GiGi Erneta Takes Us Inside ‘Flag of My Father’
Written by Tammy Leigh Maxey   

CapGWilliamandGiGiholdinghandsiGi Erneta tossed about, trying to find an escape into sleep on the unfamiliar air mattress.  The mind can often be one’s greatest enemy, and Erneta’s was going to battle against her, raking her over the torturous events of the past week.

Wow, what a week it had been too!  In the window of a few days, her life was turned upside down.  She’d been t-boned by an uninsured motorist, bitten by a dog with severe injury to her hand, and was now virtually homeless on the outskirts of hardcore Hollywood.  Oh, her family would surely have taken her in, but she was nowhere near “home.”  She was in L.A., struggling to make a name for herself as an actress, and now, just simply struggling.


She was grateful beyond words for the kindness of a close friend who had taken her in, put her up in a spare room with the air mattress, and blessed her to stay as long as she needed.  However, that night Erneta, emotionally shaken to the core, wondered if her mind was playing tricks against her.  She shot up, tuned into the strange noises that suddenly swirled about the room.  What was it?  It was awful, wild and — well, overwhelming!  As she listened, she could only describe the sound as if she were inside the belly of a whale…

That was in 2007.  Two and a half years later, Erneta was reliving the events of that night as she composed an email to director, Rodney Ray.  She was contacting him in hopes for the leading part in his new movie, ‘Flag of My Father,’ a faith-based film that celebrates the military and explores family dynamics. “It’s definitely a tear jerker,” said Erneta regarding the film, “plan on having a whole box of Kleenex.”
FlagFilmstripPhotosIn the movie — which stars GiGi Erneta,William Devane, John Schneider, and Andrew Sensenig — Devane’s character, Jake, shares an exclusive bond with his daughter Judith, (played by Erneta), much to the chagrin of her older brothers.  Jake and Judith enjoy a military camaraderie, he as a veteran, she as an Army nurse.  He tells Judith stories of war, stories he does not share with the brothers.  Jealous anger ignites and Judith is severely snubbed by her older brothers, especially after the death of Devane’s character.  That is until a shocking secret is discovered that changes everything, in fact, changes them all.

JohnwCameraJohn Schneider plays Daniel, the second to the oldest of the four brothers, and the nastiest.

“He drinks quite a bit and he’s very direct to the point of being rude and obnoxious,” said Schneider of his character.  “The role is a great thing to play.  I was just a nasty guy.”

“John is just so good at being bad,” laughed Erneta.  “When we screened it at the church, people hated him.  Being a villain, he definitely achieved it.”

It’s almost hard to imagine that the same fun-loving guy that played Bo Duke in the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ can portray such a 180 degree character as Daniel, but that’s just a testimony of his skills as an actor.

GiGiandWilliamwalking

“Obviously when you are working with folks like that, it makes your job so much easier,” said Sensenig, who played the eldest brother Ben, of Devane and Schneider.  “When you work with actors that you’ve known and respected for so long, then you get to spend time with them and find out they’re even more spectacular human beings when the camera is off, that just says so much about their life’s work.”

“They were totally different personalities, I can tell you that,” shared Erneta.  “William has a very strong presence about him, but it’s a very quiet and reserved presence, where John has that high energy, very social.  Both of them were phenomenal to work with.  William really made me feel like he was my father; we had that kind of comfort together.”

GiGionSofaIn the movie, Erneta’s character suffers from PTSD.  In real life, and at the time unknown to the producer, Rodney Ray, Erneta suffers from PTSD. Erneta took Ray behind closed doors to reveal her personal secret during the filming of the movie.

“I shut the doors and I had a little talk with him.  In the scene, the guy chokes me, and that is what happened to me in my life.  It was an attempted strangulation.  I said, ‘Rodney, I think we need to talk.  I can do this scene, but I have to tell you I have PTSD from this very thing.  When we do this scene, we need to do it right.’” All three actors, Erneta, Schneider and Sensenig seemed to favor a 15-minute long scene that takes place right after the burial of Jake (Devane).

Schneider, “I am sitting on the couch where we’re arguing about what’s in the box and who gets the flag.  I’m talking about why I don’t care, and I really pummel GiGi’s character about being more of a problem to the family than a blessing.  I like that scene, I like that scene a lot.  It really shows a great family dynamic, a dysfunctional family dynamic, but is there such a thing as a functional family, ah, I don’t think so.

We shot that scene over the course of two days, and we learned it like a play.  So, I enjoyed the camaraderie that we had, the relationship building that we had learning that scene.  That’s why I think the family is believable.”

AndrewandJohn“You see a lot of pent-up anger,” said Sensenig.  “Schneider’s character is on his seventh or eighth scotch, and the brothers’ personalities come out.  They are still grieving over their father’s death.  Typically, you’ll shoot a fourth to half a page at a time.  We did the whole approximately 15-page scene in one straight shot.”

“There was no room for error,  said Erneta.  We all had to be on when we were doing it, but it was so much fun.

