As a special dramatic presentation, History Channel is airing the 6-hour mini-series HATFIELDS & MCCOYS over three nights in order to tell the violent and labyrinthine story of two families whose personal feud led to one of the largest government-sanctioned manhunts in U.S. history.
The love story of Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield is one of the brightest and most heart-warming aspects to an otherwise dark tale of deceit, betrayal and burning hatred; and but for the entrenched and intractable animosity between their families, their love story could have healed the terrible wounds and perceived wrong-doings allowing future generations to live in peace. Instead, the terrifying tale of the HATFIELDS & MCCOYS marks a turning point in history when men were law unto themselves and family obligations came first, no matter how strong your love for another. It was a testament to how destiny struggled with the will of man — and it cost everyone dearly.
In exclusive interviews, stars Lindsay Pulsipher and Matt Barr shared what it was like bringing the story of the star-crossed lovers Roseanna and Johnse to life for this epic mini-series.
Roseanna had quite the love story threaded throughout the mini-series. What drew you to playing such a complicated character?
LINDSAY: I really loved Roseanna’s character arc. She really has a full spectrum. She starts in one place and really ends up in a completely different place, mentally and physically. And it was really interesting for me to have this soft character amongst all this feuding and fighting and oppression. It was so nice to have that breath of fresh air with her character.
She was one of the few characters that was given a distinct beginning and ending. It allowed us to see the whole scope of her life in a way. What did you find to be the most fun aspect of playing such a character?
LINDSAY: It was great because I got to play so many different aspects of her life. She really does have a beginning and an end, and it as so fun to play the different traits throughout her life. ‘Cause she’s the same person, but her mannerisms and everything that changes, it was fun as I changed her physicality throughout the series. That was really fun, to kind of play with those mannerisms and her different mental capacities. It was really fun.
Were you ever concerned how weathered and worn her look became towards the end of her journey?
LINDSAY: [Laughs] No, funny enough, I actually enjoyed that part about playing characters. I kind of like it when it’s interesting. I like to play a character and I’m not afraid of getting dirty or being haggard looking. I prefer that. I think that’s more interesting for me anyway.
This series really showed the gritty side of things. It really made it feel like these were real people living through these circumstances. At times it was hard to remember that you were playing characters, which is a credit to the cast. So what was it like working with these big name actors as they became immersed in their roles?
LINDSAY: Yeah, it was such an honor to work with Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe — these actors who have done such incredible work. I felt like I learned so much from them just being around them. Mare Winningham became a dear friend of mine and I just learned so much from her. She’s so dedicated and incredible to watch. I was so honored to be amongst such great talent.
Did you ever become so immersed in your character that you stopped seeing them as big actors and started seeing them as comrades-in-arms in these circumstances?
LINDSAY: Absolutely! It’s funny, when you’re on set, it’s all about the character. I really started seeing them through Roseanna’s eyes. You leave that persona of these incredible icons behind and they just become the character. It’s so fun to just play make-believe and play these different characters. I love it.
What were some of the challenges you encountered? It looked awfully cold at times.
LINDSAY: [Laughs] Yes, it was definitely that. There were some cold nights. I had a scene where I was riding the horse in the rain, and we were up in the mountains at that point, and it was cold and freezing temperatures. That was definitely a challenge, but those kinds of challenges kind of propel the character and I kind of think it helps enhance the performance. Because if you’re actually going through the physical elements, like the weather, affecting your physical body, then it kind of helps propel the character forward. You kind of start to use that.
Where did you film the mini-series?
LINDSAY: We shot it in Romania, which people are surprised about. But the locations that they found were incredible. The problem we ran into Kentucky and West Virginia is that it doesn’t really look like it did back in the Civil War era. So we had to find a place that was untouched, but still looked like the Appalachian Mountains. They did an incredible job.
Visually it really took you back to that place in time, which was surprising as a viewer ’cause it makes you forget that it doesn’t exist anymore.
LINDSAY: I know! And all the costumes. You put on that costume and you’re instantly transformed into another time. It’s great.
