Oklahoma native Ryan Merriman brings inspirational football film to home state for screenings
Choctaw native actor Ryan Merriman stars in the fact-based family drama “The 5th Quarter” and will sign autographs at select screenings as the movie opens this weekend exclusively at AMC Quail Springs 24.
BY BRANDY MCDONNELL
Conference loyalties aside, Ryan Merriman figures film fans in his home state can relate to a movie about faith, football and family.
So, the Choctaw-born and bred actor successfully lobbied to have his inspirational indie drama “The 5th Quarter” brought to Oklahoma City, where it will open this weekend exclusively at the AMC Quail Springs 24. Merriman will attend the 7 and 9:45 p.m. screenings Friday through Sunday and sign autographs for “The 5th Quarter” ticket holders.
“I told them, you know, Oklahomans, they take care of each other,” Merriman, 27, said by phone earlier this week. “Everybody here is so good about supporting me and sticking together, so I figured it would work out pretty well, and hopefully it does.
“It's a good family film, faith-based, it's a triumphant story, it's a true story, 100 percent true. And in the end, it's a great football movie as well.”
Proud of story
“The 5th Quarter” is based on the true story of Wake Forest linebacker Jon Abbate (Merriman), whose younger brother Luke died from injuries suffered in a February 2006 car accident. After the devastating loss, Jon struggles to cope and ultimately decides to honor his brother's love for the game by “playing for two” during the 2006 football season. Jon switches his jersey number to Luke's No. 5, and he and his family begin holding up five fingers during the fourth quarter as a tribute to Luke. Before long, the rest of the crowd and even rival teams adopt the practice.
With Jon and his teammates playing inspired football, the Demon Deacons, predicted to finish last in their division, embark on a record-setting winning season, culminating in an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
“As an actor, it's always nice to do something that you can be proud of, and this had such a good story. And I loved playing football when I was growing up,” said Merriman, who was enjoying a weeklong visit to his home state, where he was promoting the film, visiting friends and family and even helping a pal with his landscaping business.
“Some of the scenes were pretty heavy, you know. It was definitely a challenging role,” he said. “The shoot was definitely emotionally draining. You can't really just go to work with a smile on your face, snapping you fingers and roll in and do like those hospital scenes. You gotta stay in it, and it definitely affected me for a while after the film.”
In February, he won the best actor prize at the 13th annual California Independent Film Festival. In addition, he has been nominated for the Donate Life Hollywood Person of the Year Award, given annually to honor people in the entertainment industry raising awareness about organ donation. The Abbates donated Luke's organs upon his death.
Family, team helped
The Abbates were heavily involved in the production. At the North Carolina premiere, Merriman watched the movie with the family, including Jon and his parents, Steve and Maryanne Abbate, who are played by Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell in the movie.
“The family is such a loving family. They all welcomed all of us into their arms and their story. We definitely hit it off, and I talk to Steve and Maryanne, and every time I see 'em, I call 'em Mom and Dad. It's cool I kind of got a little family out of it,” he said.
The Abbates weren't the only ones who helped make the low-budget movie. Some of Jon's teammates, friends and acquaintances portrayed themselves, while Wake Forest opened its campus to the cast and crew and even loaned them the actual 2006 jerseys, helmets and pads.
“We shot during football season there, so we actually go to use the field like during football games at halftime,” he said.
“They opened their arms. You know they wanted the story to be told ... and we couldn't have done it without the school, obviously. They really stepped it up and made it look like a huge feature.”
Since the filmmakers only had about a $6 million budget, Merriman said writer/director/producer Rick Bieber got the rights to the actual NCAA TV footage of the 2006 Wake Forest games and incorporated it into the movie.
“It's the real footage of people really going through the story,” Merriman said. “And it's a great story — it's a true story — about family, faith and football. And that's just kind of what Oklahoma's about, I think. I think that message fits very well with a lot people here,”