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Donnie Emerson on faith, family and his new film

Casey Affleck, Bill Pohland, and Donnie Emmerson behind the scenes of DREAMIN' WILD

Courtesy of River Road Entertainment

Casey Affleck, Bill Pohland, and Donnie Emmerson behind the scenes of Dreamin' Wild

Cerith Gardiner - published on 08/04/23

The musician and his wife share some interesting facts with Aleteia readers as their film 'Dreamin' Wild' is released.

Donnie and Joe Emerson are brothers with a unique story. In their teens they wrote and performed music with the encouragement of their father, Don Sr. In fact, their dad believed in his sons’ talents so much that he not only built them a $100,000 recording studio on their farm, but financially supported the release of their album, Dreamin’ Wild, in 1979.

Sadly, the album wasn’t a success back in the 70s and Don Sr. lost much of his 1600-acre farm as a result. However, in 2008 the album was rediscovered, and was eventually re-released in 2012. Thanks to songs like “Baby” and “Dreamin’ Wild,” it finally became a hit.

While the movie tells the true story of the Emerson brothers’ musical journey, it also encourages viewers to never lose hope. It highlights the great sacrifices parents sometimes make for their children.

The film, which stars Casey Affleck as Donnie Emerson, Zooey Deschanel as Donnie’s wife, Nancy, Beau Bridges as Don Sr., and Walton Goggins as Joe Emerson. shows in particular the intense mixed emotions felt by Donnie on his road to success, but also the unshakeable faith of Don Sr. in his children, and in fact, in God Himself.

Beau Bridges gives an especially convincing portrayal Donnie’s father — a hard-working man who quietly advises and encourages his children, and never seems to register the slightest disappointment when they don’t succeed.

Beau Bridges and Barbara Deering in Dreamin' Wild.
Beau Bridges and Barbara Deering in Dreamin’ Wild.

Aleteia had the opportunity to chat with Donnie and Nancy about the film. The couple had some interesting revelations about the movie, its stars, and the role his family’s religious faith played throughout the Emerson brothers’ long road to success.

Here’s our conversation:

Donnie, how did it feel to have Beau play your father?

He’s the sweetest character, he really is … He kind of grounds the film … because Beau’s thing was to have a word from God every day. That was his thing. He used to pull up his phone and say, “This is the word for today.” Isn’t it ironic that [it was] my father, who kept us grounded, and Beau Bridges is doing it here in the film? It’s awesome. It’s a great thing. It is what it is. It was just meant to happen with Beau Bridges.

In the movie your dad says a lot of wise things. Was your dad always like that growing up?

My dad is very quiet. I remember my mom doing a lot of the talking and my dad would just sit back and listen. Beau captured that with my dad. You’ll see him kind of listening. And what he says means a lot. That’s how my dad was. My dad is still like that today.

How does your dad feel about things today after all the faith he had in you?

He’s ecstatic. He’s literally ecstatic. He’s proud, extremely proud. He’s 92, you know. He’s soaking it up, which he should soak it up. In fact, we were just talking the day before yesterday basically saying, well Dad, we’ve got to get ready for next year, because this is what we should be doing out on the farm — once the film is out and about for a year. This is an opportunity. It gives him hope to do other things.

Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel in Dreamin' Wild.
Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel in Dreamin’ Wild.

The accurate portrayals

Nancy, how did it feel to have Zooey Deschanel play you?

I was really familiar with her; I’d seen probably 80% of things she’d done … I was a big fan of hers. She did a really nice job. It was tough; there wasn’t a lot of time for everyone with COVID going on, it was really touchy. It was awesome that she played me. It is pretty accurate; she only had an hour and 50 minutes to see a more serious side of Nancy. My other side is very bubbly, a little hyper. But this was a drama.

Your brother Joe seems such a decent guy in the film. Is he like that in real life?

Donnie: Joe is a decent guy. He tries hard. When you watch the film, Walton, who portrays my brother, captured my brother extremely well.

Nancy: I was crying when I saw Casey and I saw Walton play these guys. I know what they look like and act like more than they know! At the end of the film, I told Bill (Bill Pohlad, the director) that I stood right up and clapped for him. Because what he got, he got good.

Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel in Dreamin' Wild.
Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel in Dreamin’ Wild.

Accepting success

It was a little hard to see in the movie how you weren’t able to accept your success. You talked about the shame and guilt because your dad had sacrificed so much. As a father yourself, do you understand it now?

Donnie: Oh yeah, you do everything for your children.

Nancy: I met Donnie when he was 20 and he had this breakdown in front of me, crying out of guilt for what his parents had gone through financially for him … I saw Donnie go through that — he was crying, he hit the wall with his body, he fell. It was just so emotional.

Donnie: Nancy sees it from the outside. But when you see your parent, fundamentally my father, but my mother too … her background is from Europe. They come from a hard life. My father did not have that land given to him, handed down from his parents, his grandparents. He did that all himself …

Noah Jupe in Dreamin' Wild.
Noah Jupe in Dreamin’ Wild.

Faith and family life

Beau Bridges says a couple of times in the film: “If you don’t believe in family, what can you believe in?” You are a family of faith as well. Your father shows so much faith in you and God. How has that helped you through your journey?

Donnie: My dad has a strong belief in family because he has an unbelievable wife. My mom was really special, and I think that’s what gives my dad strength.

Nancy: They’re strong believers. We all are as a family, very strong in our faith. That’s where we go for everything. That’s our center, that’s our core.

Donnie: You’ve got to go through turmoils.

Nancy: His mother, whenever there’s a traumatic situation, she says, “Leave it to God.”

Donnie: It’s not in the film, but every time we leave the house my mom goes to the door and does a sign of the cross.

Nancy: It’s a tradition, we do it with our kids.

As we ended the interview, Donnie was inspired by his family once more, sharing:

“God bless you on your journey. My mom always says that.”

FamilyInspiring storiesMoviesParenting
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