On assignment in Texas for British television, a filmmaking couple, Kate (Amanda Root, Persuasion) and Robert (Kenneth Cranham, The Boxer, Under Suspicion) arrive with their crew in Austin for a brief, 10-day shoot. Spirits are high as they set out to find colorful interview subjects.
Pulling into the driveway of a rented house, they are greeted by a friendly neighbor and guard dog salesman, Mickey (Marco Perella, Keys to Tulsa). He offers them a wealth of information on the town and his eccentric family, many of whom wind up in the TV documentary.
While Kate begins the process of producing the show and making arrangements for interviews, Robert, her husband and director, wanders out to get the feeling of the place. He discovers the remarkable story of the Treaty Oak, a tree in Austin that was poisoned by a lovesick Vietnam veteran. Realizing how the fate of one tree drew an entire community together, he decides this story must be a part of their film.
Robert and Kate begin interviewing the subjects of their documentary. Ironically the first one, Mrs. Freeman (Karen Kuykendall), is the woman who realized that the Treaty Oak tree was sick. Their interview, however, goes well beyond the Treaty Oak saga, as she tells them much about herself and her marriage through the story of a missing wedding ring.
Discovering an abundance of frontier spirit in each of the characters they interview, first Robert and then Kate, find themselves becoming emotionally involved in the lives of the people they meet. They also rediscover the humor and poignancy that bind all people together, leading to unexpected emotional results in Kate and Robertís own relationship.
DEEP IN THE HEART (OF TEXAS) features an ensemble of well-known Texas actors, including C.K. McFarland, Tim Mateer, Jo Carol Pierce, John Hawkes, Ameerah Tatum, Lou Perryman, Janelle Buchanan and Amparo Garcia. The film was produced and directed by Texas native Stephen Purvis, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jesse Sublett and Tom Huckabee. Executive producers were Gary Kaufman and Mike Tolleson.
About the Production
DEEP IN THE HEART (OF TEXAS) is an independent feature, written, directed and produced by Texas filmmaker Stephen Purvis. A real labor of love, the film is based on the critically acclaimed and long-running play, In The West. The original Texas actors, who had written and performed in the play, recreate their roles for the screen.
Purvis, who was living in Los Angeles producing and directing cable documentaries in 1991, wanted to direct a movie. He returned to his hometown of Austin, Texas, to see the celebrated play that his friends had told him about. As soon as he saw In The West, he knew it had the potential to become a great film.
"I was looking for something different, that could be produced as a no budget independent feature," says Purvis. When I saw the play, "I was deeply moved by the writing and the acting." He optioned the play and began working with Jesse Sublett, and later Tom Huckabee, on a screenplay.
Since In The West is a collection of monologues, "I was faced with several challenges," he says. "My primary concern was to preserve the integrity of the monologues and at the same time transform them into a movie." To make it cinematic, they created a documentary filmmaking couple on assignment in Texas. The people they interview are the original actors and their stories are the monologues.
Because of the movie's theatrical origins and its ironic style of humor, Purvis decided to cast British actors in the lead roles. Pippa Markham, a London-based agent who received the script, had been to Austin as part of the Royal Shakespeare Companyís tour and knew first-hand about the positive aspects of the city. She encouraged two of her clients, Amanda Root (Persuasion) and Kenneth Cranham (The Boxer), to sign on.
Filming took place in two parts. In August of 1992, Purvis shot six scenes from the play, which he edited into a 12-minute promotional reel that was used to raise money for the film. Three years later, in April 1995, principal photography on DEEP IN THE HEART (OF TEXAS) began in and around Austin, Texas. Purvis and his crew shot the film in 18 days on 22 locations.
The final film is a combination of the original skits shot for the reel and the new photography. For instance, in August 1992, part of Sayrah, the pie lady scene was filmed at the Jordan Backman Pioneer Farm. C.K. McFarland wrote and performed the monologue. In the spring of 1996, they recreated the scene and shot Cranham and Rootís lines. In post-production the two separate scenes were married into one.
In addition to McFarlandís role, that early trailer also included the ìMillion Dollar Ideaî scene, written by Jo Carol Pierce and performed by Doris Hargrave, and ìBattlefield,î with the football coach, written and performed by Marco Perella. Shot in the locker room at LBJ High School in East Austin, the players were the seniors from the varsity football team. In DEEP IN THE HEART (OF TEXAS), Perella also appears as Mickey, the guard dog salesman ("Mickey Cruthers Welcomes a New Neighbor" by Gene Fowler.)
The shortest monologue in the movie, 143,999, is delivered by a homeless man crouched next to a newspaper stand. The scene, which reveals that the Treaty Oak Killer has been released from prison, was written by Perella and is performed in the film by production designer Jim Fritzler, who originally conceived the play and directed it in the theater.
In "Be Ye Not Forgetful," written and played by Jo Carol Pierce, Tresa, the "litter gitter" shows Bob a series of photos that are actual photos of her family and friends, including her mother, her husband, Guy Juke under the Treaty Oak and film critic Michael Ventura. The story that Tresa tells Bob at the Treaty Oak is based upon how Pierce really met Ventura, who was hitchhiking through Lubbock when she picked him up. She introduced him to local musicians Jimmie Dale Gilmore (her former husband), Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, who Ventura would later immortalize.
In addition to all the colorful characters in the film, the Texas landscape is also featured. "With all of the locations, I tried to show how beautiful Austin and Central Texas is," says Purvis. ìThe location we used for Mrs. Freeman scene ("Half of Forever" by Jo Carol Pierce), is the historic East Austin home of our executive producer Mike Tolleson.
"We tried to make Austin a character in the film," says Purvis. "We filmed the scenes with Mac and Vickie ("Dad In a Nutshell" by Aralyn Hughes) in the 55 Chevy at Pace Bend Park outside of Austin. The park has a private loop with very little traffic, so we were able to shoot the driving shots without going onto a highway." Mac and Vickie are played by John Hawkes and Ameerah Tatum respectively. The pig in the backseat is Hughes' potbelly pet.
The crew set up headquarters at the Girl Scout camp at Pace Bend Park. The scenes with Tresa, the "litter gitter," and Walter, the dishwasher, were also shot there. Tim Mateer portrays Walter, and his monologue, "The Wild Child", was actually written by Lou Perryman, based on his experiences working at the State Mental Hospital. Perryman also plays Bill, the deer hunter, in "Souvenirs" (originally written by Bill Leissner).
In keeping with the Texana nature of the movie, the soundtrack is dedicated to the memory of Walter Hyatt, and features many great Texas musicians, including Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jimmie Vaughan, Junior Brown, Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Rosie Flores and Wayne Hancock.