Exclusive: Jason O’Mara talks ‘To Appomattox,’ possible future on ‘The Good Wife’

To Appomattox -Over the past several days, we’ve mentioned in a few pieces “To Appomattox,” a miniseries project that is being funded on Kickstarter about the Civil War and some of the key players in it both on and off the battlefield. It is a project that creator Michael Frost Beckner, who has been working for years to bring his vision to life, touts as one of the most realistic portrayals of the war there is. Historical advisers were brought on for accuracy, and a great deal of care was put into every script.

When it comes to the cast, there are many names that you may be familiar with. We wrote over the weekend about Damian Lewis’ attachment to the project, and the cast also includes Paige Turco, Richard Speight Jr., Laura Bell Bundy, and Stephen Lang. Today, we’ve got some exclusive information now from the man poised to play Ulysses S. Grant if the project gets funded in Jason O’Mara. You likely know Jason from “Terra Nova,” “Vegas,” and his recent stint as Damian Boyle on “The Good Wife.”

Jason was kind to chat via email about the “To Appomattox” project, and also the process that comes with trying to fund a miniseries of this scope. For those of you who love the CBS hit, check out the end of the interview for more on whether or not Damian could feasibly return.

CarterMatt – Ulysses S. Grant feels like one of these historical figures that a good many people remember from school, but most non-history fans don’t know a whole lot else about him beyond his title. What interests you the most about potentially telling his story to people who may be unaware about his life?

Jason O’Mara – People think they know Grant from school or from a random book about him, but as any historian will you, the more you get to know what kind of man he was, the more irony and paradox is revealed. Layer upon layer.

That even extends to his name, Ulysses S Grant. That’s not even his real name! He was born Hiram Ulysses Grant (in fact, the name was drawn from a hat weeks AFTER he was born). He was sent to West Point against his will and the Congressman who made out his application mistakenly wrote Ulysses S Grant, believing that Ulysses was his first name and his middle initial Simpson after his mother’s maiden name: US Grant. The perfect name for a future American president! But Grant didn’t think so. He wanted to change it back but was forced to accept it or be sent home to face his father’s wrath. He chose wisely and kept it.

Grant was a poor tanner’s son from Ohio who nobody thought would amount to anything. All he ever wanted to do was become a math teacher. He ended up being President. On the other hand, Robert E. Lee came from one if the first families of Virginia, and was being groomed for Great Things. He ended up a school teacher. This “reversal of fortunes” is the quintessential American story.

Grant was the first “horse whisperer” and was breaking and training horses for people throughout the county he grew up in. Was this in defiance of his father’s profession, which was shooting horses and curing their skins?

When in service in California, he resigned from the army rather than face the disgrace of being cashiered for being drunk on duty. He went home to his family and so began a downward spiral into debt and failure. As a bill collector, he couldn’t take poor people’s money. Once, in St Louis, he couldn’t even sell firewood in a snowstorm! When given a slave by his Southern father-in-law, which he could have sold and cleared his debts, he gave him freedom.

People say he was drunk throughout the Civil War, but he was only known to have consumed alcohol on two occasions during the entire campaign.

He was a man of quiet leadership, always preferring a private’s tunic instead of a fancy general’s uniform. So much so that he often went unrecognized. But he led the largest army ever assembled on this continent and was loved by his men. He was a fierce warrior, yet when making surrender terms, instead of executing and imprisoning enemy rebels, he gave every last man a pardon, his freedom and of course, a horse. In fact, Grant had to practically threaten a military coup to stop President [Andrew] Johnson from arresting Lee and trying him for treason.

He is a man of such depth, humanity, and compassion, brimming with contradictions. It’s the ultimate role for an actor and a huge responsibility. I can only hope that I get that very opportunity in TO APPOMATTOX, when the project finally gets financed and we show up on the first day, in period costume, with a camera crew and a cast that would rival any great miniseries. Bring it on!

What would you say to a Civil War buff / TV fan thinking about contributing? 

I would say that this is finally an opportunity to become an integral part of the most ambitious Civil War miniseries in TV history. I think that people sometimes get frustrated that they don’t get to choose which TV series get made and which don’t, and I’m not sure if they understand the process, particularly when it comes to financing. This is a chance for fans of quality television and Civil War buffs to have a say in how things get made.

The TV networks and studios think that America doesn’t need a Civil War miniseries right now. Really? America doesn’t want a quintessential depiction of the most defining period in American History? That just doesn’t sound right to me. So if you think you would want to see this, head over to Kickstarter and throw in a few bucks. When you compare that cost with, say, a premium cable subscription, you win and save every time. By the way, do you feel appreciated by your cable stations? Well all I can say is, the guys behind TO APPOMATTOX have a plan to make every contributor feel appreciated, in one way or another.

With miniseries / limited series on the rise right now, is this a type of television that you find yourself gravitating to in general right now? What do you look for in a project before deciding to get involved?

There are always three creative reasons to attach my self to any project. The script, the role, the people. I read this script years ago and fell in love with it. I was initially asked to play Gen. George McClellan and I still jumped at it! Lastly, I have known Michael for many years and happen to think he’s one of the most underestimated writers in Hollywood. We have been looking for something to do together for some time.

In the interest of transparency, I am not quite at the level where I can handpick roles and projects no matter what. I do get offers sometimes for certain things and it’s my choice to say yes or no. But ordinarily, directors, writers and producers wouldn’t see me as their first choice for Ulysses S Grant. A unique turn of events have lead me to this point, so it’s been unlike any other project in that regard. In answer to your question, if this was a fully funded TV series at one of the major studios, I wouldn’t be the only person interested. There would be a stampede of A-list actors all clamoring to play Grant. But because TO APPOMATTOX has become a Kickstarter project, I get to sneak in through the back door, so to speak.

Damian -Have you thought about what Damian’s future could be on “The Good Wife”? Could you see yourself returning in some capacity in season 6?

I am not sure what Damian’s future is at this point. But I do know that Robert and Michelle King were quite deliberate in the manner he was sent packing. It was not conclusive. He’s alive, he’s in Chicago and most likely mighty pissed off with Kalinda and Diane. The door has most definitely been left open. I think there is lots of juice there for a potential return in season 6, but we’ll just have to wait and see…

In case you missed the link earlier in the story, the link to the “To Appomattox” Kickstarter is right here. We may have some more news in the coming days, so be on the lookout for that.

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Photo: CBS, “To Appomattox”

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