Slade Monroe chatted about his feature film debut as “Wheatie” in 12 Mighty Orphans. The period sports drama also features Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall.
Based on Jim Dent’s non-fiction book Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football, new feature film is inspired by true events. Namely, the story of coach Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) and his team The Mighty Mites, otherwise known as the titular Orphans.
The film’s cast also includes Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker and Slade Monroe, the latter of whom chatted to us about playing “Wheatie” below.
Welcome, Slade and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Slade Monroe (SM): Thank you for having me on here.
We’ll be chatting today about your new film, 12 Mighty Orphans. Before getting into that directly, how did your journey into acting start? Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you?
SM: Oh, yeah. My journey into acting basically started at a studio, called Catherine Sullivan’s Acting Studio. She, being Catherine Sullivan, is the person who really inspired me to continue with acting. I used to do it as a hobby when I was younger from 15-17 and it was at the end of my 18th year that I decided to push forward with it. She brought me back from a low place and gave me the confidence to carry on.
How would you describe the premise of 12 Mighty Orphans, for anyone who may be unfamiliar?
SM: 12 Mighty Orphans is an underdog story about a football team in the 1930s called The Mighty Mites who were a group of orphans coached by a man named Rusty Russell, who is largely credited with creating the spread offense. It is Rusty’s journey into teaching these kids and also how to find themselves.
How would you describe the process of being cast in the project?
SM: This was a really unique experience for me because something happened that I had not seen before. I was called in to my agency, Kim Dawson Agency by my agent Dee Ann Vernon. I’d never done that before, the casting director was at my agency, so I thought this was a really cool and unique thing. I got my first audition in April 2019. When I got it, I immediately fell in love with the script.
I got the summary, read it and knew this was something that I not only wanted, I just needed it. I did my audition in April 2019 and didn’t hear back until August 2019. I kept looking it up… it’s the only project I’ve ever auditioned before where I was consistently keeping up with it, to see if I was still in the running for casting. I was gearing up to go to Chapman University when I got a call saying I got another callback for 12 Mighty Orphans.
Five days prior to me leaving for college, I did that audition. Two weeks after that, I was called back to Texas again and that would be my final audition. Two weeks after, I got the call saying I got the part.
The film is centered on a football team in 1939. Before joining the project, how knowledgeable were you about playing football, or what the 1930s were like?
SM: I knew a little bit about football and the 1930s. I say a little bit, I grew up in Texas [and] Texas lives, eats, breathes football. It is football incarnate. Playing football, in a way, is like a rite of passage. I did grow up playing football for about seven years. It wasn’t until I was about 16 when I ironically switched from football to theatre. Crazy how that circle of life happens.
The 1930s has always been a decade that interested me. That was the height of the Great Depression and a time where people really had to just strap down and buckle up. The fact that anybody survived the 1930s, it leaves me awestruck.
Who do you play in 12 Mighty Orphans and how would you describe their role in this story?
SM: I loved playing the character of Wheatie. When I had read the book, the first thing that I thought about was: “Yes, this guy’s a quarterback, a leader of the offense but the reality is, he’s actually a defender.” His personality is a defender. He’s someone who is always first to the frontlines when his brothers are in harm’s way. He’s always first to the defence of his fellow Orphans, the first to speak up and look out for them when they are in trouble or whatnot.
I’m so fortunate to have been able to play the role of Wheatie, because a lot of this is shown in the film. When I read the book and then read the script, I thought that Lane Garrison (who was the writer of 12 Mighty Orphans) really did a good job at capturing his essence.
12 Mighty Orphans is based on the novel of the same name by Jim Dent. Have you ever worked on a book-to-screen adaptation before and how would you describe that experience?
SM: This was my first film, ever. The last thing that I did was a high school play. So, I’m very new to the film industry. This is my first work, my first time being onscreen. I’m very grateful for it. It’s the experience that every actor dreams of. Being able to have been taken on this journey has been a fantastic experience.
Alongside fellow younger cast members, you also starred alongside Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Luke Wilson and Wayne Knight, among others. Considering the collective experience between each of them, were you able to pick up any advice or tips while shooting 12 Mighty Orphans?
SM: They made the experience real. I stepped onto set and I saw them do their work for the first time. I realised I’m in something a little bit bigger. Luke Wilson took Rusty Russell by form and by storm. We were shooting a classroom scene on the first day and I’d never seen a professional do it in front of me. At that point, I’d never been on set before. It was really interesting to watch because he was trying to figure out his character in the moment. Of course, he knew his character but it’s different when you’re putting it into acting on the day.
As he was getting into character, by I think take 6, something clicked. It was really interesting to watch because I was no longer watching Luke. I was watching Rusty. It was a shift in the posture, these minute things on his face. The way he darted his eyes around, it was no longer Luke. To see that shift and that is something the audience never sees. The audience only ever sees the character.
I had the privilege of being able to see the transition from actor to character. That is something that really benefited me, as an actor, going forward. Being able to watch someone like him and someone like Martin Sheen, who is practically Hollywood royalty. That’s something I couldn’t get out of a classroom. That’s only something I could get on the day.
When we spoke to your co-star Jake Austin Walker, he described the film’s physical intensity as “taking the life” out of him. How was your own experience making 12 Mighty Oprhans?
SM: Because this is my first film, I did walk into everything with a brighter outlook. I’m not saying that he didn’t. It’s just… everything is new and wonderful. It’s like a child at a playground for the first time. Just got out of the school semester and it’s summertime. That’s how it felt for me. Yes, it was physically taxing, he’s very correct on that. We were doing our own stunts and our own actions.
During this period of filming, it was either blazing hot or absolutely freezing. In a way, it also made it a little more real. I actually enjoyed that aspect, because pain is beauty, beauty is pain. I think that these aspects were legitimate physicalities that we had to go through to make the product so much better.
What do you think people will take out of having watched 12 Mighty Orphans?
SM: Of course, this film is about brotherhood and comradery. That is absolutely true. In other ways, it’s also about fatherhood or words of guidance. It’s also about finding your talent in the smallest of circumstances and I do believe that everybody can. In a lot of ways, many people, generally and abstractly speaking, do feel as though they can’t. I don’t believe that that’s the case. This is a film that’s going to bring that to life, I feel.
Where will 12 Mighty Orphans be available to see once it’s out?
SM: It is going to be released to the public on June 18th. Where exactly, I’m not entirely sure. It is a nationwide release, so I’m going to assume there’ll be no shortage of this film in theatres all over. It’s already out in Texas and the theatres it’s filled in Texas… so much more than I’d even hoped for. I’m thrilled that this is coming forward and coming out.
Are there any other projects you are able to discuss at this time?
SM: No, I don’t have anything in the works at this moment. I’m a pending actor, but I do still have a plan going forward. I am living in California at the moment. Because of the pandemic, a lot has shifted. 2021 has been brutal on the actors and of course, on everybody. Going forward, I am actually going to be looking for a manager. I just have an agent. I’m going to use this film hopefully to put my name out a little bit more.
Professionally or personally, what do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
SM: I have a family business which I’m going into, which is a little bit separate. That’s something I can’t really speak about at the moment. The completion of that is a goal that I have in mind. Also, I am going to be going back for my Fall semester in Screen Acting at Chapman University.
The short-term goals… that’s the route that I’m going down is making grades the best I possibly can on that. By the end of the year, maybe get some more auditions rolling in and find myself on set.
Thanks for taking the time, Slade. Take care and stay safe!
SM: Thank you very much Conor, I appreciate being on this so much.