I have been enamored with the film Gettysburg (1993) ever since middle school. I jumped at the chance to have actor Patrick Gorman (who memorably portrayed General John Bell Hood) answer some of my questions by email. He was courteous and very friendly. Below are my questions and Gorman’s answers.
How did you end up with the role of General John Bell Hood in the film Gettysburg?
When I read for the film, I wanted to play Armistead. That’s who I was hoping to read for when I read The Killer Angels, but they had already cast Richard Jordan (he was perfect).
They wanted me to read for Hood, and I’m glad they did. I could relate to Hood more personally, even though Hood was “the blond giant”—he was like 6’2, had really broad shoulders, and had a brooding, sad look. Well, I’m 5’10, and I don’t have broad shoulders; but I got cast.
Originally, when I heard Robert Duvall [first cast as Lee but had to drop out and was replaced by Martin Sheen] was going to do The Killer Angels, a Civil War story, I said to my wife (married then, not now), “You know, there’s gotta be something for me in this film… Sheridan? Something!!!” I had a picture taken in the process of growing my hair back from a shaved head and had a bit of stubble, and this dark look in my eyes.
I delivered the picture to the casting office disguised as a messenger, which in fact I was at the time as my “B-Job” (My agent didn’t submit me, I did that). Nobody in the office knew me and I got away with delivering my own submission like it came from an agent. Joy Todd, the casting person, called me in because of the picture. Later I found out that when they saw the picture they said, “We just pray that he can act because he is the only one who even comes close to Hood.” They really had a difficult time getting anyone they liked to read for that role (Hood).
Any the funny thing is, I don’t really look like him at all, but I had something. And incredible luck. The fact that I have a lot of Civil War fans validates that I guess, because apparently I was very successful in getting Hood’s persona across.
How did you prepare for it? What kind of research did you do on the general?
Of course, I read The Gallant Hood and all the books I could that referenced him (Advance and Retreat, of course, but all the books I could find where he was mentioned).
Hood was, to me, a romantic, tragic character, and a man with an incredible constitution. How he survived the war with those terrible wounds and the destruction of what he believed has always fascinated me. He was a rising star up until Gettysburg, and from then on, as with the Confederacy, it was all downhill.
The criticisms leveled against him by some historians don’t hold water. Most of the damning ones were made by second-hand accounts. No general, not even Lee, could have saved Atlanta or Franklin. The truth and the measure of the man, for me, has to reside in the fact that, after the war, and even after his death, the men who served under him still honored him.
I can’t say I identify with him but, hopefully, I was able to penetrate something of his persona in order to embody him in the film. It is not necessary for an actor to ‘like’ a character he plays. In fact, it’s not even pertinent. You must not, in my opinion, judge your character. You have to attempt to see with his eyes and act with his resolve. You have to believe in them and they have to breathe.
I served in the military, but as an enlisted man, so I have no real experience of the kinds of decisions he had to make. But, of course, that’s what the imagination is for. That’s what the research is for, and I have always had great respect for the profession of arms. For me, the military has one true function, to protect the nation, the society which they serve. The military is for defense but that also means you have to be a master of attack as well. I have always been drawn to the military, martial arts, and the history of warfare. Hood was a perfect character for me to address. Attack, that’s how I think of him.
Although I had experience as a horseman (I grew up playing cowboys and Indians riding bareback on real horses), Hood was an expert (he was going to teach cavalry tactics at West Point when the rebellion started), so I had to work on my skills. I made friends with the film wranglers and encouraged them to find me a mount that would make me look good and not be too much for me. They were a great help and acted as my staff in the film. Also, they made sure I had a Hope saddle because apparently, that is what he rode. Yes, although a native Kentuckian, he was partial to Texas and the Texans and even I had the honor to be made an honorary Texan by the reenactors from Texas in the film.
My mount was ‘Badger’ and he’d done more major films than I had. We worked well together. With luck and his smooth gait, I never fell off. The fine points for my confidence in playing him came later as I rode into the reenactor encampments in character as Hood. They welcomed me as the good general and I learned lots of anecdotal stuff that I didn’t find in books. They helped set the mood for how it might have been. I owe them a lot. The whole film did. By the time I went before the cameras, I felt comfortable as Hood.
