HUNTINGTON - Watching the Hollywood premiere of the epic History Channel miniseries, Tom Berenger got up from his seat and had one thought - that he was watching 'The Godfather' of the mountains.
Known for his starring roles in such runaway movie hits as "Platoon," "Major League," and "The Big Chill," Berenger, who was in Huntington last week at a private screening of "Hatfields and McCoys," said he was blown away by the epic feel of the six-hour miniseries that airs at 9 p.m. Memorial Day and continues on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as well.
The entire miniseries will roll at 6 p.m. Saturday on The History Channel, following the premiere of the two-hour documentary, "America's Greatest Feud: Hatfields and McCoys," directed by Mark Cowen (“Band of Brothers”) and whose reenactment scenes were shot at Heritage Farm Museum and Village.
Berenger, who proposed to his Huntington native girlfriend, Laura Moretti, prior to the premiere of the miniseries and accompanying documentary, said he was drawn to the project, filmed in 4 1/2 months in Romania and Transylvania, because of the powerful punch of the story.
"This is an 'Eastern,' " said Berenger, who stars as Devil Anse Hatfield's firebrand uncle and warlord, Uncle Jim Vance. "It was the script. I was sort of knocked out by the scope of it all and all the different characters which I knew could have been very difficult to cast and to shoot with but we had a brilliant director and staff and producers and it had the same kind of feeling that 'Major League' and 'Platoon' had for me, and this is really a bigger scope."
Berenger, who was joined in the film by such award-winning stars as Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Mare Winningham, said watching the piece in its entirety is phenomenal.
"Having seen it I think it is a real piece of Americana and I think every bit as good as 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather II,' " Berenger said at a press conference in Huntington. "If you put them both together you have about the same running time."
Berenger said that like the best of films, 'Hatfields and McCoys' hits you with every human emotion packed either into the main story or the strong undertow of the subplots.
"It was very visceral I mean you have love stories going on and executions and hangings and firing squad and murders and it sometimes makes you feel nauseous and sometimes you're crying because it is real sad but there's also a lot of humor and some black humor too," Berenger said. "It is a real visceral experience. I think some of the performances are stunning - the play between Mr. and Mrs. Hatfield when he (Costner) comes home from the Civil War, and then the scenes with the McCoys, between Bill Paxton and his wife Mare Winningham."
A Chicago native who now lives in South Carolina, Berenger said one thing he thinks the movie really captures well is the unique language of a by-gone era.
"The language is great and very rich because our vocabulary was Victorian and we had a lot more words in our language before it was dumbed down by television and the Internet," Berenger said. "Everyone was challenged with some of the very interesting expressions, you knew what they meant and it is dated in that sense. What I think is interesting is that a lot of the characters we portrayed could not read or write yet they knew what all of these words were by listening to the preachers of the King James Bible and by seeing any play that came by and by going to hear politicians who were brilliant orators who would give speeches for hours. So that is the world these people came from."
Though the story may be specific to a time and place - the chaotic plate-shifting of people in the volatile years following the Civil War - Berenger said the theme of a cycle of violence is one that plays out daily in the world from Palestine to Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland.
After completing the project, Berenger said he hopes more of America's epic historical tales can get a similar treatment as History Channel is trying its first foray into the miniseries.
Berenger said last year he and the family gathered up and watched 'John Adams' and was transported back to his youth watching epic history-juiced films that engulfed an afternoon or evening.
"I think it is a different kind of entertainment and also for anyone interested in history it is the only way to do it," Berenger said of the miniseries. "It is like when I was a kid they did 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Ten Commandments' and all of those type movies were movies with an intermission. You would go and see 'The Ten Commandments' and spend the afternoon or an evening in the theater and didn't go anywhere else. I know after I saw this it had that impact of lingering with me. I keep seeing these different scenes and I still keep thinking about it."