By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – ‘BlacKkKlansman” Oscar-winning screenwriter Kevin Willmott has discovered what Oneonta fans have known all along: Cuyle Carvin is destined to be a star.
“When I arrived on set, he told me that he had seen my audition and knew right then that they wanted me,” Carvin said. “They said they were looking for an unfamiliar face that could rival the looks of Brad Pitt, but a better actor.”
The 2003 Hartwick College graduate stars as Cross, a racist Houston sheriff, in Willmott’s latest film, “The 24th,” about the Houston riot of 1917, where soldiers from the Third Battalion of the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment clashed with Houston police following months of harassment and violence.
The film was shot in North Carolina last year, and right now, Carvin, son of Nadine Stenson and Bill Carvin, is in Oneonta shooting the film “Asteroids” with Oneonta filmmakers Dylan Avery and Korey Rowe. Carvin’s brother, Chris, also lives locally.
“I think Korey and I were on the same Little League team when we were kids, but we didn’t reconnect until recently, when we were both living in LA,” he said. “I bought a camera from him, and we reconnected over our love of film.”
Last year, Carvin brought Rowe in to help him edit his feature-length directorial debut, “Dolls,” a horror film starring “ET” star Dee Wallace, available on Amazon Prime.
“Korey called me up and told me about this project,” he said.
Carvin plays Spencer, who moves back to his Oneonta hometown with his family in the days before the apocalypse.
The majority of the film is being shot in Oneonta, including at ISD, the Southside Mall and Main Street, in an effort to drum up support for the creation of a local film commission, an idea championed by Greg Klein of Cooperstown.
“Otsego County is the only county in New York State that doesn’t have a film commission,” he said. “Korey and Dylan want to change that and highlight this county as a place to make movies.”
It’s the second film he’s shot locally; in 2010, he returned from LA to star in “Mineville,” written and directed by Oneonta mother-son filmmaking team Lori Kelly and Joel Plue.
Filming on “Asteroids” is expected to wrap by the end of next week, but “The 24th” will premier on streaming services on Friday, Aug, 21.
Willmott won the “BlackkKlansman” Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2019, which he wrote with Spike Lee. “The 24th” was co-written by “Empire” actor Trai Byers, who also stars in the film, which also stars Oscar-nominated actor Thomas Hayden Church.
Carvin’s character is based on Lee Sparks, a Houston sheriff whose violent and unprovoked attack on Cpl. Charles Baltimore of The 24th helped ignite the riot, which left 17 people dead, including four police officers, two soldiers and nine civilians.
“It was tough,” the actor said. “It’s a predominantly black cast, and my first day on set, I’m slinging around the n-word. It was really awkward; was I supposed to say it in rehearsals? I hope they think I’m not really like this!
“But thankfully, everyone got that.”
His first day’s scene was also a physically demanding one. “The soldiers are on the trolley, and one of them moves to sit up front,” he said. “The trolley driver tells him to move to the back, and when he doesn’t, he calls me in.
“There’s a stand-off, and then I physically beat him. It’s a horrible introduction to a very racist character.”
But Carvin was also impressed by the depth Willmott and Byers wrote for his character.
“There’s a scene where Cross recounts a story about seeing the black community integrate into Houston when he was a kid, and how his father blamed them for him losing his business,” he said.
“You get to see how racism grows in someone. Because we’re not born with hatred, these are things we learn. And I think it’s important that we see that. Will it change your mind about him? No. But it’s something we can look at in ourselves and people we know.”