By Nicholas Vandeloecht, The Progress Index
HOPEWELL — Tuxedos and ties.
Vibrant, sparkling dresses.
The excited expressions of those who graced the red carpet wrapping around a local landmark.
Actors. Extras. The director himself. The person whose story helped inspire the film that was about to appear on the big screen.
The vivid glitz and glamor of Hollywood had embraced Hopewell’s historical Beacon Theatre. It was here that local citizens, city officials and several of the cast and crew viewed an exclusive screening of the crime drama “Imperium”, starring “Harry Potter” film series actor Daniel Radcliffe.
Hopewell residents David and Kathy Sutphin watched as the men and women who helped bring the film to life walked along the red carpet.
“This area’s rich in history and it’s rich in all kinds of things, so it’s great to have a movie filmed here,” said Kathy.
David called the Hollywood-esque night in Hopewell “pretty fascinating” and called the screening “very rare” for the city.
“It’s so much potential in the city and it gives it an opportunity to shine,” he said. “It’s great that someone like Daniel Radcliffe could actually come to the city and actually experience it.”
“And actually want to come back to do this,” Kathy added.
“We’re so excited. This is such a cool thing to have in a small city like this,” said Hopewell City Manager Mark Haley. “It’s the energy and having all these folks come out and see some Hollywood people be here for a first screening of a movie, just a very exciting night.”
“It means that the rest of the world will probably see that Hopewell is the jewel that it is and has a lot of interesting sites, historic,” said Hopewell Mayor Brenda Pelham. “A lot of things are going on in Hopewell, and we’re glad to share it with the world.”
Several extras in the movie were present to answer questions in interviews about their roles in the film. Several extras were from the Richmond, Chesterfield County and Tri-City areas, including the cities of Hopewell and Colonial Heights.
Also appearing on the red carpet was Lee Taylor, who played an Aryan Alliance member in the movie, was featured in the trailer and got to work directly with Radcliffe for three days.
“I’m from Hopewell, so I get to represent my hometown and it was a great honor to be in the movie with some great actors,” Taylor said. “The crew was great, everything was unbelievable.”
The movie is the first to be primarily filmed in Hopewell, although it is not set in the city.
“It was wonderful seeing the trailer portion of the film, to see that you could see K&L or Lisa’s Cafe in the movie, a place that you dine yourself,” Pelham said. “To be a part of, again a national, international setting, to see Hopewell exposed in that matter is grand.”
“Imperium” stars Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”, “Swiss Army Man”), Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense”, “Little Miss Sunshine”) and Sam Trammell (“True Blood”, “The Fault in Our Stars”) and tells the story of an FBI agent, played by Radcliffe, who goes undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group that is planning an act of terror. The film marked the feature-length directorial debut of Daniel Ragussis and was inspired and co-written by former FBI undercover agent Michael German.
Both were present at the screening in Hopewell.
“I’m really, really excited to be here … wonderful shooting [the film] here and it’s great to be able to bring it back here for everyone to see,” said Ragussis, who praised Hopewell Assistant City Manager Charles Dane for being incredibly welcoming and helpful with the shoot.
“He not only provided what we were looking for but then way more than what we were looking for,” said Ragussis.
Dane in turn said that Ragussis and the crew were very easy to work with.
“It was easy to find locations for them,” Dane said. “It was a great experience for the city.”
“All the people were so welcoming and so friendly,” Ragussis added of Hopewell. “Everyone really sort of made us feel at home, which is great for us.”
German, who co-wrote the story with Ragussis, worked with the FBI for 16 years and also lived in Virginia many different times, spoke to bringing the emotional reality of the undercover work and what it feels like to the big screen.
“One of the things that I learned doing undercover in the Neo-Nazi movement and the anti-government is this is stuff that is around,” German said. “It’s really hiding in plain sight, and unfortunately, the conversations in the early ’90s I was having in dark garages and people’s basements is on our national news, and that’s really very troubling that the reaction to terrorism has divided the country so much, but hopefully I think with further dialogue and learning more about these things, we can address them.”
Ragussis called Radcliffe a “director’s dream.”
“He was just the nicest — everyone in the town will probably tell you: incredibly kind, giving, thoughtful,” Ragussis said of Radcliffe.
German called Radcliffe a brilliant actor and added that he really captured a lot of what they were trying to accomplish with the script.
“He can go out there and show that sort of the moral strength, but that vulnerability of knowing that you’re putting somebody in an extremely dangerous position, and I wanted the audience to be able to feel that.”