Austin Nichols stars in Texas proud film, “The Iron Orchard”
by Jessica Baker
The heat and dust whirling through the air. Sun drenches every detail of the dusty West Texas oil fields as the first few scenes of “The Iron Orchard” take you to a place where sweat beads on your forehead, even though you’re seated in a cool theater.
Authentic, historic and a “slice of Texas-infused Americana,” filmmaker Ty Roberts brings to life a classic Texas novel set in the 1940s, a time when the oil business was becoming the very fabric of community and Texas history. “The Iron Orchard” highlights the journey of Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison), a man chasing riches and power, who eventually finds himself in a situation where he questions the very meaning and legacy of his life.
A nod to Texas culture, the film features real oil fields and iconic Austin locations near Barton Springs, The Driskill and historic downtown. You also may recognize native Austinite Austin Nichols, who grew up near Lake Austin before moving to Los Angeles after high school to chase down his dream of becoming an actor. Nichols plays the role of Dent Paxton, main character Jim McNeely’s right hand man and closest friend. Paxton is a complicated character who plays a pivotal role in McNeely’s journey from start to finish.
We caught up with Nichols a few weeks before the film’s debut to take a closer look at the independent film and its ties to Texas.
“The last week of the shoot we were in Austin and I got to shoot in The Driskill, which is such a cool old Austin landmark. I’ve been going for years, so to do a scene there was really special – to get to go to work in the town you grew up in or from the home you live in is really great, and I hope I get to do it again and again,” Nichols recalls.
The independent film was shot in just under 30 days in the West Texas summer heat, so rest assured the sweat and dust you see in the film is the real thing. But while the sunshine and dirt were free, a period piece featuring oil rigs, classic cars, ranches and costuming from the 1940s came with a high price tag. Nichols admits he didn’t have much confidence in the film’s follow-through when he first heard about the budget. He was pleasantly surprised to see the Texas community come together and make it happen.
“They pulled it off. They made contact with oil people in West Texas who donated their ranches, their property, their oil rigs, their cars and trucks, hotels — it goes on and on. I’ve never seen a movie happen like this,” says the actor.
Overall this experience was full of memorable moments for Nichols, thanks in part to the character he plays. Dent Paxton is a gay man in the oil industry navigating his way through relationships and business as his best friend, Jim, takes him along for a wild ride chasing oil, money and power. When business and friendships take a turn, Dent does something drastic that changes the climate of the film and his friend’s future.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of great roles and interesting parts, but this was definitely a special character. I’ve never done anything like it before and will probably never have the opportunity to again. Who writes about a homosexual oil philosopher in the 1940s? I didn’t even know a character like that existed. He was really, really interesting,” Nichols said.
“The Iron Orchard” debuted in Austin on March 1st and will be showing in theaters across Texas. Click here for more information.