Hays Wellford on the set of "Cop Car," with beef jerky (photo by P. Carter Carpin)
Cop Car, a suspense film starring Chesterfield County rising seventh-grader Hays Wellford alongside Kevin Bacon, opens today at Richmond’s Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas at Movieland with five shows, the first starting at 11:20 a.m.
Wellford, who recently turned 12, plays one of two 10-year-old boys who find what appears to be an abandoned police car and take it for a ride in the Jon Watts film. But when it turns out that the car isn’t exactly abandoned, the boys find themselves in over their heads. (We first wrote about this film in February, after its successful showing at Sundance.) Picked up by Focus World, the film is screening in about 40 to 50 theaters around the country, Wellford estimates.
The Washington Post, which reviewed the film Thursday, says, “The young actors are particularly good, with Freedson-Jackson nicely evoking the squeaky bravado of elementary school, and Wellford providing a more timid foil.”
I ask Wellford’s mother, P. Carter Carpin, if it was strange for him to be in a film that he’s not old enough to go see on his own.
“No not at all for any of us,” she says. “Hays is an old soul who has very mature tastes in film and is a cinephile who views films from a filmmaker’s perspective.”
Wellford, who has been acting locally for three or four years, is starting to make a name for himself nationally as well. He appeared as a young Davy Crockett in the Fox News series Legends and Lies (mostly filmed in the Richmond area), and he also has a role in Independence Day: Resurgence. Carpin says that in addition to acting, Wellford would like to write and direct. In addition, “He loves animation too and is a great illustrator,” she says. “These are his passions.”
Wellford, who’s heading to Colorado (where Cop Car was filmed) today, took a few minutes to answer our questions via email.
Richmond magazine: What it was like working on the film, and what are your impressions of actors Kevin Bacon, Camryn Manheim and Shea Whigham, and the director, Jon Watts?
Wellford: Working on the film was great, I had the time of my life! All of the cast and crew were incredibly nice and we had a lot of fun. It was like a big family. Kevin Bacon was our Obi Wan and we were his Luke Skywalkers. Shea Whigham was fantastic too. He really inspired me and taught me a lot about being in the moment. On his last day on set, he told me to "keep watching and making great movies." He also said he was counting on James and I to keep the ball rolling. At Sundance, he told me to always remember that the work is what is most important, it is what matters most. All of the adults were like mentors to me. I felt like I was their apprentice. I feel really lucky that I got to work with Kevin Bacon, Shea Whigham and Camryn Manheim on my first film. ... And Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch on my next! Sometimes it doesn't seem real.
RM: What can you tell us about your character?
Wellford: My character, Harrison, is more of a follower. You can tell a lot about how he lives by seeing how he acts with his friend Travis. Harrison is more shy and cautious in personality. But he changes a lot when he realizes that the friend he connects with the most really needs him in order to survive. Harrison grows up a lot in one day.
RM: How did you get along with the other young actor, James Freedson-Jackson?
Wellford: James and I are opposites, but we got along great. As a matter of fact, I am at his house right now. We are going to Colorado Springs, Colorado, together on Friday to see Cop Car with Jon Watts and his family at a hometown reception and will be doing a Q&A panel with Jon after the movie.
RM: Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Wellford: One day when we were shooting a scene with Kevin, and we were a little nervous and shy, Kevin came over and sat with me and James and asked if we wanted to hear some good, clean jokes. He told me one that was pretty good and then somehow it evolved into him saying pick-up lines. He whispered one in my ear. It was a really special moment. I have used that line since and I think it worked!
RM: How was this different from other projects you’ve worked on?
Wellford: It was my first lead role in a big movie with a big star, out of town for a month. It was different because it made me feel like my dreams might really be coming true.
RM: What did you learn from this role?
Wellford: I learned that I love making movies even more than I thought I did. I learned that I am really comfortable on a set around people who love the same thing I do. I learned how much effort it takes to make a feature and how fun it is to be part of a team.
RM: Did it get an R rating for language? Violence? Or maybe both?
Wellford: Yes for both, but there isn't a whole lot of violence. There are a lot of cuss words.
RM: How would you describe the genre — it sounds like an action/coming of age film.
Wellford: A coming of age lean thriller with dark comedy.
RM: I know you worked on Legends & Lies, and you mentioned Independence Day 2, right? Can you say anything about your part in that film?
Wellford: Independence Day: Resurgence was also an amazing experience. It is a huge blockbuster of a movie with a large crew and lots of special effects to be added in. It was a completely different experience than Cop Car. I enjoyed both for their own special reasons. I play Felix in IDR but I can’t really say much about the plot.