Shane West relishes misunderstood drifter role in 'Dirty South'

Shane West's "The Dirty South" opens in theaters and premieres on pay-per-view platforms on Friday. Photo courtesy of Cineverse
1 of 5 | Shane West's "The Dirty South" opens in theaters and premieres on pay-per-view platforms on Friday. Photo courtesy of Cineverse

NEW YORK, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Once and Again, ER, Salem and Gotham star Shane West says the main characters of Dirty South are at "serious crossroads" in their bleak lives when they meet at the beginning of his new crime drama.

Opening in theaters and available on pay-per-view platforms Friday, the contemporary movie follows West's character Dion, a charming, low-level criminal, as he arrives in a small Louisiana town and teams up with Sue (Willa Holland) to save the cash-strapped young woman's family pub from Jeb (Dermot Mulroney), a ruthless businessman who holds a decades-long grudge against Sue's drug addict father, Gary (Wayne Pere).


West, who was granted a waiver to promote the independent film before the Screen Actors Guild strike ended Thursday, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview that he sees Dion and Sue as kindred spirits with few opportunities when they initially cross paths.


"They're at a real serious crossroads, but I think fate brought them together," the 45-year-old actor said about the criminal couple he likens to those in classic films like True Romance or Bonnie & Clyde.

"Good God! What else could she do?" he said of Sue's many attempts to save her family.

As for Dion, West wonders how long the drifter could possibly continue "speeding around in his cool little car, stealing wallets and helping out people without him getting busted?"

The actor hopes the film resonates with viewers since its themes of lawlessness, poverty, corruption and addiction reflect issues many people are experiencing in 2023.

"Having wonderfully written characters that are able to react to real life, real circumstances and struggle is not only rewarding for an actor, it's rewarding for the viewers," West said.

The actor relished the chance to play a flawed man who still has the capacity to care for others, even though he lives on the wrong side of the law.

"He was misunderstood and playing those kinds of characters is always more interesting to me than ones that are more cookie cutter," West said.

West said a specific scene, in which Dion tells Sue what he's been through, was very important to him.


"That was another reason that made me really want to delve into this character," he said.

Holland, 32, is known for her roles in Arrow and The Flash.

She was one of the last people cast in The Dirty South, so she and West didn't have much time to discuss and prepare their on-screen relationship.

"The chemistry had to almost happen immediately," West said.

"What actually helped us was that while Sue and Dion are attracted to each other, it's not love at first sight," he said. "They have to go through their issues and their fights and the mistrust and trust and then mistrust and trust again -- that's what helped with our crackle and connection, so to speak."

The actor credited Holland's portrayal of a resourceful woman with few choices for raising the quality of his own performance.

"Man, she's a fantastic actress and she really knocked it out of the park," he said. "I really just followed her."

While the story's ending feels authentic, it is not wrapped up quickly in a happy Hollywood bow.

"It's certainly well-earned, without giving away everything," West said. "They certainly went through more than most people, most couples go through."


Working with a director who also wrote the screenplay gave the project a sense of cohesion.

"He knew what he wanted and brought the passion and the excitement every day to set. He was the Energizer bunny," West said about Matthew Yerby, noting the filmmaker shot scenes in his hometown of Natchitoches with a lot of his old friends.

"The bar that we shot in, he worked at when he was growing up. He had all these connections he was able to lean on."

West also called Yerby "a great listener."

"That's one of the most important things in life, in general, but, certainly, in this industry," West said. "He was able to make you comfortable, which is a big thing. The trust grows from there."

West also has roots in Louisiana. He was born and raised in Baton Rouge before moving with his family to California at age 10.

"I've rarely filmed there," West said.

"This was the first time I was able to do a contained, simple story in Natchitoches, which I'd never been to, but which is famed for having wonderful Cajun Creole food and well-known for its festival of lights at Christmas. The whole city lights up. It's gorgeous."


For most of his adult life, West has stayed busy and creative by moving between TV and film acting, then performing on the side with rock bands such as The Germs, Johnny Was and The Twilight Creeps.

"A shark never stops swimming, right? You want to keep trying different things, but also you want to be passionate about them," he said.

West said he is definitely interested in TV again.

"I just want it to be the right thing," he said.

West sees a silver lining to the ways the entertainment industry have been disrupted since 2020 -- first because of the coronavirus pandemic and then because of the recent writers' and actors' labor stoppages.

"We were able to do some smaller stories, contained stories, mainly because we were forced to at first, especially because of COVID lockdowns and restrictions," he said.

"We are harkening back to the 1960s and '70s and maybe even the '80s before they blew up into the Rambos and Commandos and we are able to tell these simpler, more realistic stories," he said. "Hopefully, this will be another new coming for independent filmmaking."


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