Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs on His
Indie Drama Role in 'Shooting Heroin'
COVID-19 assumed frontrunner status on the scale of health emergencies in 2020, but opioids are still a major crisis, with over two million Americans struggling with the disorder every day. From the misuse of prescription pain relievers to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl to shooting heroin, opioids are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.
The use of opioids is an epidemic that has led to death, devastation and a fight for a solution in America. The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimated that in just two years from 2016 to 2017, opioid overdoses increased in the Midwest region by 70%. In 2018, over 46,000 Americans died because of an opioid overdose, which breaks down to a staggering 128 people a day.
Opioid abuse is a problem across the country, but especially in the Midwest because of the construction and manufacturing industries. Employees who aren’t fully healed from work-related injuries are returning to work anyway. Workers then turn to opioids for pain relief, which leads to addiction. The National Institute of Drug Abuse also estimates that between 4% and 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids make a shift to heroin.
And as art imitates life, movies have a way of illustrating the human experience by bringing true events to the big screen. Shooting Heroin is the Spencer T. Folmar-directed indie drama set in the fictional town of Whispering Pines, Pennsylvania. It’s a small-town community that has had enough of the opioid abuse and overdoses and fights back.
Alan Powell (Quantico, Worth Fighting For) leads the cast in Shooting Heroin in his role as Adam, a slightly rugged Midwesterner with a mountain man mystique, a U.S. veteran and single father of a 2-year-old boy. He’s well aware of the stifled pain that his city is going through with opioid addition running rampant. In fact, it’s happening within his own family.
Adam’s sister Cheyenne (Daniella Mason) is a recovering drug addict who has a relapse after being admitted to the hospital for a head injury. Cheyenne is given a morphine drip, which triggers her old habits of using opioids. Cheyenne eventually dies from her debilitating drug addiction, which sends Adam into a frenetic quest to stop the dealers and the spread of opioids in Whispering Pines.
As Adam, Powell delivers an emotional complexity that makes his character feel relatable with his desire to transcend his community from a heroin epidemic to a drug-free community.
“I think it’s his (Adam’s) desire to do something good to make up for the things he’s done bad,” Powell said of his character’s actions. “I certainly know what that feels like, and that to me kind of moves him through every scene. And quite honestly, there’s an emotion. Like a deep emotion or feeling, a motivation that I can connect with. That was a thing that was moving me through the entire film. And then I would kind of just figure out and pay attention to the script analysis and what’s moving him from this scene to serve that overall objective. It’s interesting and a challenge that I very much enjoyed bringing to life in an honest way.”
Hazel is another main character in the film whose story adds a layer of pain to the plot, as she loses her two sons to a heroin overdose on the same day. Played by Golden Globe nominee Sherilyn Fenn, Hazel becomes the Whispering Pines matriarch of anti-opioids as she tries to educate students at the local school about the effects of drug use. Fenn’s empathetic spirit throughout the movie makes Hazel a relatable grieving mother, someone you want to join forces and fight with. Her resilience and sense of community caught Adam’s attention.
Beth is Adam’s mother, played by Oscar-nominated actress from Raging Bull, Cathy Moriarty. Beth is a cigarette-smoking, tell-it-like-it-is type of lady who has made some bad choices in her life. Beth and Adam have a strained relationship; however, she keeps him level-headed and grounded. She knows his fight for a drug-free town is the right thing to do, but he also needs to be a good father to his son.
To round out the cast of major players is Edward, a raspy, yet strong-voiced correctional officer who owns almost every scene. Edward is played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, the legendary actor from Cooley High, Roots, Welcome Back, Kotter, and The Jacksons: An American Dream. Hilton-Jacobs played Joe Jackson in the iconic 1992 TV mini-series about the Jackson family and how they rose to fame. Hilton-Jacobs brought his Joe Jackson-esque toughness to Shooting Heroin by demanding the stop of drug use in his town and by repeating a noticeable line in the movie, “by any means necessary.”
Adam, Hazel, and Edward form a volunteer drug task force that’s determined to stop the distribution of heroin. This trio has had enough of the undercurrent distribution of opioids, which is coming from both drug dealers and overprescribing doctors. The trio are deputized as a volunteer drug task force by Whispering Pines’ lone cop Officer Jerry (Garry Pastore).
The film weaves in hard-fought moments with Adam to gut-wrenching scenes with Hazel and Edward. Shooting Heroin offers a small glimpse into a world that’s all too real.
While at his home in Los Angeles, Hilton-Jacobs recently discussed his role in Shooting Heroin and a career that has spanned over 50 years.
JMG: Describe Edward, the character you play in the movie.
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs: Well, he’s a regular guy who has a job, but he’s a concerned person of his neighborhood in which he’s living. And he’s seen a lot of devastation go on over the years. So he’s silently affected. But now he finally has a voice when he sees the epidemic of the opioid dilemma is overwhelming and it’s affecting people close to him or people around him, including a good friend of his. So, it becomes not only a community effort, but it’s a personal effort to go out and do something about it. So that’s him. He’s a very boisterous person.
What made you want to be part of this film?
