By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Jon Voight Gets The Lay Of The Land

Actor Visits Ranches For Movie Research


Bonnie Davidson / The Courier

From left, director John Harrison, Joe Etchart and famous actor Jon Voight stand in front of Etchart's plane before flying over the Fort Peck Dam area and getting a view of Valley County from the air.

Ties to Hollywood brought an actor and a director to the Glasgow area last week. Sightings of the famous actor were reported at several businesses, the airport and at a local hotel. The trip to Glasgow was short planned but got a lot of creative juices flowing for the actor Jon Voight and writer/director John Harrison.

Harrison explained that about a month ago Voight gave him a call about a project idea that perhaps they might want to work on together. The two previously worked together on the television movie Pope John Paul II. Voight played the pope and Harrison directed the movie that aired in 2005. Their work together pushed them to look at another project together.

The idea of a family ranch story for the Hallmark channel was discussed. Harrison said they were looking in Wyoming, Texas and Montana to base the television movie in. The hope is also that the movie would spin off into a series. An outline was created and they decided to start doing some research.

Doug Stebleton, a Glasgow graduate, happened to have a mutual friend that referred Voight and Harrison to ask him about Montana. Stebleton called his brother, Steve Stebleton, who helped put the trip together. The actor and director hung out with a few ranch families in the area after reading some of the history about the Etcharts and the Cornwells. The duo came to Glasgow on Tuesday, Sept. 2, and stayed until Sunday, Sept. 7.

Harrison explained that they were looking for a family oriented, multigenerational ranching area that would give them a more realistic view of the issues for ranching families in America. He also explained that the experience was much different than he previously pictured and that they learned a lot.

"Everything was different than I expected," Harrison said. "I didn't expect the openness."

He was surprised on how willing the community, the ranchers and the cowboys were to give information and provide help. He grew up on a small farm in the Toronto area, so he wasn't a complete stranger to the lifestyle, but the size and scale of a large ranch and daily life was a lot more than he anticipated.

Voight seemed to be much more an observer while his stay in Glasgow. He visited businesses around the area and was spotted on Friday night at the Montana Bar serving a beers to the patrons. Voight explained that he felt very comfortable in the area and felt an immediate connection to several people he met here. He said that he was surprised by how gracious the people were and he enjoyed feeling at home.

He spent time trying to gain insights on what life is like on a ranch and the commitment it takes to keep it going. Voight explained he really got a full feel and learned the culture. They spent everyday busy with several activities and visited the families. He noted that the country was beautiful and stunning and he could see why people would want to be here.

"Everyday was packed," Voight said. "We were trying to get everything in."

He was surprised by how demanding ranch life was and said that he enjoyed seeing how the community interacted with each other. Noting that the Los Angeles area is packed full of people and coming to an area where everyone knew each other was a little refreshing.

Voight isn't a stranger to a Western movie. He said he spent some time in Calgary before but he hadn't fully immersed himself in ranching life. He said he is very visual and visiting with the people, seeing the nature and observing how the people interacted was interesting.

"I wanted to come up to get the feel and the real influences of the place," Voight said. "It's been a blessing and an opportunity to get close to the people and learn the terrain, business, family and community where everyone knows everyone."

He said that he was exhausted by the end of each day as it was packed full of information. They learned about the land, the history, the culture and a little about the politics at play in ranch life. He spent time with a few different generations of the families and was heartened to see the values carrying on through each generation and that this aspect of American life had been kept intact. He added that the people in the area have strong characters and are strong in their convictions.

Voight won't be helping with the writing in this project, but he said he would be influencing the work. He ended the interview by stating that the people are happy to be here, they work hard and that several of the people know what they have and wouldn't want life any other way.

While the script is still in its early stages, it won't come to life right away. Harrison stated that he may come back to the area again for further insight. No release date was given but certainly several people who happened to talk with the actor and director will be watching for the release of the unnamed television movie.


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