At 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 12, wide awake in the international wing of the London Gatwick airport, I received a message from Matthew Taggart.
“I’m coming up to Cody at the end of the month to shoot a feature film,” he wrote. “It’s a comedy western, sorta like Princess Bride with cowboys instead of Robin Hood-type stuff. Your name keeps coming up as I’m reaching out to people, so I wanted to see if you had any interest?”
A little over 12 hours and 5,437 miles later, I responded to Matthew: “I’m definitely interested!!! Hell yes.”
While waiting for my Australian partner, Ollie, to make it through the non-U.S.-residents line of customs at LAX, I messaged Matthew again. I suggested my boyfriend — who’s done a lot of acting — would also be interested; Matthew said he thought they might just have a part.
Clearly, this borderline surreal opportunity suited Ollie: A budding actor’s first time visiting the U.S., and he instantly scores a chance to act in a Western shot in the real live Wild West. Talk about aces.
But the whole scenario rang even more resonantly for me. Ever since moving back to Cody from LA in the summer of 2014, my head had been exploding with screenplay ideas inspired by Wyoming’s expansive landscapes and gritty characters. Daily I would witness scenes — fire-stoked sunsets settling over sharp-shouldered mountains, untouched prairie split by hundreds of miles of empty highway, weary ranchers mustering the resolve to go back for one last calf — and think to myself, “This should be a movie.”
Cue Matthew Taggart, a native Cody kid now living in Provo, Utah, who has worked in the TV and film industry for nigh a decade. He co-wrote The Counterfeit Kid, a wry Western screenplay set in Wyoming, starring the kind of characters who might actually have ridden the Wyoming range. As if that wasn’t heartening enough, Matthew took action to direct and shoot his Wyoming story in Wyoming — bringing in a Los Angeles and Utah film crew, and sending out a call for local Big Horn Basin folks to come act alongside the cast of Utah talent.
In true dream sequence fashion, Ollie and I returned to Cody two days before the filming of the wedding scene requiring “loads of extras.” We arrived just in time to squeeze in a costume fitting, score Ollie a speaking part (surely he could manage an American accent for one line) and make it to Meeteetse by 7:30 a.m. on that last Saturday in September.
The whole, positively frigid day consisted of shooting the wedding scene in which the fair, lovesick Olivia (played by Kelsey Edwards of Provo) steels herself to marry the greasy, pig-farming Ivan Hogg (played by Ollie) so her family doesn’t lose their farm. But just as Ivan belts, “You bet I do!” to the preacher (played by none other than fellow Tribune columnist Doug Blough), Olivia’s sassy sister Edna May (played by Sariah Hopkin of Provo) gallops to the rescue — scooping Olivia up and away from the sty of marrying for money.
But before filming the scene, Matthew had a question for me.
“Hey, you know about horses, don’t you?” Matthew asked, as Kelsey and Sariah peered hopefully out at me.
Later I would learn the girls’ imploring looks were due to having been bucked off the day before. The film’s original “horse wrangler” skipped town just before filming began, leaving cast and crew to fend for themselves with the three trail/hunting horses a family friend donated for the week. The horses were bulletproof, but utterly unaccustomed to being asked to perform precise, exactly timed movements while surrounded by a crowd wielding strange instruments.
And that is how I hired on as the Horse Wrangler for The Counterfeit Kid.
We finished out that first Saturday night of filming with a successful double ride, capturing a timeless shot of the sisters crossing a hayfield on Dozer, the gorgeous grulla and overall Old Faithful of our mounts.
The Counterfeit Kid “herd” consisted of Dozer (Dozy) and his two best buds — the stubborn buckskin Henry (Hen Hen), and Blitz (Blitzen), the codependent chestnut. As horse wrangler, I and whatever assistant grooms I could muster (special thanks to Ollie and Thomas Stoddard) made sure the herd was fed and watered, saddled and bridled when necessary, well-behaved and placed during scenes and generally content. My heart swelled with pride to watch as actors, crew and horses became more confident with each other every day, avoiding rodeos, runaways and wrecks … and employing pets, treats and sometimes entreaties.
Then — because, this whole dream-come-true scenario wasn’t surreal enough — I added another role to my duties.
At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, I scrolled through my emails to find several borderline frantic messages from Matthew, asking if I would take on a speaking part they’d altered from a male to a female role so I could play it. The scene would be filmed that day.
I memorized my eight lines that morning in Thomas’ truck, hauling horses to the set. Outfitted in my mom’s classic, custom-tailored side-saddle riding ensemble that instantly transforms me into a lady strutting straight out of 1850, I played angry church mob leader Eleanor Garrovick. Eleanor demands the hanging of a wayward minister, Jerry (played by Bob Sagers of Utah), who blew all of his flock’s savings on “vile liquid spirits.” (Surely you’ll see the movie just to hear me viciously hiss that line.)
While I never will get over the fantastical serendipity of falling into the cast and crew of The Counterfeit Kid, what awed Ollie and me most was the unbelievable network of support — the countless hours of volunteered time — our community provided to help this film come to life.
“I can’t believe how many friends and family stepped up to pitch in,” said Matthew. “It was a very humbling experience to feel that much support from people in my hometown.”
For my part, I’d like to thank Matthew Taggart, the Taggart family and the whole cast, crew and support team of The Counterfeit Kid for having a creative dream and working together to bring it to life right here in Wyoming.
As a Cody kid myself, I am galvanized that it can happen. I could write a screenplay, and I’ve begun to understand the process, to make the connections and to imagine the collaborations that might lead to a Wyoming story being filmed — and of course, eventually premiered — right here in Wyoming.
The Counterfeit Kid is set to premiere in the spring of 2019, and there will be a Cody showing. You can check out updates and watch the trailer at www.thecounterfeitkid.com.