SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio, Austin, Victoria and many other areas around the Lone Star State will be depicted in a rich, star-studded TV miniseries about Texas’ fight for independence.
I’m told set builders even constructed a replica of the Alamo as part of filming in Durango, Mexico. The four-part, eight-episode “Texas Rising” will premiere on the History Channel in early 2015.
Among the cavalcade of Hollywood names starring in “Rising” — Bill Paxton, Ray Liotta, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Thomas Jane and others — is San Antonio-based actor John Elvis.
Elvis, who nabbed a recurring role in CBS’ “Under the Dome” last year and will be seen in a few more episodes of the Stephen King thriller this season, has a much bigger role in the History Channel production. The 22-year-old actor plays Yellow Knife, the half-Comanche son of a Texas Ranger portrayed by Brendan Fraser. He’s slated to be in all four parts.
History clearly is eager to recapture the ratings and critical magic of “Hatfields & McCoys,” its first period drama, which won multiple Emmys. Leslie Greif, who helmed “McCoys,” is executive producer on this one. This 19th-century tale promises to be just as grittily authentic, with Oscar-nominated Roland Joffe (“The Killing Fields”) in the director’s chair. It also shares a lead actor from the former History production: Paxton, who plays Texas hero Sam Houston.
History Channel describes the project this way: “If west of the Mississippi was considered the Wild West in 1836, then Texas was hell on earth. Crushed from the outside by Mexican armadas and attacked from within by ferocious Comanche tribes … this was a time of bravery … a time to stand tall against the cruel rule of Mexican General Santa Anna (Olivier Martinez).”
Characters in the mini range from Sam Houston to the Texas Rangers to the legendary “Yellow Rose of Texas.”
“The stage is set 15 minutes after the Alamo has fallen and chronicles the rise of the Texas Rangers,” said Elvis, who grew up in Rockport as John Elvis Lara but shortened his name for screen and stage.
The Alamo was reconstructed “brick by brick” on a set in Mexico, he said.
Elvis, who moved a few years ago to San Antonio, where he works for and is represented by Calliope Talent, described the miniseries as a huge opportunity.
“It has helped propel me to a level I haven’t been before,” he said. “I’m very proud playing alongside some of these great guys.”
His role of 16-year-old Indian warrior Yellow Knife — the son of a Comanche woman and Texas Ranger Billy Anderson (Fraser) — required him not only to be adept at riding a horse bareback, but also at wielding a spear while doing so.
To prepare, he took riding lessons in San Antonio and Mexico, where the entire miniseries is being filmed.
“It also was cool because we shot at locations where John Wayne shot some of his films,” he added.
Elvis also liked playing such a different character from that of Benny Drake in “Under the Dome,” the long-haired friend of central teen Joe (Colin Ford), who’s extremely skilled on a skateboard.
“Benny’s a nice, happy fun guy, while this character is made to kill people, a warrior who’s made to hate,” he said.
Viewers should keep an eye out for Elvis once again in season two of CBS’ “Dome.” He’s already shot a couple of episodes and hopes to do more.
In one, Big Jim (Dean Norris) “gets me out of a pickle I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten out of,” he said.
While filming one of those scenes, which has him running up to a glass window and hitting his head, he actually got hurt.
“In rehearsals it was great; nothing bad happened,” he said. “As soon as we started shooting, I had a little too much adrenaline, however, and went right through the glass.”
The result was “a pretty nice scar” on his forehead.
“It made me look tough,” Elvis said, “and actually was good for the role of Yellow Knife.”