I catch Bill McAdams Jr. during a whirlwind week. He was in Dallas on April 22 for the premiere of Gallows Road, the drama that he directed and co-stars in, which played on opening night of the USA Film Festival. However, when I reach him by phone two days after that, he’s already in Orlando to screen the film at the relatively new International Christian Film Festival there. Next week, he’ll be in Arkansas to show it at the inaugural Bentonville Film Festival, founded by Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis.
The lean, sharp-featured actor was born in Washington, D.C., but he fell in love with North Texas while visiting his sister’s family in Aledo. A college baseball player at Catholic University of America, the self-described “jock who did drama” graduated from school and headed to Hollywood to work in films.
“I couldn’t afford film school,” he said, “so I learned on sets as a stand-in.”
He earned a job doubling for Matt Damon in his early films, working on the sets for directors as distinguished as Gus Van Sant, Steven Spielberg, and David Lynch. Eventually, his work as a stunt double on the 2000 Kevin Bacon thriller Hollow Man introduced him to the world behind the camera.
When he saw Aledo, he figured it would be an ideal setting for Gallows Road, a script that he had written on the set of Good Will Hunting. The movie stars Ernie Hudson as a small-town businessman whose family is killed by white supremacists while local police look the other way, while McAdams plays a man who witnesses the murders but is afraid to speak out. McAdams met the Ghostbusters star at Comic Con and is full of praise for his star. “He’s 69 years old, and we have him rolling around on the ground taking punches at 3 a.m. on a 90-degree night, and he’s just taking it,” marveled the director. “I’m 45, and I’m in awe.”
McAdams loved the 1980s feel of Aledo, which matched the timeless quality that he wanted for his film. He even named his production company the Aledo Film Group.
“It was like a studio backlot that had already been created for the script,” said Fort Worth’s Adam Dietrich, who worked on the project as a co-producer and actor. “It just had every location we needed.”
Mayor Kit Marshall vetted the script and gave the filmmakers access to locations, even letting them burn down an empty house for one scene, with the Aledo Fire Department standing by. The mayor appears in the film as well.
Gallows Road wrapped shooting in January 2014, about eight months before the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the first of wave of police killings that brought national attention to the relationships between law enforcement and the African-American community. However, McAdams isn’t worried that his film has been overtaken by current events. “Our movie starts with hate but ends with love,” he said. “I really hope our movie starts a conversation. It feels like the right time and place.”