Accidents will happen: Interview with director Mark Lambert Bristol

A funny thing happened on the way home to L.A. on the backroads of Texas. After being fired from his breakout role in an indie film being shot in Louisiana an actor finds himself stranded in Buffalo Gap, Texas.

Testset spoke with director Mark Bristol Lambert about his new film Accidental Texan, opening this week.

“My ability as a storyboard artist combined as a director came in handy as a skillset, we got the funding secured in 2019. Then Thomas Hayden Church signed on and at that moment on we were off and running,” Bristol says via Zoom from his home in Austin. 

Bristol previously directed the serial killer thriller Natural Selection starring David Carradine. In the meantime he’d amassed strong credits illustrating storyboards for some of the top films of recent release including Tree of LifeMaleficentEdge of Tomorrow, and several installments of Mission: Impossible.

Rudy Pankow stars as Erwin Vandeveer, Ivy League bred but an actor whose bumbling disconnect with the rules of filmmaking gets him canned on his first take. Pankow’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, whereupon he meets Church in a small town diner.

“Church was looking for a good story about his beloved state of Texas and this script checked every box,” says Lambert. Leading up to production Bristol spoke to Church by phone nearly every day. “We formed a bond but more importantly a trust. It had been twenty years since I’d directed and that bond that we forged was evidently to the entire crew on this first day.

“On some days we wouldn’t change a line, but with comedy you just let these amazing actors go and you come up with amazing lines you never conceived of in pre-production.”

Church is magnetic in the role of Merle. At first you think perhaps he’s the local sheriff the way he approaches Erwin and recruits him to go for a ride to help him deliver chickens. Turns out Merle is a wildcatter who used the birds to produce chickenshit that he scatters all over the car seat of a banker who wants to repossess his oil well. Carrie-Ann Moss and Bruce Dern co-star.

“Church did all this research on drilling for oil, but he cannot just bring his magnetism and wit to the set. He’s be cracking up everybody on the set but as soon as you say ‘Action’ he’s in the zone; amazing to watch, amazing to see. He elevated everyone else to his level.”

Accidental Texan captures the spirit of the people of small towns highlighted by the vast landscape of Texas.

“I wanted the film to be comedic but also to be truthful and honest to the characters,” says Bristol. “These are real people being explored in a cinematic way.”

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