'Ride' star C. Thomas Howell: Cowboy culture can't be faked

'We all had the same goal, which was to make the best movie possible in the most authentic way,' Howell told UPI about the film's cast and crew.

Left to right, C. Thomas Howell, Forrie J. Smith and Jake Allyn star in the contemporary western "Ride." Photo by Well Go USA Entertainment
1 of 3 | Left to right, C. Thomas Howell, Forrie J. Smith and Jake Allyn star in the contemporary western "Ride." Photo by Well Go USA Entertainment

NEW YORK, June 15 (UPI) -- The Outsiders and Red Dawn icon C. Thomas Howell says that, in some ways, he feels like he has been training all of his life for his performance in the contemporary western, Ride.

"It was a little movie that was really important to me," Howell, 57, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"My father was a professional bull rider for 10 years before he got into the stunt business," he said. "I was raised on a ranch by a cowboy to be a cowboy, so ranching and riding and roping were a big part of my childhood and rodeo was a big part of my life and I wanted to be a professional cowboy in 1979, 1980, 1981. I was California State Junior Rodeo Champion. I really thought that was going to be my life before acting kind of took over."


Ride, an independent film written and directed by Jake Allyn, opened in theaters and premiered on video-on-demand platforms Friday.

Howell, 57, plays John Hawkins, a retired Texas bull rider trying to scrape together money for his young daughter's cancer treatment.

Allyn plays Peter, John's estranged ex-con son; Forrie J. Smith plays John's father Al; and Annabeth Gish plays John's by-the-books sheriff wife Monica.

"I was excited and I really wanted to do it, but there was a big part of me that was also fearful and hesitant," Howell said.

"The cowboy culture is not something you can fake. Cowboys, watching a western, can see if people can ride and can't ride, who is wearing their hat properly, or who can saddle a horse and who can't saddle a horse, all those nuances," he added. "I didn't want to disappoint the cowboy culture with a film that wasn't authentic and legit."

Howell said Allyn's good intentions were clear from the start and he praised the filmmaker for surrounding himself with real people who understand ranch life, and the triumphs and tribulations associated with it, instead of simply studying screen westerns to prepare.


"It wasn't always easy because there were moments when people would put their foot down and wouldn't let something slide," Howell recalled.

"When the sun's going down and you're racing to get your last shot, the last thing you want to hear is an actor saying, 'That's not how you saddle a horse,' or, 'That's not how you rope steer.'"

This fine attention to detail was especially challenging since the movie was filmed in Kentucky and Tennessee in just 18 days though it was set in Stephenville, Texas.

"We had a limited amount of time and a limited budget," Howell said.

"Most movies get 60 days to shoot, and when things don't go right, they can re-shoot them and fix them, but, for us, it was a sprint from the very beginning, and I'm really proud of the whole team from our crew to the director and all the actors."

To accomplish all they did, everyone had to work hard and have each other's backs.

"We became a family real quick," Howell said.

"The trust factor really hit its peak immediately and that's something that takes a long time to develop when you're working on most movies," he added. "We all had the same goal, which was to make the best movie possible in the most authentic way."


Howell thinks the financial struggles the Hawkins family goes through will resonate with audiences.

"I don't know how people are getting down the road today," he said.

"Fuel alone is so expensive. I don't know how these cowboys are getting from point A to point B," he added. "Gas is through the roof, food is through the roof, entry fees are through the roof, so I think when people see this movie, they will relate to it 100 percent."

The film also deals with substance abuse and the crimes to which it can lead.

"Addiction is an issue wherever we are, whether we're in an urban environment or the rural communities, whether it's alcohol, whether it's drugs," Howell said.

"It seems to be more prevalent than ever and it made for a great conflict for our little story because it's based on three generations of bull riders that come together to try to help their family survive in a very difficult situation," he added.

"This story's got a lot of heart and soul, and there's a lot of pain and heartbreak, as well, and I think that's what makes a good movie."


Ride is hitting theaters on the weekend The Outsiders Broadway stage production heads into the Tony Awards ceremony with 12 nominations.

Howell is thrilled the show based on S.E. Hinton's classic young-adult novel, as was his beloved 1983 film adaptation of the book, is doing so well.

"It's phenomenal. Those kids are killing it," Howell said.

"I'm looking forward to going and seeing them. I know they're going to take it on the road, so I don't know if I'll see it in New York, or if I'll see it in my own hometown, but I love the fact that they were able to have the success that they have had."

He also loves that the 1960s story about teen gangs in Oklahoma remains so popular in its other iterations.

"The Outsiders lives in perpetuity. It just won't go away," said Howell, who famously played hero Ponyboy Curtis in the Francis Ford Coppola-helmed movie.

"That book, believe or not, is required reading in about 70 to 80 percent of the schools across America, and I'd say another 70 to 80 percent of those schools screen the film," Howell added. "It's just amazing."

The actor is honored when fans of all ages approach him to show off their Outsiders-inspired tattoos or to tell him it is their favorite book and film.


"When we made the movie, we knew it was special," Howell said. "But I didn't know it was going to have the everlasting value that it seemingly has had."

As new middle school students read the book each year, Howell constantly finds himself with new batches of 13- and 14-year-old fans.

"They reach out to my social media, sobbing that Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) has been killed, and then they really start crying when they see Ponyboy's 57 years old," Howell laughed.

"It's a beautiful thing to be a part of," Howell added. "I don't know why it affects so many people. I just feel like there's a character for everybody in that piece. And the thing that blows my mind the most is S.E. Hinton, God bless her heart, was 17 years old when she wrote that book."

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