Stealing a scene from Billy Bob Thornton in the 1996 Academy Award-winning film “Sling Blade” may be enough cinematic bragging rights for some. For actor and jam band elder statesman Col. Bruce Hampton — call him the Southern Zappa — it’s just another stripe on the proverbial uniform.
Now 20 years later, Hampton continues to put down the guitar long enough to periodically pop up in front of the camera. With the feature flick “Here Comes Rusty” premiering at the Atlanta Film Festival, Hampton slides into the starring role, leading the troops, including acclaimed funny man Fred Willard and actress Joey Lauren Adams.
“Here Comes Rusty” finds Hampton as Dicky St. Jon, a dog track owner looking to leave his troubles in the dust. So he makes a massive wager with Mak (Willard), a shifty used car salesman with a penchant for gaudy Western garb.
“Rusty” also drops Hampton into his natural element: the concert stage. Dicky and the Dinosaurs, Hampton’s band in the film, features the flashy fretwork of 12-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. Hampton’s knack for sniffing out tomorrow’s rock stars today — Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge (the Allman Brothers Band) and others— rings true once again with Niederauer, who’s currently wielding his ax on Broadway in “School of Rock.” In fact, Niederauer will join Hampton and a new incarnation of the Dinosaurs onstage after Sunday night’s screening and post-film Q&A for a separate concert event.
Before suiting up for the big premiere, Hampton spoke about the comedic magic of Fred Willard, discovering Niederauer and stepping into the leading man spotlight with “Rusty.”
On how he became involved with “Here Comes Rusty”:
“We get two or three calls a year about being in a movie. They’re usually from borderline people, nut job stuff. It’s always in Saskatchewan or somewhere, and I just don’t feel it. But (one of the ‘Here Comes Rusty’ filmmakers) called and said, ‘I’m from Arkansas and I’m a farmer. Would you like to star in this movie?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ I knew immediately that I was supposed to be in it, whether it be good, bad or ugly. I could feel it in my back. They came here in February of 2015. We met, and I saw the script. I said, ‘This thing’s great. I really like this.’ They got Fred Willard, Joey Lauren Adams and a bunch of other great actors in it: Theo Crane and the great Paulie Litt. We shot it in about three weeks in Mobile, Ala., where they have avocado sandwiches. It was an incredible crew, and it just flowed real well.”
On working with Fred Willard:
“He’s a giant. It’s like working with Lou Gehrig or Willie Mays. … Fred is just a consummate professional. He knew every line and just didn’t make any mistakes. … He’s in his 70s, and the temperature was 100 degrees and the humidity felt like 300. We were all getting hot and tired, and he just kept on going. He wanted to do more and was so childlike it was inspiring. … Nobody comes close to his comedic timing. I’ve never seen anyone with the subtlety he has. It’s just absolute genius. I put him on the Jonathan Winters, Groucho Marx level. He’s one of the all-time greats. He just doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.”
On Brandon “Taz” Niederauer:
“I was (helping teach) a class on the Jam Cruise a couple of years ago. Brandon was in the audience, and he was 9 or 10 years old. I heard him play, and he sounded so good it was unbelievable. … Now he’s in ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway. They’re extending it through November. He was on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,’ and Jane Fonda fell in love with him. He stole that show. And he was in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He’s a great guy, has amazing intent and an ear like nobody. He’s more than a prodigy. … He’s hopping a plane right after his show on Broadway and coming right here to play our show.”
On film vs. music:
“Film isn’t immediate. Music is in the moment. You either capture it or you don’t. With film, you can cheat, lie and do 40 takes until you get it right. A good editor can make you look good or bad. It’s a whole different thing, and I like them both. Film’s just another discipline. You sit around for eight hours, then all of a sudden you’re in the NBA finals.”
“Here Comes Rusty” premiere: 7 p.m. April 3. $10. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta. atlantafilmfestival.com.
Dicky and the Dinosaurs featuring Col. Bruce Hampton: 10 p.m. April 3. $12 advance plus fees; $5 online discount when using the code “griteater”; $15 at the door. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 1-800-653-8000, ticketmaster.com.
ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL
April 1-10 at multiple venues, offering 200 films, including shorts, features and documentaries. Prices for festival passes range from $350 for an all-access pass to $50 for the Movie Hopper Card. Tickets for individual screenings are $10. A Producer’s Pass ($750) also is available for exclusive access to festival screenings, educational programming and parties. 470-296-0170, atlantafilmfestival.com.