Matt Barr (left) plays Johnse Hatfield, the son of Kevin Costner's… (History )
When Matt Barr was 15 years old, he "somehow" got from his hometown of Austin, Texas, to Dallas and into a screening of Kevin Costner's 1999 film "For Love of the Game." He walked up to the actor and told him, "Someday I'm going to grow up and play your son in a real movie."
So it was a no-brainer for Barr, now 28, when he was offered the role of Johnse Hatfield, the conflicted son of Costner's Devil Anse Hatfield, in History Channel's three-part drama "Hatfields & McCoys," which airs at 8 p.m. May 28, 29 and 30.
"I always legitimately idolized Kevin Costner. I grew up a boy in Texas and I wanted to make Westerns. You know Kevin's a pro at that," Barr said during a phone chat Wednesday. "And so I had always wanted to work with him. ... Life has a way of going full circle."
The six-hour miniseries recounts the true story of one of America's most famous feuds. The bloody battles between the Hatfield and McCoy families started shortly after the Civil War in the backwoods where West Virginia and Kentucky meet, nearly sparked a war between the two states and claimed the lives of more than 15 people over 25 years. And it all started over timber rights, the ownership of a pig and a pair of star-crossed lovers.
The feud fizzled in 1888 but wasn't officially ended until 2003 when descendants of the two clans signed a symbolic truce.
Johnse Hatfield was half of that 19th-century Romeo and Juliet who fueled the feud, a boy who fell in love with Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher), the daughter of his daddy's friend-turned-deadly-enemy, Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton). As in the real-life conflict, their doomed love affair plays a major part in the miniseries, which draws heavily on historical accounts.
Johnse's love for Roseanna crushed his father, who felt his son betrayed his duty to the family. Barr found that father-son tension fascinating, and not just because he was acting opposite Costner, an Oscar winner for his epic 1990 Western "Dances with Wolves."
"I think no matter how much you disagree with your own father, you want him to be proud of you," Barr said. "You want your dad to love you. People spend their lives trying to earn that sometimes from their parents. I just found that very beautiful and very tragic."
Barr, who has starred in such series as "Harper's Island" and "Hellcats," didn't get reacquainted with Costner until he got to Romania, where the cast lived together at a ski resort while filming in the Transylvanian Mountains.
Barr said he mentioned that they had met before, and that he still had the photo taken of the pair in 1999.
"We talked and talked for days about it," he said, laughing. "It was pretty cool."
Barr talked more about working with the cast that also included Powers Booth, Mare Winningham and Jena Malone, filming in Romania and why viewers should tune in to "Hatfields & McCoys" (It has something to do with skinny-dipping.)
I just finished watching the third installment and I have to say, that scene between you and Kevin at the fishing hole was quite intense.
Mm-hmm. That's like one of those great, I think, great screenplay moments. When you read it you kind of go, "Man, this is what making movies is all about."
What drew you to the project in the first place?
Really two things. One being I always legitimately idolized Kevin Costner. ... And then I read this script, and I thought it really had everything that I love about a great story. It was tragic. It had action, adventure, romance, real specific characters that live even on the page, in the black-and-white text, and so specific. So it's just everything that I love about this business, right here in that screenplay.
How was shooting in Romania?
I loved Romania. We spent a lot of time up in the Transylvanian Mountains. A lot of that area still feels like it's stuck in the late 1800s. There are no power lines, a lot of the locals use horse-drawn wagons to haul their lumber and things like that through it. I really felt like we sort of went back in time and entered into that world. In addition to the whole cast living together in a little ski resort where you're sort of isolated from the world. And we really felt like we were the Hatfields and McCoys.
Except not feuding.
Except not feuding, yeah. There was a rul, whenever we'd wrap for a day, you'd get back to the hotel and you all share a beer together.
I read a few things about people saying this being an American story it should have shot it in the U.S., but it looks pretty authentic on screen.
I had the same frustration when I first heard that. I thought this is the great American story. Let's do it here, damnit. But once we got up there, and if you've seen it you know how extraordinary it looks. It really served that story and time period well. And so I think we all slowly jumped on the bandwagon and were happy to be over there.