was a legend in his own time, and the soldiers he led helped cement that
A celebrated military man before he became President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt’s Spanish-American War exploits are recalled Sunday and Monday in director John
Milius’ new TNT miniseries Rough Riders (8 p.m. ET both nights). The drama recounts the charge made on San Juan Hill by an eclectic gathering of heroes ranging from department store heir Bill Tiffany to B. F. Goodrich, who later became a tire-industry icon.
Tom Berenger heads the cast as Roosevelt, with Sam Elliott as Capt. Bucky O’Neil and Gary Busey as Gen. “Fighting” Joe Wheeler. Also featured are Brad Johnson, Chris Noth (Law &
Order), George Hamilton, William Katt and - in one of his final performances – the late Brian Keith as President William McKinley.
Also an executive producer of Rough Riders, Berenger says he “surprised myself” by playing Roosevelt. “I hadn’t expected to act in this when I pitched it to TNT about two years ago. There was no script, so I got Hugh Wilson to write the first draft, but he had to bail out when his directing of The First Wives Club ran into reshooting. That’s when John Milius came in. I had known him for a few years, and since he’s a history fanatic, he was perfect for this.”
Roosevelt also was a major character in Milius’ 1975 film The Wind and the Lion, played
then by Brian Keith. “It turned out that Teddy Roosevelt is Milius’ favorite person in history,
his childhood hero,” Berenger reports. “I had already done a lot of research for this project,
keeping notebooks and old photographs. In fact, the art department told me, ‘You’ve got everything we need.’ Some of the books were antiques for that time period, with the covers falling off.”
Rough Riders is Berenger’s third history-oriented project for TNT, following Gettysburg and The Avenging Angel. He recalls “standing around during a night shot on Gettysburg, and I began talking to the historian who was on the set as a technical advisor. That made me start thinking about talking to TNT about doing this, but it even goes back to my making a cheap movie in New York’s Central Park 23 years ago. I got to talking to an old actor who was there for a day, and he had a bunch of stories about the Rough Riders.
“For instance, when they landed in Cuba, they had to throw their horses over the side of the
boat and let them swim in. Some started swimming in the opposite direction toward Venezuela, out of terror, and a bugler saw that happening and started playing a call that the horses knew. That signaled them to turn around and swim toward the beach.”
In mounting Rough Riders, Berenger had a basic approach for the cast and crew: “It had to
be fun. We had a little training camp for a week, and we used the actual military drills of that
period. We didn’t have to work out much after hours, because going up and down hills all day was a good workout in itself.” Berenger adds that Rough Riders was cast carefully, with performers who were used to the rigors of doing lots of outdoor filming.
Thanks to Leigh