So this was like a microcosm because you were working on the mini-series. How long were you filming in Romania?
LINDSAY: We were there for almost four months. We started in September and ended in December. So we had full spectrum of weather and climate change.
That’s quite a lengthy amount of time, even for a mini-series, to be working together.
LINDSAY: It was. It was a good cast. We all got along really well, which is hard to do when there is such a big cast. But we all got along great.
Portraying Rosanna, you again had such a wealth of dramatic scenes to portray. Was there one that was particularly difficult for you to work with because of what she was going through?
LINDSAY: I quite prefer the emotional scenes. I think that, for some reason, they come a little bit easier for me. Kevin Reynolds, the director, he was so great about working with me and kind of forming the scenes. He was really just a great leader and collaborator in some of these scenes that are really emotional. One in particular was when Roseanna gave birth to the baby ’cause I haven’t been a mom. So those emotions and going through that was kind of strange, but it felt really special at the same time. That was really emotional for me.
What was it like working with your co-star Matt Barr, who you had most of your scenes with?
LINDSAY: It was really fun. He is such a dedicated actor. He’s so passionate about his work, and it was really fun to come into this great relationship and have him so excited about it. ‘Cause I was too and we kind of bonded over that. We bonded over the love of the story. We both kind of agreed that Roseanna and Johnse were the heart of the series, in a way. It gave us time to breathe. There’s so much violence and chaos going on, that it provided some nice quiet time for the series.
It seemed like there was a lot of enthusiasm when you and Matt were doing your scenes together. They were a little bit warmer than, of course, the other dramatic things that were going on, so it felt like you two were smirking a little bit at the camera.
LINDSAY: [Laughs] Oh really, that’s interesting! I think everybody was very enthusiastic about this project coming on to it and every single one of us said how excited we were to be there. We were all just so passionate about this project.
So you and Matt played the “Romeo and Juliet” storyline. Do you think that Roseanna and Johnse would have had a different story if they had actually gotten away from their families?
LINDSAY: I’d like to think so. I actually thought about that a lot: what would happen if they had branched off on their own. I like to think that it would be really beautiful and they had a wonderful life together.
The series was always dangling the possibility that Roseanna might eventually accept one of Perry Cline’s proposals, and his last proposal created one of your more dramatic scenes. What was that like to work on that scene?
LINDSAY: That was after Roseanna had really transformed from who she was at the beginning of the series. Ronan Vibert, who plays Perry Cline, he is a tremendous actor and it was really easy to play that scene even though it’s so emotional. It was really fun to work with him. He’s super talented and he kind of helped me through that one.
It caught me off-guard. I probably should have anticipated it, but I was very surprised when that happened.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I know!
What will you take away from the HATFIELDS & MCCOYS mini-series?
LINDSAY: It will be just really fulfilling to see the whole project come together. To see it as a whole. When I first read this script, I was blown away by the dynamic of it. How rich and full it was. It’s always amazing to see it come together and to see the scenes that I wasn’t in. To see how they played out, it’s just sweet. I’m super excited to see it!
Then for his perspective on, Matt Barr shared his experiences working on this wonderful mini-series.
What attracted you to the role of Johnse Hatfield?
MATT: Two different things: one, my childhood idol is Kevin Costner. We actually met briefly when I was eleven years old and I told him I was going to grow up and play his son in a movie. So when this came along, I always wanted to work with him as an actor and as a filmmaker. So I knew he was attached. Then when I read the script, it just had all the elements that I love in storytelling. It was kind of timeless. It was epic. It’s tragic. And I like when the character is kind of put upon by the world. He’s somewhat of a black-sheep and it makes for a fun dynamic.
There were a lot of rich textures to this story and the characters themselves. Was there anything that you really admired about portraying Johnse?
MATT: I like that throughout all the chaos, death and war that endured over the years, Johnse never really lost himself. He was still so pure-hearted about things and in a way, unaffected. Even when he was brought to his breaking point, I think that in the end, he was still that young dreamer. Kind of a young lover. I don’t want to give it away to the audience, but he does end up going West.
