William Mapother talks On Sacred Ground

William Mapother in On Sacred Ground. Courtesy of Shout! Studios.

William Mapother spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the new film, On Sacred Ground, about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Mapother co-wrote the film with co-directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell. The actor stars alongside David Arquette, William Mapother, Amy Smart, Irene Bedard, Kerry Knuppe, Frances Fisher, Mariel Hemingway, David Midthunder, and Che Jim.

On Sacred Ground is the first narrative feature about the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Protests. Shout! will release the film in theaters and Digital/VOD on January 13.

On Sacred Ground
On Sacred Ground artwork.

Good afternoon. How are things treating you?

William Mapother: Very well. How about you?

I’m doing well. It’s nice to talk to a fellow Louisville native in the industry.

William Mapother: Oh, that’s wonderful! Where are you based now?

I’m currently in Chicago. I saw Second City during my freshman year. The improv bug bit and I weirdly became a film critic along the way.

William Mapother: Oh, that’s terrific. Wonderful. Do you go back still?

I have not been back since coming out as trans.

William Mapother: Got it. Okay. Well, it is nice to speak to a fellow Louisvillian.

How did you first become attached to On Sacred Ground?

William Mapother: Josh and Rebecca, whom I had known for about 10 years, reached out to me and told me about the project and asked me if I was interested. That started the journey as it were.

How did you become involved as a co-writer on the screenplay?

William Mapother: They asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said, I think it’s a fantastic project. The story, the setting, and the issue is inherently dramatic and needs to be publicized. I think I’d like to participate in kind of moving the script along and they said we’d love that.

What do you typically look for in a character while reading a screenplay—at least for the films that you’re not writing?

William Mapother: (Laughs) I don’t know if it’s anything different than you’ve probably been told by other actors. Things that engage me emotionally. Characters I feel that are different than I’ve played. Characters who might be going through or exploring something that echoes something that I’m going through in my own life. Sometimes, it’s less about that character and more about the story or the project, or maybe someone who’s involved with it that I wanna work with. I’m sure you’ve heard some version of that before many times.

Oh, yes. Many times. One of the things I found very interesting was how your character gets hired by this conservative outlet, is conservative, and as he gets to know the protestors, he goes on this journey that I was not expecting.

William Mapother: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate you saying that and mentioning it.

It’s something that really appealed to Josh and Rebecca and me for a variety of reasons. One is we don’t often see conservative characters in Hollywood movies who are portrayed neutrally or without too much negativity. It was in a way our hope that we might extend the film’s reach of at least partly sympathetic audience members by showing someone who isn’t necessarily on the same page politically as most people who might be attracted to this film and it makes the character more interesting.

It also gave us a chance to explore some of the ambiguities of the character, subject, and issue. We did try to avoid a full Saul/Paul conversion of flipping somebody 180 degrees, which doesn’t always seem realistic, but it did seem realistic that someone who approached with an investigative eye might at least have their views shifted, their eyes opened a little bit, and that’s what we were striving for.

When it came to your character, what kind of research and prep did you do for the role?

William Mapother: Some on PTSD, of course. That’s something Dan’s going through. Some on journalism. A good bit on the pipeline and that coincided or overlapped with some of the research I also did as a writer to try and condense a complex issue and a complex history into a hundred minutes. Interestingly, my wife was pregnant with our first child during the shooting so that part I didn’t have to do too much research on.

Were there any challenges on the film because of the pandemic?

William Mapother: No, we actually shot it before the pandemic so we fortunately didn’t have to worry about some of the protocols and as you say, some of the challenges we would have. They came not too long after. What did you think of the movie?

I thought it was good. I definitely did not see it coming with your character slowly opening his eyes to, hey, what’s going on? I wasn’t expecting that at all.

William Mapother: If you had been watching the film, either by yourself or with someone else, and the film had been paused about 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes into it, and you had been asked what you expected was going to happen, what do you think you might have said?

I definitely expected some sort of environmental message coming. I kind of figured that just based on the synopsis.

William Mapother: Right.

I go into a lot of films these days without watching trailers because either the trailers give too much away or just enough and it’s just easier for me to just go in knowing as little as possible. Since I knew this was about the pipeline protest, it had my interest

William Mapother: Have you had personal experience, is it something close to your heart, or something that you just generally find yourself drawn to?

I care about the environment and the climate crisis is a major problem right now.

William Mapother: Yeah, it is. Okay, great.

Of course I was following it when it was on the news, but you’re just getting 30-second, maybe minute, two-minute sound bites where you’re not getting that full picture.

William Mapother: Right. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Well, good, good.

What do you miss the most about Louisville?

William Mapother: I was back with my family over these recent holidays, seeing family members. Having grown up there, I suppose what I miss most is the people there, my friends and family. I live in LA so it was fun for my daughters to experience snow.

We had a white Xmas so that was nice. Visiting places that I knew growing up, whether it was restaurants or parks or certain views walking around downtown. I would say friends, family, and in a way, familiarity. Is there anything you miss about the city?

Oh, yes. A lot of friends and family, but when one comes out as trans in a small religious community, it’s just not a realistic option. Plus, being in Chicago, I’ve got the resources and stronger movie scene.

William Mapother: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I imagine that would not necessarily be easy. I’m sorry.

Yeah. It could be worse. I could be in Florida or Texas right now.

William Mapother: (Laughs)I like the silver lining sinking.

(At this point, we get into some small talk about Los Angeles).

William Mapother: What else about the movie struck you?

Well, that there’s hope that conservatives can change their views and realize what’s happening.

William Mapother: Yeah. How familiar were you with some of the challenges that Native Americans are facing or have faced specifically in that area about the pipeline.

Some of it but only what I’ve seen on the news or in documentaries in recent years.

William Mapother: Right.

I knew there were protests and that they were trying to stop it and all that.

William Mapother: Yeah. Well, obviously bringing some attention to the issue is certainly one of our hopes.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

William Mapother: Well, you touched on two of them. One of them is the conservatives and more broadly, anybody by keeping their mind and eyes open might discover things that surprised them that might find themselves shifting their views on things.

The other is the environmental concerns. The final one is Native Americans treatment regarding the pipeline and probably hopefully bringing some specifics to the history of how they’ve been treated. I think most Americans, at least that I’ve spoken to or who have come up to about the film have some degree of awareness of how they’ve been treated but it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to put it back in the corner of our mind and think it all happened in the 19th century. It’s something that continues today.

Thanks you so much and since I know California is gonna be getting hammered with a bomb cyclone, try and stay dry.

William Mapother: Yes. Thank you, Danielle. Very nice to speak to you as well.

Shout! Studios will release On Sacred Ground in theaters and Digital/VOD on January 13, 2023.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.