Beyond being a movie, it had heart from its conception.  It’s a story about forgiveness, love and faith; and it’s one of the most patriotic movies you’ll see.”

Schneider said regarding the script, “It spoke to me on the level as a patriotic person, as somebody who is appreciative of those folks who have risked or lost their lives for their country.  First and foremost, that’s what the movie was about.  In an age where we’re fighting for their rights to burn the flag of their country, it’s nice to have a movie that calls that a ludicrous notion, and that’s what it does.

I can walk down the street and nobody’s going to send a torpedo through my front yard.  So I have a great respect for that and admiration for those people that do what they do to keep us safe.”

Sensenig especially enjoyed “talking with veterans that became part of the film that were involved in some of the different scenes.  Just the opportunity to sit and listen to their stories, and not so much the stories they told, but the passion in how they told those stories.

“Also, having the military color guard come to the movie and do the actual flag ceremony, that was probably one the most impacting and powerful things just to watch it.

“A few days before we were shooting one the funeral scenes, they had one of their own members of the color guard that had to gone to Iraq and had been killed.  They waited for a friend of theirs to come home so they could do the same flag ceremony for one of the members of the team — powerful beyond words.”

“I am so glad he made the movie, and I am so glad he chose me for the part,” said Erneta of producer/director, Ray.

GiGiinholdingcellErneta ‘stumbled’ upon the part by seeming chance while browsing a website for actors.  “I found this one movie, and it said they were looking for a captain in the Army.  I read the description and was like, ‘Wow, this is a really good movie.’  I looked at the fee, and thought ‘There is no way I can do this movie at that rate.’  I kept going back, and I’d click away, and look again.  I felt this nudge, and I thought ‘I’m just going to submit and see what happens.’  So I clicked submit and sent my stuff off.

“The role is something that, as an actress, is the kind of role that you wait your whole life for.”

Erneta received a couple of pages from the script to audition with.  She self-taped, and as she did, she found herself getting very excited.  The scene was of Judith waking up from a nightmare, a direct symptom of her PTSD, beside her husband.  “The whole thing talks about our faith, and I went ‘Oh, this is something I have to do.’

So what I ended up doing, before I sent them back the video, I sent them a reply, ‘I haven’t seen the rest of the script, but from what I read, this is exactly what I want to be doing in my career.’  And I gave them a little testimony about what the Lord had done with me back in 2007, it was a brief little note, and then I sent it out.  I sent off some reels too.  Rodney had gotten it on his end, and he said he read the email and he lit­­erally fell out of his chair.  He said just my picture alone, ‘You were like my first choice.’ (My hair was short, and I looked like I could do the part), then he read my resume’ and I guess it spoke to his heart, and he knew.”

jonahandthewhaleThat night back in 2007 was the pivot point that changed Erneta’s life.  The whale noises were teasing her sanity, when she fled the room, found her friend, and said, “Something is wrong with your house!”

Erneta’s friend followed her to the room, and the noises started again.  She said, “It sounds like the inside of a whale!”  Erneta called up a Christian friend who had been encouraging her to read John in the Bible.  “I’d been trying,” said Erneta, “but it made no sense to me.  I had been crying all night, and crying out to God.  I wanted to know why He was doing these things to me.  At this point she’s on the phone, and she starts laughing at me, and she says ‘Okay, why don’t you just open the Bible to Jonah and call me back.’  I open the Bible to Jonah, and every single word was like something in 3-D.  It just jumped into my heart.  I read the whole book of Jonah.  By the time I finished reading, I realized that the Lord was speaking to me, and at that moment I took Christ into my heart.”

Flagcovershot
After Erneta committed to the part in ‘Flag of My Father,’ Devane and Schneider were brought on, causing the film to become union, and raise the pay rates.

“Rodney blessed me with ‘Flag of My Father,’” said Erneta.  “I got to do a faith-based film representing the military, and I got to do stunts.  So I got to do action, drama, and I got to work with awesome actors and a really good
director.”

Cheryl Wicker, the producer, along with executive producer Rodney Ray, are two great Christian individuals in the media, who are working hard to redirect Hollywood back to family ethics and faith.

Schneider is also leaning toward faith-based films in recent, “only because they are getting better,” he says.  “People have figured out how to write them with three-dimensional characters and believable circumstances.”

As for Sensenig, “I don’t go anywhere or do anything without knowing God is taking me there.  My relationship with Christ is a working relationship.  He works on me, and I do my best to work through Him.”  PivotPointEndingBug
GiGiErneta.com

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(The script) spoke to me on the level as a patriotic person, as somebody who is appreciative of those folks who have risked or lost their lives for their country.—John Schneider 

Quote from our Exclusive Flag of My Father, interview.

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“William (Devane) really made me feel like he was my father.” — GiGi Erneta
 
Quote from our Exclusive Flag of My Father, interview.

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“(Re: working with Devane & Schneider) You work with actors that you’ve known and respected so long, then you get to spend time with them and you find out they’re even more spectacular human beings when the camera is off.” —Andrew Sensenig

Quote from our Exclusive Flag of My Father, interview.

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