You have great chemistry with General Longstreet (Tom Berenger) in the film. How did you two establish such a great rapport?
Tom Berenger was the heart of the production for me. He really checked on every one of his generals to find what kind of research and passion we brought. While filming, he organized a Friday Night Confederate Officers Club meeting at the Farnsworth House. He was an inspiration and a gentleman. I’d only first met him at the table read of the script on location before we began filming. I noticed that at the breaks during the reading he was sorting out boxes of swords to give to his staff, his generals, and I thought how thoughtful that he’d gone to props and brought them to the reading. Actually, he was more than thoughtful because he had gone out on his own dime and purchased swords for each one of us and they were all different and personalized. Mine was a CSA cavalry saber with an actual 1862 CSA blade but with a replica hilt and sabretache. It was inscribed: “Maj. General John Hood 1st Corp. Compliments Lieut.-Gen. James Longstreet Army of Northern Virginia.” A personal and generous gift which meant a lot. He cemented the Confederates together in a very important way. Besides, he was a pleasure to work with and I just got along with him extremely well. A joy to work with.
Have you had a chance to read The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood (2015) or John Hood: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2016) by Stephen M. Hood? If so what is your take on them?
Yes, I read them as a gift from Stephen and they validated what I’d always surmised from what I found, especially about the drinking and the laudanum. Those reports were all second hand; not by anyone who was actually there. Petty and envious.
I see that you are listed for the role of General Charles F. Smith in the To Appomattox TV series project. How do you plan to prepare to play Grant’s mentor and friend?
Again, a fascinating character. Read all that I could and this is a truly admirable man. Hah! Even look forward to leading the green troops into battle with muskets unloaded. Hopefully also, to play the younger and older version. Have done some make-up versions of both though I am decidedly too old to play him. I believe I can pull it off. Besides, a bit of historical license here. Not many people will know what he actually looked like—except you and probably lots of reenactors. Thanks for your piece on him [a past ECW post]. Excellent.
You mentioned that it took director Ron Maxwell almost two decades to turn Killer Angels (Gettysburg) into a film. Do you think there will be another Civil War film like Gettysburg or Gods & Generals?
Well, if they could just get To Appomattox before the cameras, it would give it a good run. I’ve read all the episodes and they are wonderful. It should be a series, just as Gods and Generals should have been. But surely there are projects out there that could rival the success of Gettysburg. Certainly, Glory was a great film and there are really so many untouched stories in our history that have yet to be addressed. We need these stories to stir up our youth to examine the Civil War. Certainly, the issues which caused it are yet to be entirely resolved. Movies can inspire and educate along with being entertaining. Gettysburg proved that I think.
What is your favorite Civil War book?
Grant’s Memoirs and anything that Shelby Foote ever wrote.
I read about your passion for Aikido and Japanese calligraphy. Can you tell me more about both of these interests?
I’ve been, and still am, training in Aikido (over 33 years). I have trained in other martial arts before that growing up and for most of my adult life. The principles of Aiki are profoundly valuable in life as well as martial arts. It made a difference in how I live and how I pursue my craft. All martial arts have their limitations when confronted with real fighting, but the principles remain useful and practice makes ‘perfect.’ Awareness, focus, and being in the moment, coupled with skills long honed, is what it’s all about.
Japanese calligraphy (shodo) has fascinated me since I was very young. Actually originally, it was the love of the Chinese characters and then when I learned about Japanese arts and language I found that the Chinese characters were also used in their ‘alphabet.’ I am not fluent in Japanese or in the writing of the language but I do learn characters and practice what I know just for aesthetic reasons. Actually, at one point, where we practiced shodo as part of the Aikido training, I had some of my samples published in Japan. An honor, but as an American student training in Aikido in America. Actually, I think I have a snapshot of shodo I was doing in my off hours and in the Gettysburg Hotel during filming.