I recently got the chance to talk to Ron Holmstrom about his role in Nicolas Cage’s new film, ‘The Frozen Ground’. Here, Ron talks about the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I hear it’s based on a true story…
It is based upon the true story of serial killer Robert Hansen who operated for about thirteen years in and around Anchorage, Alaska. He may have killed as many as twenty-one young women. If not for the tenacity of the trooper upon whom Nick Cage’s character is based and the young woman who escaped from Hansen at the airport, he might have gone on much longer. Even though I was living in Hollywood in those days, my Dad was retired cop living in Alaska, so I knew about the case.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play attorney Mike Rule, the defense attorney hired to act as counsel for Hansen. I did have the opportunity to meet with Alaska attorney Fred Dewey, who actually represented Hansen during the process. His name was changed for the film and Fred was quite a young man when he worked on the Hansen case. I was surprised, but flattered that they didn’t go with a young L.A. actor for the role. In the film, as far as my character is concerned, Hansen is innocent and it isn’t until Cusack’s (Hansen’s,) blow-up near the end of the film that I realize that the man I am representing is a monster. It is quite a powerful scene.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I originally read for a smaller part; playing a state trooper, but Scott Walker, the director, liked my audition and invited me to read for Hansen’s lawyer and also another role-playing a friend of Hansen. I was lucky to be selected for this meaty role. Scott later told me that he really liked my voice in the audition, which is kind of funny because my raspiness was the result of some throat surgery I had recently had. Coincidentally, I had played Robert Hansen in an excellent play entitled, ‘Dancing For The Hunter’, by Mary Katzke. It was a winner of the Northwest Playwright’s Festival a few years ago. I think both Scott and John (Cusack) knew that before I was cast as Mike Rule.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
It is a carefully-crafted vehicle, in that great attention was given to detail and the perspective is quite that of not only Cage’s dedicated lawman, but Vanessa’s gutsy/vulnerable portrayal of Cindy. They both break the case and I think people will be moved by the relationship between them. It is also quite shocking to see the generally likeable and affable John Cusack become an absolute creep.
The film stars Vanessa Hudgens, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Dean Norris, Radha Mitchell, Katherine LaNasa, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, 50 Cent and Matt Gerald – with Scott Walker onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
Most of my work was with John and then the big blow-up scene was with Nicolas Cage and Kurt Fuller, as well. I was only briefly on-camera with Vanessa and Radha and not much of an exchange with either of them. To have the opportunity to work with such giants of our industry as Cusack and Cage was just wonderful. Especially in tense scenes like the ones I am in with them. When you work with other actors of this caliber, it just makes you better, kind of brings your performance up a notch or two. I was very impressed with Scott Walker and his crew. Scott knew exactly what he wanted to get out of each scene, so there was a kind of economy of movement throughout. His 1st AD, Dan ‘Laz’ Lazarovits ran a tight set, so there weren’t a lot of re-takes in the scenes I was in. When we had filmed the big blow-up scene and Scott had gotten everything he needed, he asked, “Do you guys want to do one more and just have some fun with it?” Nobody spoke, so I almost yelled, “Yes. Absolutely yes!” Here I was with these A-list freaking movie stars and he asks about just going all-out for a last take? Hell, yes! From what I have seen of the trailer, a lot of that last take is what Scott went with. He also gave us a lot of leeway in playing the other scenes. John wanted to play the scene with Hansen and I at his cell very quietly before Hansen’s wife comes in. I think it played very well and certainly helped me to get a handle on my character’s relationship to John’s.
Let’s talk a bit about you Ron. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
I began as a folksinger surf/ski bum in California. I used to do a lot of comedy in my act at Mammoth Mtn Ski Resort and was invited to join Crackers, a Los Angeles musical theatre group to sing and write skits. One thing led to another and I gravitated into the legitamate theatre and then into films and television. It was also because I simply don’t know how to do anything else.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Study, get a good foundation, audition for everything and never give up.
You’ve worked on a number of different TV series and films as both an actor and transportation co-ordinator – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with and why? Any good stories?
So many old friends, so many stories. Here’s one: we were working late downtown L.A. one night. When we wrapped I went to the bar at the Biltmore Hotel across the street with old character actors George “Buck” Flower and Charles ‘Chuck” Napier. Chuck sidled up to this gorgeous girl at the bar and said, “Can I buy you a drink?” She shook her head and turned away. Chuck said, “Can I buy you a car?” She exploded in laughter and immediately became Chuck’s pal.
I learned a lot at ABC just watching Jackie Cooper direct actors. He was a peach, as was Bill Bixby; two terrific actor directors. Working on-stage with my late, great friend Jack Nance was some of the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on. And, of course, while I was stage managing some TV spots for Allen Ludden, I had the honour of being slapped on the butt by Betty White. That remains a high point of my career.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
Living With The Animals by Mother Earth – (Down So Low – Tracy Nelson) and Mister Kicks by Oscar Brown Jr.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose?
Ben Franklin, King James I of England and Dorothy Parker.
Which film was your favourite of 2012?
Toss-up...’Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
A TV pilot. I am returning to my roots playing a kind-of aging folkie-rock singer/guitarist that does ‘odd jobs’ for the local Anchorage crime family. A kind of a lovable good guy that does some pretty weird stuff. It’s called ‘Spread Eagle Alaska’. A dramedy. I have high hopes for it. There is also a film being done about the 1925 Diptheria serum run to save Nome, Alaska. I have some experience ‘mushing puppies,’ so hoping for a part in that one, too. Word is they will film in Canada or Iceland.
Thanks for the interview!