For his latest project, indie wunderkind filmmaker Mickey Reece transports viewers back to the year 1994 as we follow Troyal Brux (played by Reece), a country music star whose popularity is quickly on the rise. One day, he gets invited to spend a day with the legendary George Jones out of the blue, and during their shenanigans, Troyal learns some hilarious truths about the price of fame and just how difficult life can be when you’re a superstar.
Country Gold recently celebrated its world premiere as part of the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival, and to mark the occasion, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Reece about his newest cinematic endeavor and during our conversation, he chatted about bringing together the world of country music with ’70s-style storytelling, reteaming with Ben Hall once again for Country Gold, and more.
I never in a million years would've imagined I'd be watching this alternate take on the world of country music involving George Jones of all people. George Jones is somebody that I was extremely familiar with coming into this, because of the music I grew up with, and so that made Country Gold feel just so fascinating and different. And I'm curious, how did this all come together?
Mickey Reece: See, it's just a bit. You know what I mean? It's just a comedy. It's funny. The idea of coming up with it was after doing Alien, the Elvis movie we did in 2017. It was like, okay, I want to do the whole trilogy of American iconography, just capitalizing on the mythology of these celebrities like Elvis, or Garth Brooks, or someone else where I’m creating these scenarios around them. But yeah, it was a bit that we came up with in the car, me and my friend Jacob Schnabel, who plays Garth's tour manager in this movie. We were in the car, and we're just trying to cook up premises and came up with the logline that was “George Jones invites Garth Brooks out on the town in Nashville the night before he is to be cryogenically frozen.”
We thought that would be a funny movie and we had that idea gestating for years. And then, after doing a string of horror-adjacent films like Strike, Dear Mistress, Climate of the Hunter, and Agnes, I was like, “All right. I want to go back to doing that Garth Brooks movie because now we can do it because we can get enough money to pull it off. But essentially it's all for laughs. And I feel like the laughs have to have some kind of tension there, where you have to let loose some tension in order to really laugh.
I feel like the world of country music can be so specific. Did you have to kind of immerse yourself in certain aspects of that industry in order to add some authenticity to this story? Because while it’s all so unbelievable, it’s also extremely believable at the same time.
Mickey Reece: Well, I grew up in Oklahoma and I've been in Oklahoma all my life, so that stuff was easy—finding locations and places like that. And also, it was an all-Oklahoma crew and an all-Oklahoma cast. So everyone there, we all know this stuff. We grew up with this stuff. You know what I mean? So that was easy. The real thing was just to not make it cliché, to not make it too specific like you're describing it, but to just kind of keep it in the realm of classic cinema. So we're just taking ’90s country and turning it into classic ’70s cinema, where we were making The Last Picture Show but with ’90s country stars.
I'm really glad you mentioned The Last Picture Show, because there were aspects of this that reminded me of that. But also, and this is going to sound like a weird comparison, but some of it reminded me of Clerks in a way, too. And I really felt like all these conversations were so perfectly heightened because of how well you guys were able to build this world around those moments.
Mickey Reece: I mean, I try to do that with every movie, where I’m essentially just trying to create some specific place by grabbing two things that don't really belong and putting them together. You know what I mean? And when we went to color grade it, one side of the frame on the monitor was Country Gold and on the other side of the frame was The Last Picture Show, and we were just matching it to make it look exactly like it, adding little cigarette burns and making the film a little dirty every once in a while. But I didn't want to overdo it, because I hate it whenever people do that with digital. It just looks cheap.
So yeah, there was a lot of care put into this to create this nostalgic-looking thing, where it feels like you're watching The Last Picture Show or Tender Mercies or a movie like that. But anytime someone has something negative to say about the movies, it's always just them complaining that nothing happens or it’s just people talking, and I'm like, “That's every movie I've ever made.” If you're going to sit down and watch my movies and you don't want to hear just people sitting around talking with no story, then don't go see them, because that's what they're all going to be [laughs].
I want to talk about Ben Hall in this, because I've seen him in several of your other films and other movies, too, but I never in a million years would've imagined that I completely would've bought him as George Jones, but I did. What’s your collaborative process been like for you with him throughout these different projects?
Mickey Reece: Well, it's not like Ben specifically watched George Jones and learned his mannerisms or anything. I told him specifically not to do that because I was like, “This is a wildly different take on his persona. Don't think that you're coming in here trying to be exactly like George Jones, because then we're going to get into arguments.” Because he'd be like, "George Jones would never do this." But this isn't George Jones. I just told him to embody him and don't necessarily worry about the specifics of who he was. And yeah, he's just an amazing actor. He can play anything, and I'm so glad we found each other three or four years ago. Maybe it's longer than that. I can't remember. I think the first movie he did of mine was Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, and then we did Climate of the Hunter and then Agnes and now Country Gold. So we've done four movies together, and I think he's like De Niro. He can play anything. I just want to provide him with the material to do so.