Union Bound, now in theaters nationwide, is based on the incredible true story of Sergeant Joseph E. Hoover, a Union soldier during the Civil War.
According to the account found in his personal diaries, in 1864, Hoover (Sean Stone) was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness, taken to the notorious Camp Andersonville, and then transferred to a camp in Florence, SC. The film follows the escape to freedom via the underground railroad of Hoover and his friend, Tom Ryan, (Randy Wayne) with the help of a black slave, Jim Young (Tank Jones).
Directed by Harvey Lowry and produced by Uptone Pictures, Union Bound explores themes of faith, courage and friendship in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.
In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, actor Tank Jones (Breaking Bad, Three Kings, CSI: Miami and Rules of Engagement) revealed why this film will not only inspire, uplift and entertain viewers, but provides undeniable proof that unity is possible - both during the Civil War and in today's racially conflicted atmosphere.
GH: In Union Bound, you play the role of Jim Young, who is based on a real person. What drew you to that role and this film in general?
TJ: My friend, Harvey Lowry, was shooting a film and called me and said, "I'm working on a movie, called Union Bound, and we're shooting in North Carolina. I want you to read the script and tell me what you think." So, I read the script, told him I loved it - I wasn't the original choice for Jim Young; there was another character they were trying to get from the Walking Dead. But, after I read it and told him my notes, he offered me the role, which I graciously accepted. I said, "Hey, it's an interesting take on the Civil War because it's two white Union soldiers who get captured and look for help from salves to get free." And he said, "Yeah but it's based on a true story," and I said, "Even better."
Jim Young goes through so many different emotional changes, and as an actor, you want to see if you can pull something like that off. Getting that opportunity, I wanted to make sure I put as much as I could into that role. I've seen some of the reviews, and apparently they're seeing the work, and that means a lot, because I really tried to put my best work forward. I wanted to make sure that when people saw Jim, they saw him as a real person, as a three-dimensional person, not just another person playing in a slave film and making him two-dimensional. I wanted people to feel what he felt.
GH: To prepare for this role, you met the descendants of Jim Young and visited the plantations where the historic events took place. What was that experience like?
TJ: I'd never been to the Carolinas before, and the Carolinas - particularly Charleston - that was the epicenter of the slave trade here in the United States. That was the port where all slaves came through. So, I went to a plantation where we were shooting. Before that, I didn't know how I would feel going to a real plantation. When I got to the plantation, I was able to see the actually quarters where the slaves lived, and looked inside, and I saw the tools the slaves had used, the places they slept. It was just looking and taking it all in - I took several deep breaths; I don't know if I could exhale much when I was there. Afterward, I just knew I wanted to do Jim Young proud. I met his family - they hugged me like I was the real Jim Young with tears, and said, "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here." That was really touching for me. I said, "Thank you, but thank you for adding this pressure on," (laughs) it was so great. I enjoyed meeting the family; we've developed a relationship and a great friendship. I talk to them quite often, and they're lovely people.
GH: How did you grow and change personally after working on this film?
TJ: Jim is someone who is principled. In the Civil War era, you can't help but see race, but he saw the heart. As far as relationships go, in the film, he's looking at what is the right thing to do, how is he being led. He mentions in there that he's not a terribly religious person, but he is led in a spiritual way by God to do the right thing and uphold the principles that Christ stood for when he was here on earth. That's how Jim lived his life, even when he was taken and sold away. Even through all the horrible things that happened to him, he was still looking at the heart; he was still looking to do the right thing.
I've done many interviews, and I do confess to be a Christian, I do profess that Christ is the head of my life. I'm looking to strive to be better and better every day, and trying not to judge on earthly appearances, but ask, "What would Christ do in this particular situation? How can I still decide to do the right thing despite what consequences those choices might bring?"
Jim put himself in life and death situations because it was the right thing to do. At least I've begun to ask the questions. What would Christ do? And tongue in cheek - what would Jim do? (laughs)
GH: One of the key messages in this film is that it's possible to have unity in seemingly hopeless circumstances. In your opinion, why is this message so relevant in today's culture and racially conflicted atmosphere?
TJ: People look at the Civil War in various ways; some people are tired of hearing about it, they'll say, "It happened 150 years ago." And people on the other side say, "It ONLY happened 150 years ago." They have reenactments all over the country, particularly in the South of this event, it's historical. What I do love about this country is that we have the Bill of Rights, we have the First Amendment, we have the ability to express ourselves. You are entitled to your opinion, you are entitled to express your opinion, and we should learn to agree to disagree. One of the things in our social media society - everyone is so focused on getting likes and shares and finding people who think like them, and even if they have friends for 10, 15 years who don't think like them, they're unfriending them on social media. It's causing an interesting rift in society, and people don't have skills to debate those who have a differing opinion anymore. They're not able to come to an understanding. We have begun to take hardline stances on everything, and there's no growth that can happen there.
My hope, is not that an independent film that is going to be released in a few hundred theaters across the country, can do all of those things, but I would hope it could at least start a conversation and bring people back to the table. I want people to understand that amid the darkest periods in our nation's history, you had people working together. Joseph and Tom didn't see slaves as people, too, even though they were on the Union side. But by the end of the film, he acknowledges Jim as a person; he acknowledges what Jim did to help them. If we could learn to come to the table and talk a little bit more, we'd notice that our differences are what make us great. It's okay not to agree. Let's see if we can bring this back to the table to spark the conversation to learn more about each other. Anytime you learn more, it can help you grow. Anytime you cut off the ability to learn, and you're not willing to examine your opinion and what the roots of it are, how are you ever going to grow?
GH: Why will this film resonate in particular with churches and faith-based audiences?
TJ: The knock on "faith-based films," especially among critical opinions, is that it hits you across the head with the faith message. This film does not hit you on the head with a faith-based message, but you can definitely see the hand of God in the production and the film.
In the film, Jim acknowledges the presence of God and talks about him putting him on his path. It's not hitting you on the head, but if you're looking for something to be able to introduce God to people in a way where it's at least palatable, so it starts a conversation, this is it. Every church group and any group that is related that wants to talk about ways in which cinema can introduce Christ into the world in a cinematic way, this is it. Union Bound does it really well. It talks about race, but also introduces that element to people as well. It's great in the way in which it does it; it's done it in a subtle way, and a way that people will begin to talk about it because of how it's done. I saw it personally when it was being shot.
GH: What are you some challenges you face as a Christian in a predominantly secular industry?
TJ: That's an interesting question. I look at it like so: You pray about roles, and you let the voice of God lead you. If that's what you're doing, he'll bless it. I have great relationships with people in this industry, and they know who I am and what I'm about. I haven't had any issues where I've felt my faith being compromised or that I've had to compromise my values for anything. I pray about it, and if I don't' feel I should do it, I don't. I haven't received any flak about that whatsoever. I believe that when you're real and genuine and let the love of Christ flow through you and let other people see it, I'm blessed when I come when I come and blessed when I go, I'm blessed when I'm there. People have no choice to submit to the will of God, whether they know it or not. It's the Christ that lives inside me. I pray the prayer of Jabez every night with my kids - I believe those words, and that's what God is doing for me now. This is one of those roles where God decided to smile on brother Tank (laughs).