performances. Crew members tend to be a little silly at these events—laughing at awkward moments remembered from the shoot and teasing each other with “inside” jokes. But as the ending approached, an extraordinary quiet fell over us as we got lost in the story. Despite the fact that we had all worked on the film and knew exactly what was going to happen, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

What is the most common reaction/question that you get from fans?: What is Kevin Costner like?

That final scene became a poignant icon for fathers and sons. How has that impacted you?: Since the film’s release in 1989, I have been recognized by dozens of fans who have told me touching stories about their relationships with their fathers and how that movie changed their lives. In many cases, they tell me stories of guilt or regret or joy with tears in their eyes, all while we are standing together in the airport or the grocery store. I sometimes feel like a priest who takes confessions on the street. Since my own father died unexpectedly a month before we shot the movie, I have come to think of it is my father’s way of remaining present in my life. It’s my own little traveling cornfield, where people get a second chance with their dads.

What are the current projects you are working on?: Since I released my book, If You Build It… A book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams a year ago, I have been asked to make appearances and speeches in boardrooms and in ballparks all over the country. I have met fans and thrown out first pitches at Fenway and Kauffman, met dozens of Hall of Famers and All-Stars, and talked with hundreds of fans about their fathers, sons and daughters. You can get more details about my adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @DwierBrown or on my website. Meanwhile, I continue to field offers in film and television and am currently working on a movie called, The Rain.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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