ELLERBE — The little Richmond County town that one of professional wrestling’s largest stars called home for the last years of his life is among the locations to be featured in an upcoming film.
A documentary crew from the New York area came to Ellerbe to shoot footage for an HBO Sports feature on Andre the Giant and speak with those who knew him well.
Jackie McAuley, who donated most of the items in the Andre exhibit at the Rankin Museum of American Heritage, was one of the main interviewees.
“We’ve only just started,” said director Jason Hehir, owner of JMH Films, while taking a lunch break at the Spring House restaurant. “We’ve only done a few interviews so far, but I knew from our research and from all that I’ve read that Jackie was really close to Andre, so this is one of the first places we wanted to come.”
McAuley and her late ex-husband Frenchy Bernard — a former wrestler, manager and referee — lived and worked with Andre on his Ellerbe ranch from the early ‘80s until his death in 1993.
“Shoots always go a lot better when you’ve got a local person that you’ve done research with beforehand,” Hehir said of McAuley.
The crew arrived Monday and scouted locations, including Andre’s former property. Tuesday, they went to Millstone 4-H Camp to conduct the interview with McAuley — where they were interrupted, temporarily, from gunfire at the shooting range.
After lunch, the shot B-roll around town and went back to the home and ranch to meet with a crew from Wilmington to get drone footage of the property.
Joining, Hehir is Thom Stukas, director of photography, Jon Roche, second unit director of photography, and Bob Bryan on audio.
He said he’s used them on about 80 percent of his projects and the crew has worked together for nearly a decade.
“When these guys are available, I use them,” he said. “They’re in high demand. There’s a couple of dozen Emmy’s between the three of them….They’re good friends of mine in and out of the business.”
Hehir, who previously spent seven years at HBO, is also an Emmy-winning director and producer.
HBO announced the documentary in a February press release, saying it “will explore Andre’s upbringing in France, his celebrated career in WWE and his forays in the entertainment world.”
Hehir said their brief time here this week is probably the only time they will be in Richmond County.
“We’ve got a lot of other places to get to,” he said. “We’re going to Montreal, then France in a couple of weeks. We’ll probably interview 30-35 people for the doc…and they’re spread out all over the globe.”
While Japan was an important location during Andre’s career, Hehir said they may get out there, time permitting.
“There’s a lot of factors in play,” he said. “You have to decide where you want to allocate your resources best. But we knew that this was arguably the most important location of his life, so we wanted to make came down here.”
Stukas asked McAuley, who has visited Andre’s home in France, about the similarities between it and Ellerbe.
“Probably the small village atmosphere and knowing everybody and recognizing everybody…I think what he appreciated the most is he didn’t get flocked by the public,” she said. “They were respectful…they just spoke to him as an individual instead of mobbing him.”
“With the amount of attention he got all over the world,” Hehir added, “he needed that kind of a refuge, that kind of a sanctuary to just be himself.”
An air date for the documentary has not yet been set.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.