Slade Monroe has made his first major acting debut playing Wheatie in the recent release of 12 Mighty Orphans, with the film based on the true story following coach Rusty Russell, played by Luke Wilson, and his Mighty Mites football team, with Slade’s character playing the team’s quarterback. Earlier this month, Slade attended the 12 Mighty Orphans red carpet premiere, and the film has since been distributed worldwide by Sony. Continuing training, Slade attends Chapman University where he is studying a BFA in Screen Acting. Talking with us recently, Slade answers our questions about being in the cast of 12 Mighty Orphans, having Wheatie as his major acting debut and what it was like attending the film’s red carpet premiere.
How did it feel booking your role of Wheatie in feature film 12 Mighty Orphans and what is the character like to play?
I was sitting in the student common section at Chapman University after catching up with a friend of mine. After she left, I was preparing to go to a 10:00 am class when suddenly, my phone began to ring. The name on it was “Kim Dawson Agency”. On the other end, my agent had informed me that I had gotten the role of Wheatie. My heart skipped a beat, tears began to swell in my eyes, and I went around a corner so that I could do a happy dance. I was uplifted, achieved, dumbfounded, awestruck, mesmerised, proud, and excited to start this new journey with a character I genuinely was passionate about. I still ended up going to class to take notes for a friend who was sick that day, but I was quick to cancel my classes and soak up the California sun. Because it was going to be a while before I saw it again.
Playing the role of Wheatie was the perfect first time role for me. I got to experience a character that I could relate to from an environmental standpoint, but I also got to stretch out of my comfort zone and tackle topics that are foreign to me. He is a Texan, just like me, but he was an orphan during The Great Depression which was a challenge I was thrilled to accept.
The film is based on the true story of the Mighty Mites football team, how much did you know about the storyline before booking your role?
I knew very little about the Masonic Home. The names Hardy Brown and Rusty Russell were familiar to me, but I did not realise they were interconnected. When I was seven or so, I came across a documentary about Hardy Brown and how he was at one point accused of wearing steel plates under his shoulder pads. After inspection, the announcer stated, “there were no steel under his shoulder pads, only Hardy Brown”. That incredibly niche memory has stuck with me for well over a decade. When I had read the page in the book that talks about that moment, that memory resurfaced again.
How did you find the experience preparing to play Wheatie?
My first big roadmap was the book itself. The book has Wheatie pretty few and far between. However, it still gives a solid emphasis of his emotional highs and lows. For two weeks prior to shooting, we also had a football bootcamp in order to learn all of the plays. It was nothing too difficult, but it did remind me that I need to add cardio into my workout regime. As for the actual characterisation of Wheatie, I felt as though I could bring a lot of myself to the character and fill in the blanks with those who I had known throughout the seven years of football experience that I had. I would also listen to radio shows like The $64 Question or Abbott and Costello (broadcasts I could easily find on the internet). I would mainly listen to them while doing other tasks as background noise as I assumed people from the time period treated radio similar to how we use Netflix during the day.
What was it like on set of the film and working with the rest of the cast?
When there are 12 guys between the ages of 18 and 25 on a football set, there are plenty of laughs, practical jokes, and, of course, football to be had. We formed a true bond on this set and it really shows on screen. Even though we were with each other on set for about eight weeks, the chemistry we have on screen seems like we’ve known each other our whole lives. Not only were the other eleven orphans phenomenal to work with, being on set with the likes of Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Vanessa Shaw, Wayne Knight and many others allowed me to see what true professionalism looks like.
What are some of your highlights from working on 12 Mighty Orphans?
One of my favourite memories was not during shooting, but actually while we were waiting to be called. The 12 of us were in a holding room near set as they were filming another scene. We were incredibly uncomfortable because we were wearing nothing but towels and dance belts during a thunderstorm that dropped the temperature. There was spare ventilation tubing on the ground, and being the devious lot that we were, we all had the same idea that someone should crawl inside it. None other than Woodrow Luttrell, who plays Leon Picket, climbed inside the tubing, propping himself upright. In a way, he looked like the lamp that stomps on the “I” in Pixar. Woodrow positioned himself near us in the middle of room with both ends of the tube laying on the ground and waited. A.J., our second AD, came around the corner to inform us that the crew was ready for us to take position, while resting his arm on the tube, unknowing to Woodrow lurking underneath. A.J.’s attention went towards the tube, pressing his hand against it. In just a moment, Woodrow moved slightly, and scared the living daylights out of A.J..
The film had its red carpet premiere earlier this month, what was it like attending?
This was my first premiere and I was ecstatic to attend. The best part was seeing all of the guys happy and healthy after a year and half apart. We fell back into it as if we had never left each other in the first place. After walking the red carpet and doing press, we sat down in the movie theater. Jacob Lofland, who plays Songs, was to my left, and after the opening montage, our eyes lit up. We looked at each other and said, “Now that is how you start a movie”.
Sony is distributing 12 Mighty Orphans worldwide, what are you looking forward to most for viewers to see your first major acting role?
I think people will be surprised by the humour that this film has to offer. It isn’t just a drama, it’s wholesome as it is funny and truly something that is for the family.
Why would you recommend watching the film?
I would recommend watching this movie to anyone because there is something to gain for each person who does. It is about brotherhood and camaraderie, it is about the importance of fatherhood and guidance, and it is about finding your talent in the smallest of circumstances.
Where does your love of acting come from and when did you know you wanted to do it professionally?
I have always loved the idea of performing, but I found my love of acting when I used it as a way to compensate for my social insecurities. I was not the most popular kid growing up and I didn’t have much confidence to hold a conversation with someone. When I found acting, it turned into a way of escaping my world and forming chemistry with people in a structured environment. Soon after, I realised I had a knack for it, and acting became my way to let loose. It was a way to risk, mold, and mingle. And now, it is my prized possession that I am truly proud of. I decided that I wanted to do it professionally when I was eighteen and got the role of Wheatie a year later.
We understand you are currently training, can you say more about it?
I am currently a student at Chapman University majoring in a BFA in Screen Acting. Although my time at Chapman has been short, given the casting of the movie happened in the fall of my freshman year and COVID happened during the spring, I have received nothing but top-quality training. My professors have opened my horizons to new methods of character building and refined me into a much better actor than before. Chapman has given me nothing but support during this adventure and I am truly grateful for it.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
One of my favourite TV shows of all time is Breaking Bad. I don’t think that it will ever be topped simply because it is very few and far between when a series is so finely tuned with brilliant pacing and character arcs. It is filled with minor details such as the shows finale episode being named Felina, or Iron-Lithium-Sodium, which is a play on words of the phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” which translates to “blood, meth, and tears”. Felina is also an anagram for finale. It is small things like that which I get hooked on.
My favourite movie is JoJo Rabbit. It is a unique take on the coming of age genre full of well-balanced drama and humour. It isolated Taika Waititi as one of my favourite directors.
What plans do you have for this year now entertainment etc is returning from the pandemic?
Right now I am looking for a manager. I will be continuing to sharpen my skills as an actor as well. I have never felt physically and mentally more ready to take on the industry as I am now. I’ve got fire in my veins, and ambition in my heart.
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