Starring, Texas!

True Grit brings Texas to Oscar, SAG hits Houston & Rick Perry builds an acting career

True Grit brings Texas to Oscar, SAG hits Houston & Rick Perry builds an acting career

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Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit.
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Matt Damon as LaBeouf Photo by Wilson Webb/Paramount Pictures
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Courtesy of Screen Actors Guild
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Legendary actor John Wayne received his only Oscar for playing an ornery, grizzled U.S. Marshall in the original version of True Grit. He claimed that his character, Rooster Cogburn, was “a mean old bastard, a one-eyed, whisky-soaked, sloppy old son of a bitch — just like me!”

That was 1969 and way before screen actors even thought about recognizing the works of their peers with an award of their own. Here it is 2011 and the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony will be held for the 17th year on Sunday night and a new True Grit is collecting accolades left and right. Jeff Bridges, the latest Rooster Cogburn, is up for a best actor SAG statuette and an Oscar himself. (True Grit landed 10 Oscar nominations Tuesday morning.)

This makes Lone Star actors and industry pros real happy because the current True Grit, unlike its predecessor, was shot mostly in Texas; in Austin, Blanco and Granger. A lot of Texans worked on the new incarnation by filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen.

On Sunday evening, anyone who’d like to party with Texas actors, directors, writers and producers and watch the Annual SAG Awards on a big screen together can choose from three events throughout the state. Eat, drink and be merry and get your own 15 seconds of fame on screen as partygoers will be Skyped between each city’s event.

Texas SAG branches are hosting  the screening parties simultaneously in Houston, Dallas and Austin. They’ll commune by beaming up each other’s revelry during commercial breaks. Who says you can’t be in more than one place at one time?

Actor and former Houston television personality Bob Boudreaux is the “designated overseer” of the H-Town screening at Stag's Head Pub on Portsmouth Street. He was proud to point out that Houston stuntman Mark Chavarria, whom we hope will be at the party, is up for a SAG award for his performance in Inception.

Texas has quite a few stunt actors, by the way, including Houston’s lovely blonde Jody Haselbarth, who most recently worked on the HBO film Temple Grandin. There’s even a regional organization for stunt performers, The Houston Stuntmen’s Association.

Native Houstonian Dennis Quaid is up for SAG’s best TV actor for his portrayal of Bill Clinton in The Special Relationship; the acclaimed HBO drama about United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. Quaid’s next appearance in movie theaters will come April 15 when the true-life film Soul Surfer opens. He plays the father of a competitive teenage surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.

Houston talent reaches beyond the screen as well. Our own JoBeth Williams chairs the national SAG Awards Committee and is president of its foundation. The actress, who still has family in Houston, is well known for her screen roles in Poltergeist and The Big Chill but more recently played Rita Morgan’s mother on Showtime’s Dexter. She just wrapped The Big Year with Steve Martin, Jack Black and yet another talented Texan, Owen Wilson.

Oh, and she won an Oscar for directing the short film On Hope.

Williams, along with fellow committee member Scott Bakula, will announce the stunt ensemble winners from the red carpet on live TNT and TBS webcasts prior to the televised ceremony. Fingers are crossed for Houston's Mark Chavarria.

Doesn’t all this Texas talent make you proud?

Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay, nominated for SAG best actress in a TV drama series, is not from Texas but her famous mother, Jayne Mansfield, was raised in Dallas. Mansfield grew up there and attended the University of Texas to study drama. Known as a 1950s and '60s “blonde bombshell,” she was second only to the iconic Marilyn Monroe in popularity.

Reportedly, she had an IQ of 163 and was indeed a very good actress, but her extraordinary beauty and, well, physical attributes kept her locked into dumb blonde roles. Sadly, she was killed in a horrific traffic accident at age 34 when daughter Mariska was only a toddler. 

Texas governor Rick Perry is a bonafide card-carrying SAG actor. He recently made a cameo appearance, as himself, in the upcoming independent film Deep in the Heart, which is the true story of Richard Wallrath, the largest donor to the Texas 4-H and Future Farmers of America associations. The Gov is also credited as James Richard Perry in the 2005 film Man of the House, in which he plays himself. In fact, as far as I could find Perry plays himself in all his credited roles.

The SAG Awards party in Dallas will take place at the historic Texas Theatre. Steve Summers, a voice-over actor overseeing the Big D event, says the theater was once owned by Houston’s Howard Hughes, the billionaire film producer and renowned aviator. Aside from its state-of-the-art status in 1931 as a movie palace, the Texas was the first Dallas theater to have air conditioning.

It’s also where Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was hiding — in the fifth row in the back — before being captured.

The Texas, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has been saved from the wrecking ball countless times over the years (hope springs eternal for Houston’s own River Oaks Theatre!) and last August its lease was taken over by Dallas filmmaker Barak Epstein’s company Aviation Cinemas, Inc. The theater’s new life will be something more to celebrate at the Dallas SAG soiree.

Austin’s party venue is The Highball, a retro sixties combo of adult diner, bowling alley and ballroom. Woman-in-charge Mindy Raymond (the Texas actress who is the voice of both Wonder Girl and Bat Girl for D.C. Universe Online) says actor Jesse Plemons is expected. Plemons, a Dallas native, plays Landry Clarke in Friday Night Lights. Austin’s party will feature co-emcees: Grayson Berry, the actor already profiled in CultureMap for his role in Drop Dead Diva and who has since been in the Texas-shot series The Good Guys, joins accomplished actor Brandon Smith who was in No Country for Old Men and the upcoming Richard Linklater film Bernie.

Both emcees are Houston natives. That's worth a smiley face. 

Anyone ready for their close-up can save a few bucks on party tickets by getting them in advance online www.txmpa.org.

Proceeds from the trio of events will help fund the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, the non-profit group that works to bring more productions to the Lone Star State and put more of our good actors and crew to work.

Cynthia Neely is a veteran of the Texas motion picture industry who helped found the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.