ON THE SET: A chat with ‘Valley of Bones’ lead actress

As its lead actress sat in hair and makeup, there was much commotion elsewhere on the set of “Valley of Bones,” which has now been filming on location in and around Bowman County for about two weeks.

A member of the film crew for “Valley of the Bones” helps prepare one of the film’s sets prior to shooting in an alleyway to the west side of Bowman Sales. (PHOTO BY BRYCE MARTIN | For The Herald)
A member of the film crew for “Valley of the Bones” helps prepare one of the film’s sets prior to shooting in an alleyway to the west side of Bowman Sales.
(PHOTO BY BRYCE MARTIN | For The Herald)

By BRYCE MARTIN | ND Group Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

As its lead actress sat in hair and makeup, there was much commotion elsewhere on the set of “Valley of Bones,” which has now been filming on location in and around Bowman County for about two weeks.

The drama-thriller, co-written and directed by Fargo’s Dan Glaser, chose Bowman County for its beauty and storied history of fossil findings.

Scenes were taped behind Bowman Sales and Service, at its repair garage on Highway 12, at the home of Bowman residents Terry and Nancy Schaefer, at producer Jon Wanzek’s Pitchfork ranch near Amidon, and in Marmarth, at the Pastime Club and Steakhouse on Main Street. The crew heads back to Los Angeles later this week to finish filming at a studio.

A four-minute scene takes all day to shoot on location, translating into a long day for both the crew and stars of the feature film.

As she took a break from shooting on Monday, the Pioneer caught up with the film’s lead actress, Autumn Reeser.

While she’s not a household name (yet), her television and movie credits are lengthy. She’s co-starred alongside many notable Hollywood actors and actresses, with her most recent top billing in several television series including a six-episode stint on CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” revival, ABC’s short-lived action show “Last Resort,” one season of ABC’s “No Ordinary Family,” 10 eposides of HBO’s “Entourage,” and her lengthiest credit as Ben Mackenzie’s multilingual girlfriend Taylor Townsend on “The O.C.”

She’s also credited in Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film “Sully,” the story of famed American hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Her leads in that film are Tom Hanks and Laura Linney.

But her current focus is on the independent film that brought her to North Dakota, “Valley of Bones.”

Pioneer: So tell me a little bit about your character.

Autumn: I play Anna. She’s a paleontologist but she’s very broken. She’s had a lot of bad decisions in her past that landed her where she’s at this point in her life. She has no idea how to be a mother and she’s career obsessed, looking for something that’s going to make her mark on the world of paleontology.

P: You’re an ex-con, too, right?

A: Basically that’s part of the bad decisions. She was prospecting on federal land and got put in prison for that.

P: How do you get into character? I’ve seen the lists of shows and movies you’ve been in—quite a few things—how do you prepare for something like this?

A: A lot of it is about finding out where Anna is emotionally at the top of this. She’s very disconnected; connection scares her at this point. That’s where I always approach a character—what’s the emotional doorway in. All the rest of it is different sets of clothes, metaphorically.

P: How did you land the role?

A: They asked me. I liked the script.

P: Did you audition?

A: Nope.

P: You worked with your “Valley of Bones” co-star Rhys (Coiro) on “Entourage”?

A: I did. I didn’t know him on that, though.

P: So you don’t have a history with the people on set?

A: No. I’ve never met anyone on this. I just liked the script. It was a strong female character, a nuanced female character. They weren’t shoving her strength in your face. And I liked the journey she goes on.

P: Is that the type of females you like to portray?

A: I like women who are tenacious. I really like—I haven’t had the opportunity to do much of it—grittier work like this. And I like working in indie film a lot and I haven’t had the opportunity in quite a while.

P: Have you done more television than films?

A: Recently I’ve been working mostly in television.

P: I see you have a film coming out called, “Sully.”

A: Yes, I’m doing a Clint Eastwood movie.

P: How is that going?

A: It’s wonderful. So much fun. A dream come true.

P: Is that filming while you’re doing this?

A: Yeah, I came straight from New York here. And then I go straight back to LA to do the rest of it.

P: So have you been to North Dakota before?

A: Yes, on a road trip with my family when I was four. My family’s roots are in South Dakota. I spent some time in South Dakota as a kid; that’s where my mom was born.

P: Did you do a lot of research into paleontology before you took the role?

A: [Laughs] Um… No. I’m learning as I go. It’s not a world I knew previously or come with preconceived notions about.

P: How long is filming scheduled?

A: Basically for all of October. We do some work on the studio in L.A., too.

P: What’s the one thing you’ve learned from shooting “Valley of Bones”?

A: That North Dakota is beautiful. Holy s***, can I move here?! It’s so beautiful. Also, there’s antelopes. I learned there were antelopes. And Home of the Range. I keep singing it while I’m driving. [singing] Where the deer and the antelope play, and get hit by cars.

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