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Arlen Escarpeta Talks About We Are Marshall

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Arlen Escarpeta Talks About We Are Marshall

Arlen Escarpeta at the Hollywood Premiere of Gridiron Gang.

© Richard Chavez

On December 22, 2006 Warner Bros Pictures is releasing We Are Marshall, an inspirational story set in Huntington, West Virginia, the home of Marshall University and the Thundering Herd. On November 14, 1970 a plane loaded with 75 players, coaches, and university personnel crashed while on the way home from a football game in North Carolina. Everyone on board perished in the tragic accident, leaving family members and friends left behind to mourn their loss.

We Are Marshall focuses on the rebuilding efforts of the town and the university. Under the leadership of Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), Marshall University’s football program reemerged and helped lift the spirits of Huntington citizens and members of the college community.

While on the red carpet to take in a screening of another football film inspired by true events (Gridiron Gang starring The Rock and Xzibit), Arlen Escarpeta (American Gun, American Dreams) talked about his part in We Are Marshall. Escarpeta’s a football/Marshall fan and was familiar with the story prior to working on the film.

We Are Marshall’s inspired by real events. What was it like on the set, knowing you had to do justice to the true story?
“It was an incredible feeling. I can’t even say working on the film was a job; it was really an experience. Being in Huntington, West Virginia, meeting so many of the families, and what Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox brought to the film, for me, was just absolute pleasure. I had a great time and I learned a lot, too.”

What in particular did you learn from the experience?
“I learned a lot about life. We Are Marshall…it’s not a football movie. It’s so much more than football. Football is really just a backdrop for this town and this story. It’s really just about getting to a stable place in life and moving forward. I definitely learned a lot. You know, we’re young and we live fast and we laugh and we smile. I’ve learned to take it a little slower, to take a little break here and there. Just smile and say, ‘Hey.’”

How important was it to actually film in Huntington, West Virginia?
“It was very important. The first day of filming, I promise you, we actually found a letter… It’s a long story – I have to save it for the premiere and I can’t even tell you right now because it’s a long story. But the first day of filming within the town it set the tone for what the film was about, and where the film was going and what we needed to bring as actors and producers and directors and writers to this story. It was an incredible experience.”

Is your character based on a real person?
“Yes. My character was Reggie Oliver. I play quarterback for the Thundering Herd. He was in the hospital while we were filming so I didn’t get to meet him until afterwards. But I still got to speak to him on the phone, pick his brain a little bit and just hear firsthand what it was like for him growing up in West Virginia and dealing with the loss of his teammates. He was a freshman when it happened. He led the team, once he started, for the next four years. He was their quarterback.”

How does We Are Marshall capture the emotion of a town coping with such a devastating loss?
“You know, the way McG did – he directed the film - and the writer, they didn’t glorify anything. They didn’t rush into it. They took their time and they made sure that everything wasn’t spelled out for you, but also wasn’t rushed. You get to catch a glimpse of everything going on in the story. You meet all of the characters and their families. It’s a heartwarming story.”

And you get to wear some pretty interesting costumes from the 1970s…
“I’m used to the period costumes. I did it three years on American Dreams. I had the tightest pants on that you could ever imagine. But you know what? It was good to get back into that era and really get a grasp of how things were back then.”

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