Do you think he was ultimately more of a pacifist than the rest of his family? ‘Cause he seemed so reluctant to get involved in some of the shenanigans.
MATT: Absolutely. For that generation of Hatfields and McCoys, they were innately raised with a sense of judgment towards the opposing family, and what separates Johnse is he just doesn’t have it. He doesn’t have the hate and, unfortunately, it causes a lot of conflict between he and his family.
For your portrayal, working with Lindsay, were you more focused on trying to make this a love-story than opposed to just two families that were always fighting with each other?
MATT: Absolutely. I think a lot of the heart and soul of the mini-series lie within the Johnse/Roseanna storyline. They represent the best of us. So that love-story, that narrative thread is what I really buy into as you’re kind of taking the ride through all those years. It shows how black-and-white it is. How ugly those families became. There was something so beautiful and kind of pure in what Johnse and Roseanna had.
As far as working with Lindsay, it seemed like in a couple of your scenes together, the two of you were smirking through the scenes. Like you were having way too much fun portraying the characters.
MATT: [Laughs] That’s true. We did. We were kind of buddies. We were in Romania in the middle of nowhere and we shot a lot of those scenes early on in the filming. So we all were just discovering who we were and we were so excited to be there. It’s almost like how the movie unravels: in the beginning, it’s all kind of bright and sunny and “peaches and cream,” then by the third month of filming, it’s like dark and cold and characters had died. So it kind of reflected our own journeys.
What can you share about some of the costuming choices? Like there’s the one line where Kevin Costner’s character Devil remarks about Johnse’s “fancy boots.” Did you have any input into the costuming, or were you just wearing whatever they gave you?
MATT: I did. I had a color scheme for Johnse. So when I talked with the designer we were on the same page. A lot of the other characters had something monochromatic or kind of dull feel, which reflected that time and sort of the climate, if you will. Johnse was different, so we had these lighter colors: blues. Which to me represented the sky and the ocean — something greater that was out West. He always wanted to go find that great blue ocean, so I liked that he had some actual color in his life and his wardrobe. I thought that they did a great job with that. Now I never did get used to the hat that Johnse wore. I think every kid wants to be like Clint Eastwood or John Wayne and have some bad-ass cowboy hat. But they kept telling me that “we’re not making a cowboy movie here.” So I wore my bowler hat, or whatever it’s called. My pan-handler hat.
I think it helped define who Johnse was. It gave a sense that he wasn’t committed to being a hard, tough criminal. He was just kind of playing his part and he was like, “yeah, I’ve got to have a hat, but it doesn’t have to be that tough of a hat.”
MATT: That’s right. If you noticed, as Johnse evolved, he creates his own kind of enterprise. He makes his own money. He likes things clean and he has fancy boots, but he always has that hat. I found that kind of special.
It seemed like Johnse was hiding in plain sight. He knew he had to live up to this name, that he was part of the Hatfield family, but he had this totally different persona that he kept hidden away from everybody. Did you sense that and play that a little bit?
MATT: Yeah. He so strongly wanted to be a part of his family. He wants to be accepted like any child does. You want to be loved and there’s no one else in the world. It’s a very lonely place if you’re not surrounded by that support. You’re right, because he was different, he does kind of live in the closet in terms of how he feels. It’s really tragic that he had to live behind a facade for so many years.
Finally, what was it like to do that one scene with Kevin Costner where Devil and Johnse are fishing?
MATT: Oh, man, that was kind of the culmination — not only for Johnse and his father, but of Matt and Kevin. It was sort of that one scene that as an actor I’ve always dreamed of getting a chance to do with my idol. It was also the scene that made me want to do the movie when I read the script. As an actor, it’s crack. And we spent a whole day actually filming that one scene. It was just one of those magic days where you’re sort of half present in the moment, then I have to admit it’s an out-of-body experience and I was kind of sitting there looking down in awe at how special that moment really was. And I learned so much. I felt like a student in KC’s school. If I could relive one moment, it would be back there on that riverbank fishing with Kevin and talking about how to be an actor.
Tiffany Vogt blogs at The TV Addict.