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WE ARE MARSHALL

Casting Real Life Roles
Jack Lengyel was considered by many to be the right man at the right time. Matthew McConaughey spent time with the former coach in preparation for portraying him, and describes Lengyel's formidable influence in Western movie terms. "He was the outsider who rode in with his own plan; he was a little unorthodox, but it was an unorthodox situation. There isn't a how-to book for coaches who lose an entire team. What he did was get people to deal with reality and the present, step-by-step and play-by-play. He wasn't reaching for a good season but for a good day's practice, then a week, then maybe a month. His goal was just to take the field and they could worry about wins and losses later—and in the process, he inspired morale.”

McG feels it was Lengyel's outsider status that best served the situation, allowing him to be compassionate but detached, respectful of the communal grief but not immobilized by it. "As he wasn't personally connected to the crash, he had the freedom to focus on rebuilding.”

"I've been looking to play a great character like this for years—a teacher, a coach, a father,” says McConaughey. "To find a part like this, with a story so moving and exciting and uplifting, and then to know that it's not fiction, it was truly amazing. As soon as I finished the script I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and then almost immediately afterwards I got in touch with Jack Lengyel and immersed myself in the history, which I knew nothing about.”

Lengyel, who served as an advisor on the film, explains why he wanted the daunting coaching job. Watching the drama unfold in the news from his coaching post at The College of Wooster in Ohio, he felt, at the time, that the sport had afforded him a college coaching career and this was "an opportunity to pay back what football had given to me, to give something back by helping a school that really had some major problems. I felt I could help rebuild the football program.”

It is a heartfelt commitment McConaughey fully embraced in his portrayal. "One of the joys of watching Matthew in this role is how he brings such genuine passion to it,” says McG. "You understand that Lengyel was a guy who was thrilled to be on the fresh-cut grass, doing what he loved most. You feel that in every single take. Matthew was so immersed in this character, and so prepared, he showed up every day in that mindset and he captured the full spectrum—not only the philosophy and energy Lengyel brought to Marshall, but uniquely personal details like his bearing and delivery, his gait, his style of speaking and that high-spirited hand clap.”

Lengyel himself offered praise for McConaughey's interpretation, although he did take exception to one little element, saying, "I don't think my sideburns were quite that long.”

Matthew Fox, himself a former football star at Columbia University, takes on the role of Red Dawson, Lengyel's assistant coach during the rocky 1971 season following the crash, in which they had to recruit and train nearly an entire team of rookies. Dawson, only 27 at the time and with just three seasons of coaching experience, had narrowly missed the downed plane and was left not only with a profound sense of loss but a lingering case of survivor's guilt. Of the 37 players aboard, 20 were boys Dawson had personally recruited.

"Red has been carrying the weight of that night with him for 36 years, and thinking about the fact that he wasn't on that plane,” says Fox. The actor developed a genuine rapport with Dawson, who served as an advisor during production and even took on a cameo role as a coach of Huntington rivals Morehead State. "I think that because of who he is, and the responsibility he took for those kids, it's been a very difficult thing to deal with and making this movie has brought up things I believe Red has tried to keep inside.”

McG

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