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It isn’t often Oliver Springs residents get to share in something as big as the making of a feature film, but that is what happened when the community was selected as one of the shooting locations for the 1999 feature film October Sky.
Many community members are so proud of their connection to the movie, based on memoirs of another small coal mining town’s famous son, Homer Hickam, a retired NASA engineer, that the community started the October Sky Fall Festival.
So many local people were part of the film that this year former extras decided to add an extras’ reunion to the weekend festivities.
The turnout was exceptional, with people gathering late into the evening over chili and their shared memories of wardrobe, makeup and the opportunity to meet Hollywood actors.
While most extras had one or more small roles, one particular guest at the reunion played a bigger part.
South of the River’s Larry Rue hesitated to come to the event because although his role was minor compared to the celebrity cast, he was considered a paid actor. He said Barbara Hilemon, an extra and coordinator of the reunion, encouraged him to come.
“Nobody here knows me because I was on the actor side,” Rue said.
Rue tried out for multiple roles.
“I actually had to do a screen test for five different roles,” Rue said. “I had to immediately fall into character for a rescue miner at the mine and come out of and go back into character for the preacher role.”
The colorful Rue, who at the reunion is clad in overalls and carrying a cane he carved himself, said he almost didn’t get any parts when he first learned he’d have to shave his mustache.
“I said lady it would have to be a really good role to shave my mustache!” Rue quipped.
Still, Rue said he knew this would be something he’d regret if he didn’t jump at it.
He didn’t hesitate when he got a call they wanted him for a bigger role if he’d shave his mustache.
Rue ended up as Carl, a neighbor who points out Sputnik to a group gathered looking at the stars near the beginning of the movie, a portrayal of the night that inspired Hickam to work towards a career as a rocket scientist.
The first time in a makeup chair is something Rue relished.
“I got prettier and prettier. Blemishes and scars started disappearing. I mean I looked good,” Rue enthused. A Polaroid was snapped so that each makeup artist could make him look exactly as he had.
Rue enjoyed meeting more seasoned actors, including the stars. He said they were all friendly.
Rue even got to talk to Jake Gyllenhaal a few times.
“He was a real nice guy,” Rue said.
Rue said his treatment was exceptional and the image Hollywood portrays of pampering its celebrities is true.
He was amazed at how the actors were treated so well, even himself to a lesser degree.
“It was everything that Hollywood portrays itself. It is so easy to see how people get full of themselves, they’re pandered and petted,” Rue said.
“I went in thinking I was an extra. I got there, I had a dressing room, my name on the door. Extras have to stand in the rain and wait for a changing room,” Rue said.
Many of them had multiple scenes they were part of, most often as coal miners and their wives.
William Curd Jr. and his wife, Faye Curd, went to Knoxville for their roles.
William Curd was a minor and also a stand in for actors in scenes. Faye’s main role was as a teacher.
“We had to go to Knoxville for our shoot and it was all day long. We kept filming the same part over and over. It was a lot of fun. Everybody was nice and cordial. It was a bunch of wonderful people,” Faye Curd said.
John W. Clark said being dirty or clean was the deciding factor in what extra role he wanted.
“I just had one part, being a clean coal miner,” said Clark, who said clean coal miners were cast for scenes before the miners were in the mines.