I mean, it was the script. You know, the script was sent to me by Spencer Folmar, who directed the movie and wrote it. I read it and I liked the character, and I like the idea of addressing this problem, which is a growing concern that has been going on for years. I grew up in New York City where back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, heroin was out of control. It seemed like every seventh person was a junkie. So I can relate to that feeling and understanding. I lost a friend to that thing back in the day as well. So for me, I don’t know if it’s a personal reason why I wanted to do the movie, but I had some kind of affront to that. I wanted to be involved. I thought it was something to say, and this is one of the first attempts to deal with it. It was an opportunity.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
That it can happen anywhere and it can happen to anybody. It’s no different than going through the COVID-19 thing now. It’s not selective. It’s not ceremonious to who it may attack next. It has nothing to do with age. It has nothing to do with your color or anything like that, your ethnicity, nothing. So, in this movie to address this problem, which is a problem that’s easily accessible to people, they can get pharmaceutical drugs and pills almost anywhere. And people will start to play with that kind of thing, maybe for fun or for a buzz. And before you know it, you have to have it. And it doesn’t take very long. So what will come out of this movie will be knowledge just for people to have a little more of a heightened awareness that this is around them. It could be them next, so be careful and watch out.
How did you get started acting?
I lost my mind years ago. I’ve been acting since I was about 14-years-old, I’m 66 now. So I’ve been doing it for a long time. And it always seemed like when I was in elementary school I was always in plays, and I was always the lead in plays. I don’t know if that led to it. But I‘ve always been into the creative world. I draw. I paint. I play music. It all seems to be part of the same entity, so it seems like it grew out of me at some point. All I’ve ever done was be an actor. I love it. I enjoy it.
Is there a project that you’ve been a part of that’s been your all-time favorite?
You know that’s a hard one to pick for a lot of different reasons. One of many favorite experiences to this day is Cooley High. It’s a wholesome movie; it was a coming-of-age movie. That was a wonderful experience. Right behind it, I did Welcome Back, Kotter, which was probably the most fun I ever had in my life because it was like they let the inmates run the asylum. We were all nuts and young boys, so we’re going bananas. But one of the most involving roles for me was playing Joe Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream. It was a multi-layered role, and I was with that role for 12 weeks. That’s a long time, you know. I’ve had some nice opportunities. I don’t take it lightly. So it’s hard to pick a favorite. When I think of that experience, I think of who I got to work with. A lot of the kids in Jacksons, who are grown men and women, still think they’re my kids to this day and they still call me dad and I respond that way to them. And so you know, that’s the blessing there. Good relationships came out of it.
I knew the Jacksons many, many years before I knew I would play their father. I met them in 1975, and have been friends with them to this day. Even when Joe was in his last time before he split, we were talking on the phone and trying to keep a little bit of contact every once in a while. And so I knew them all, and they were on the set all the time, too. There were all these Jacksons around (laughing).
How was it to work with Angela Bassett during that process?
Absolutely terrific! Angela’s a buddy and of course a brilliant and special actress. And she was just like me. We were concerned about doing a great job. I remember we shot the movie for 10 weeks. But the first five weeks we shot in Pittsburgh, and the last five weeks was in Los Angeles. I found out they were rehearsing the older guys to play the older Jacksons, so one day I said I want to go over there and meet them because I hadn’t met them at that point. And I would go over with the choreographer and Angela found out and said, “You can’t leave me behind, you gotta take me, too.” I said come on, and I grabbed her and we ran over and we met our sons and hung out with them. It’s wonderful to work with Angela. Hopefully, the opportunity will happen again soon.
Are you following the COVID-19 safety guidelines?
Absolutely. The only time I go out is when I have to go to the mailbox or if I have to go to the grocery store. Every other day I like to go for a walk. That’s my thing and I keep my mask and no visitors have been happening with me so it’s a little tough. And I’m paying attention to the rules and watching the news quite a lot and not taking it lightly because it’s not. So I’m on my game.
What do you think about how COVID-19 is affecting the black community right now?
It’s awful to me and it doesn’t make sense to me, from my point of view. It seems like it’s by design a little because that’s where the prevalent attacks are. It’s in the black and Latino communities and they’re getting infections badly. So it makes you wonder. It’s like how did this happen there, that’s not a coincidence. That seems to be purposeful. So it’s terrible.
What kind of advice would you give an up-and-coming actor?
Keep it simple. If you want to be an actor or anything, you have to commit yourself, and that’s what’s going to take up your life, be it a lawyer or doctor or teacher. Commit to it like a Gospel. It has to be like the water out of a faucet, it has to be that necessary and that simple. That is it. You have to be honest to yourself because if you’re not honest to you, you’re just full of it, and that means nothing. And so, we know our limitations and we know when we’re not up to speed so we have to pay attention to that. So if you’re going to take on a profession like acting, it’s a tough game, and a tough way to go. It’s enjoyable, but at the same time, it’s a very hard existence. You have to honest with you, with what you want and what you can deliver. You have to be willing to do the work.
Shooting Heroin is now available on Video on Demand (VoD). For more on the film, visit heroinfilm.com.