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THE ULTIMATE LIFE

Hamilton and Miss Hastings
As Eldridge began to pull together the cast for The Ultimate Life, he knew that he would have to reprise the roles of Hamilton (Bill Cobbs) and Miss Hastings (Lee Meriwether). "You almost can't speak to one of them without the other because they're a team," says Eldridge. "They were so much of a bridge from the character arc of Jason, coming from The Ultimate Gift to The Ultimate Life and it was critical that they come and be a part of this with us again.

"We've had ongoing calls and talks about this for the last several years," he continues, "so I knew that they would be excited to come back. They both really care about their characters. They care about what they were able to bring to the table. The film has meant a lot to them and they have meant a lot to us."

"Hamilton is such an important figure in these films," explains Stovall. "When I wrote The Ultimate Gift book, Hamilton tells the story. It comes from his perspective because Hamilton was the bridge between Red Stevens and Jason. When Red says 'I want to pass on my legacy and make sure my grandson gets these lessons,' he comes to Hamilton and trusts him with that and if you've got to trust somebody with something after your dead, you want to get the right guy. Red Stevens picked Hamilton and Bill Cobbs brings that to life so well. It's a privilege to have worked with him."

Coming back to reprise the role of Hamilton was no hardship for Cobbs. "I like the fact that Hamilton is a man who's honest, trustworthy and has courage," he says. "I get the feeling that he gets no joy dealing with the Stevens family because they're all such a sick bunch, so it's an opportunity to deal with characters from the film not unlike people I know in real life. Hopefully," he chuckles, "some of them will see the film and get a lesson -- get something from it and learn a little bit to help themselves."

Helping Jason find his way was pivotal to the role of Hamilton. "Red's journal is an accounting of his full life," continues Cobbs. "It contains all the good things and all the bad things...all the mistakes. So it is important, in terms of my giving it to Jason, to let him know that it's okay. We're not always perfect. We do make mistakes and we do struggle. There are a lot of things to deal with in life other than how to get bread on the table and Jason is learning that. He's learning how to handle the responsibility and how to deal with love and the 12 gifts that his grandfather gave him in the very beginning.

"Jason is having some serious doubts, and the journal is a way for him to look and see that he's not unlike his grandfather after all, and that he's quite capable of living up to the task and fulfilling what his grandfather wanted him to do."

Cobbs says he had no idea who the director was until he arrived on set. "It's been great," he says. "Everything moves along very smoothly. It just puts you in an environment that gives you what you need and lets you do your work. So it's been a joy. Really a piece of cake."

The "piece of cake" extended to his reunion with Lee Meriwether who plays Hamilton's right arm, Miss Hastings. "This is the second time we've had the opportunity to do one of these scripts and it's been a joy," he offered. "It was a real pleasure meeting her and working with her, and, besides this script, we intend to do some other projects together because we enjoy working together so much."

Meriwether had much the same reaction. "I care very much for the man who plays Hamilton, Bill Cobbs," she says. "I adore the man, and he's very easy to work with and very pleasant to be with, so we spend a lot of time, when we're not working, on studying the script or having dinner. Very pleasant association, which is one of the reasons I was so happy when he came and said we were going to do a sequel to The Ultimate Gift."

Cobbs is not the only person connected with the two films for which Meriwether has high regard. In all likelihood, she is the only cast member who had correspondence beforehand with author Jim Stovall. "He had asked me to be a part of one of his books," she says. "I had written a story that had happened to me and sent it to him, so it was fun to touch base and get to know him. He's an amazing man."

"Miss Hastings is such an important part," says Stovall, "and Lee Meriwether plays her so well in The Ultimate Gift, and now in The Ultimate Life. She's one of those special people that stays in the background and supports everyone else but makes a huge difference in their lives. There's no one better than Lee. She brings all that essence of who she is to every role she plays."

Also amazing to Meriwether was director Michael Landon, Jr. "When I was first approached about appearing in the film, I asked who was going to direct," she explains. "And when they said, Michael Landon, Jr., I went 'Oh, good, I would love to work with him.' I've heard wonderful things about him in Los Angeles but I've never worked with him or for his father, except in a charity situation.

"In Michael, I found something that you pray for in a director -- caring about every aspect of filming - a gentle touch, a gentleman. He's easygoing. Just a dream director."

Meriwether also applied the word "gentleman" to Logan. "I've watched his work and he's wonderful," she says, "and very conscientious, gentlemanly, which I love in actors. If they care about you, they want to help you."

Cobbs considers Logan a lot like the original Jason. "I didn't realize that he wasn't Drew when I saw him for the first time," he explains. "I commented on how much he's grown in a very short time, because Logan is much taller. I was rather embarrassed about that," he laughs.

As for Ali Hillis, Meriwether has nothing but praise. "Ali, as an actress, is one that you want to work with. She's so conscientious. She's there on time and she knows her lines and she's good. You can't ask for anything more. And she gives it to you 100% of the time."

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