His new movie may be titled Hate Crime, but its message, says John Schneider, is all about love.
Schneider stars in the film as bereaved father John Demarco, who has lost his son, Kevin, in a murder motivated by homophobia — committed by Kevin’s closeted lover, now awaiting execution.
More than anything else, Schneider says, the film is about parents’ love for their children. “We’re not talking necessarily about how a man loves another man, how a woman loves another woman,” the actor says. “We’re talking about how parents love their children and how what every parent wants really, ultimately, is for someone to love their child. Whom they can love back.”
Schneider is likely best known for his roles a couple of TV series — as Bo Duke in the 1970s-’80s hit The Dukes of Hazzard and as Jonathan Kent, father of Clark, in the 2000s fave Smallville. But he’s had a long and varied career, encompassing Broadway musicals (Grand Hotel), regular gigs on other TV series (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Haves and the Have Nots), many TV guest shots, and some theatrical films. Hate Crime is part of a new phase in his career, that of studio head; his Louisiana-based John Schneider Studios is one of the companies behind it, in partnership with Maven Entertainment.
The script for Hate Crime, by first-time screenwriter Jonah Tapper, came to Schneider from his manager, his lawyer, and an actress friend. “I read the script and I thought it was a fantastic platform on which to [reach] people who never considered true love in this regard,” Schneider says. “It would be a story that would make them stop and put down their preconceptions or put down their, hopefully, ultimately, their uneducated hate of other people and make them consider new thought.” The movie provides a “pensive education” on the subject, he says.
In the film, directed by Steven Esteb and produced by Alicia Allain, John Demarco and his wife, Marie (Laura Cayouette), have been accepting and supportive of their gay son; the other set of parents in the movie, Tom and Ginny Brown (Kevin Bernhardt and Amy Redford) have had a less evolved attitude. They struggle with the knowledge that they bear some responsibility for the murder committed by their son, Raymond (Jordan Salloum), who feared being outed.
Schneider says he’s been through the same process as his character, coming around to the viewpoint of “Who is anyone to tell anyone whom they can love or whom they can be loved by?” The actor, who began working in theater at the age of 8, notes that he’s spent much time around LGBT people and through most of his life wondered why anyone would harbor antigay bigotry.
“Now, at the same time,” he says, “I did go through a period, where the folks in my life were against it, and I said, ‘Well, these are smart people. There must be something wrong with this.’ But I, thankfully, educated myself and life educated me out of that.”
Above: Schneider in one of his most famous roles, as Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard
Schneider has something else in common with his character — fatherhood. Demarco’s son, Kevin, is played by none other than Schneider’s son, Chasen Joseph Schneider. “We don’t appear in the movie together,” the elder Schneider says. “However, for that scene where he gets bludgeoned to death, I was the stunt coordinator. Which I mean, the stunt was basically someone falling down on the floor, but I was there for that. And it was great. It was great to see my son spread his wings, to see my son to explore an arena in which I have been for so long. Although, I think it’s so funny, I don’t think there’s any recognition that what he does and what I do are anything alike because all children think that their parents are hopelessly outdated, and it’s no different in my household.”
Schneider notes that when he first ran through his lines for Smallville, he did it with Chasen, so his son provided him with his “first visions in my heart and soul of Clark Kent,” he says. “So it was great to be able to do this movie with Chasen so many years later.”
Fatherhood also figures in his attitude about antigay prejudice. “I have children, and I want my children to be happy,” he says. “I would never designate who my children could love or be loved by, and I don’t know how anyone can.”
The actor says he’s puzzled by why homophobia persists. “I don’t know why people can’t just let people be people,” he says, adding that the cause may be “ignorance and too much time on their hands.”
Asked about some Republican presidential candidates’ appeal to anti-LGBT attitudes, Schneider says he doesn’t have much time to pay attention to politics “because I am trying to run the studio and follow my dream.” His analysis, though, is that it’s “only because they can’t figure out how to get the gay vote. So they’re discounting the entire gay population. ... It’s all about numbers to people, and that’s sad.”
Other types of bigotry persist as well, he notes: “I’m writing a screenplay about a country club in the South that does not allow black members. Today. In 2016. And I’m not making it up. It’s true. It’s unbelievable. So there’s always going to be crazy times and there’s always going to be people that will try to better their position because they’ve done the math and because they feel that hating a certain demographic is the right thing to do. And that’s just the truth. Because God forbid they should alienate a bunch of potential voters who may be so narrow-minded to think that gay marriage is from the devil.”
He hopes Hate Crime, which doesn’t yet have a definite release date, will help change some of those minds. His character and the film overall have a clear and simple message, he says: “Love one another. Period.”