Interview with Russell Means

Russell Means has been contributing his acting talents to film and television productions since the early 1990's and is still going strong. In 1999, Russell joined the Production of Thomas and the Magic Railroad to portray Billy Two-Feathers, Engineer of the Indian Valley Railroad's locomotive The Rainbow Sun and resident of Shining Time. Fans will appreciate Russell's honest and straightforward manner as he shares his recollections of Magic Railroad below...
in a phone interview with Jim Gratton, 28 April, 2007

Can you tell us how you became involved with the Magic Railroad movie?
I was contacted by my agent and was offered the role, so I took it after I read the script.

Were you familiar with the Shining Time Station TV series and of Thomas the Tank Engine in general?
I knew about it because my good friend, George Carlin had been on it for a while.

Getting back to the script, we discovered that there were many powerful scenes that were filmed, and then cut from the final movie we ended up with.
Yes, well the entire movie as originally written was fantastic. I was so confident that this was going to be an over 100 million dollar hit, that I was just elated with the role and elated with the story. It was so complete (the story), that any 8 year old could grasp it.
 
But, you have to understand the idiocy of Hollywood, which is the studio system. And the studio system, they are bereft of humanity, and they do not understand anything, let alone children.
 
For instance, they did some test showings to 5-6 year olds, and then they said that the 5-6 year olds couldn’t get the live-action, but they really got the cartoon action. What?! At any rate, well why are you worried about the 5-6 year olds? You know that from 5-8, the parents have to take them to the movies. They’re not going to take them a second time. With kids older than 8 years old, they can go by themselves, and they return. That’s what makes a hit movie – it’s the return to see the movie!
 
But the studio that was in charge of the movie, they as you know cut up the movie until it was unrecognizable. Peter Fonda was livid! Because insofar as the story is concerned, as it was shown on the movie screen, there was no reason for his character! They’d cut out the entire reason for his character. That had to be confusing!
 
But nevertheless, the movie as originally written, and in the director’s cut - I understand that there is a director’s cut – is excellent. I think that people such as yourself, with other fans and the actors - we should start throwing demands out there. I still believe that the movie in its original entirety is a huge hit, just like other children’s movies.

Russell Means and Didi Conn
Russell Means (Billy Two-Feathers) and Didi Conn (Stacy Jones)

We learned from Doug Lennox who played PT Boomer that his role was dropped because it was too frightening to children.
Yeah, that’s the other thing I heard – ‘It was too frightening for children’. I feel so bad for Britt and everyone in there! The lady who played the stationmaster - Didi Conn, had two thirds or 75% of her role cut out. She had even more cut out than I did, and that was really sad because she played such a great role and is such a good actress. The whole thing was a huge - HUGE disappointment, and I do believe if a groundswell of fans could get going, we could get that director’s cut released.

It would be nice with the 10th anniversary of the movie coming up (2010)
Wouldn’t it though?

What was it like driving the locomotive* in the movie?
It was fantastic! I understand what a privilege that is. There are train buffs that would give one of their extremities to be able to do that – I know that! So I am very happy with that experience. I drove a train out of Pennsylvania, and I drove a train on the Isle of Man.

Do you have any special message to pass on to fans of the movie?
I just told you – a groundswell of demand to see the entire movie.
 
I really appreciate you taking the time from your weekend to speak to me. Once the interview is up on the fansite, we’ll send Mrs. Means the link to it.
Sure thing, I appreciate that. Take care.

Thumbs-up to release the Director's Cut!
Postscript
A special screening of Thomas and the Magic Railroad movie by American Cinematheque took place at 3 PM PT on Sunday, 15 July, 2007 at the famous Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. After the screening, Britt hosted an audience session with  actor Russell Means, Composer Hummie Mann and Cinematographer Paul Ryan. Pearl Means was kind enough to give us an update about the event (with our many thanks) received 18 October, 2007:
Russell did participate in the Q & A after the showing of "Thomas and the Magic RR".  He stated emphatically his disappointment in the studio's editing so much of the version that was released.  He talked about much of Peter Fonda's character being cut and a Canadian actor's role was completely eliminated.  He also went on to say he was advocating a release of the Director's Cut.

All are welcome to visit Russell's website to learn more about his work and activities.

* Footnote: In the movie, Mr. Means was on the footplate of the Strasburg Railroad’s #475 a  Mastodon class 4-8-0 steam locomotive built in 1906 by the Baldwin Works. In the script, the engine is known as the 'Rainbow Sun'