(KGET) — Dr. Robert Pyle made a dangerous trek in 1991 through the wilds of Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest in search of new species of butterflies. It was a journey that came with so many challenges, that Pyle only managed to survive by being determined, patient and committed.
Director Tom Putnam faced his own demanding journey as he pushed to turn Pyle’s story into a feature film. It took a lot of determination, patience and commitment but Putnam was able to get “The Dark Divide” made. The film can be seen through Video on Demand and other digital platforms starting May 21.
“Making this film – fortunately and unfortunately – has a lot of parallels to Bob’s real-life journey,” Putnam says. “It was a long, difficult process that took longer than we ever intended. We hit a lot of dips in the pass along the way. But, along the way we made a lot of friends.
“It ended so much better than we ever imagined when we started.”
A major hurdle for Putnam started with the basic premise of the story. It is the story of a man who is more comfortable in a library than in the woods setting out to cross – on his own – America’s largest underdeveloped woodlands. Selling that idea was not a walk in the park for the director/writer.
Putnam had read Pyle’s book, “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” in 2011. He was so taken by the story that he knew it should be made into a movie. At the same time, he knew it would be almost impossible to make.
He spent eight years pitching the film as a mix of Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, and H.P. Lovecraft. The fact he never gave up resulted in the film finally being made with David Cross taking on the role of the intrepid butterfly hunter.
Cross might not be the first actor who comes to mind to star in such a heavy drama. He’s best known for comedic work as in “Arrested Development” and “Mr. Show with Bob and David.” Even when asked about how he got involved with the project, Cross initially jokes the movie had actually been completed when he was cast and all his scenes were shot in front of a green screen in his garage.
But, this isn’t the first dramatic work for Cross as he starred in such works as the feature film “The Post.” He knew when he saw the script for “The Dark Divide” the first time that it was such an intriguing story that he wanted to tackle the role.
Cross says, “It’s a layered, juicy story for an actor. This guy is going through this extremely difficult part of his life. He’s grieving. And, then he goes on this journey that he’s very ill-equipped for and comes out at the end a different person. A changed man.”
Both Cross and Putnam felt added pressure making the movie because it is based on a real person. Cross stresses that he played the character more inept than the real Pyle to heighten the drama.
There were some liberties taken but most of the film is based on Pyle’s writing. Plus, Pyle was on set several times so that Cross could fill in some gaps in playing the role.
The fact the movie was based on a true story was enough motivation for Cross to commit to making his own arduous acting journey. “The Dark Divide” was a completely no-frills production. Cross not only appears in every scene – often by himself – but also had to do the five-weeks of work in harsh conditions.
“The Dark Divide” put the acting abilities of Cross to the test. There is one stretch of the movie that runs 35 minutes where there is not a single line of dialogue. Cross jokes that when he did have a scene with the likes of David Koechner, Cameron Esposito, Gary Farmer or PaIerson Hood he would get a giddy feeling.
Some of the most emotional scenes where Cross got to work with another actor are between him and “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing. She plays Pyle’s terminally-ill wife who urges him to make the trek.
Putnam was amazed by how much Messing disappeared into the role.
“She did a tremendous amount of research. She talks to family members of Thea, the character she played,” Putnam says. “She really just became Thea.”
Most of the time, Cross was alone. He’s proud of how he was able to show the growth of the character through his actions. Cross points out that the way he plays the role at the start of the film is far different than the way he portrays Pyle at the end.
“Every step had a little bit of finding him,” Cross says.