The romance writer’s Civil War drama starring Lauren Ambrose and Christopher Backus airs on Lifetime September 13.
In the opening scenes of “Deliverance Creek,” several men get shot in a bloody battle and one almost loses an ear to a cocky renegade soldier. Nicholas Sparks fans should know now that this isn’t his usual tale of lost love and romance (although Lauren Ambrose does take a roll in the hay with handsome deputy Nate, played by Wes Ramsey, in the following scene). Ambrose stars as Belle, a widow and mother of three determined to protect her land and her independence two years into the Civil War. When her brother Jasper, played by Christopher Backus, shows up with plans to rob the town’s corrupt bank, she must decide whether it’s better to be good or to survive.
Sparks’ first foray into television gives him executive producer credits and serves as a two-hour pilot for an hourlong drama. While the pilot does include plenty of gunshot wounds and male egos, Sparks offers up a strong heroine in red-headed Belle. She’s no stranger to a shotgun herself, and when she isn’t meeting Nate for a late night tryst, she’s stitching up her first love Toby (Riley Smith). Her sister, Hattie (Caitlin Custer), isn’t afraid to help slaves traveling the Underground Railroad, adding an undercurrent of racial tension to the story.
“The whole point was try to to be authentic in a story of gruesome violence, where women and children, everybody was persecuted and you didn’t know who was good and who was bad,” said Backus in a recent phone interview. “No one has done the romance genre better in the last 20 years than Nicholas Sparks, but he let us push the envelope and explore that world beyond just a love story.”
Sparks is in fact taking on a period in time when men who were known as bushwhackers would conquer Union troops, steal their uniforms and then hide in the bushes, hence their name. Backus’s character Jasper is a Southern Confederate bushwhacker and leads what he describes as a “pretty gnarly group of guys.” Jasper is loosely based on American outlaw Jesse James, and Backus did plenty of research on the real-life Confederate rebel in preparation for the role.
“I started to look into his history and read books like Inside War and Ghosts of the Confederacy and Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War,” he said. “I found so much info on Jesse and his sort of interactions in the Civil War and what led him to be who he was. It’s a great reference point to dig into the times of slavery and the Southern way of living.”
Jasper lives by his own moral code, and his only concern is fighting for the rebel cause. “We’re robbing that bank,” he tells Belle, “with or without you.” Backus says he hadn’t worked with Ambrose before but “she cared deeply about her performance and wanted it to be authentic. Hopefully, we’ll get to continue this road of Belle and Jasper into the future.”
Named one of the “Top 10 Must-See Shows” by TV Guide Magazine, “Deliverance Creek” airs on Lifetime Saturday, September 13, at 8/7 central and also stars Yaani King, Katherine Willis, Skeet Ulrich, Barry Tubb and Joel Johnstone. You can also see Christopher Backus a guest star on the final season of “Sons of Anarchy,” playing a pirate in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” and as Hollywood icon Marlene Dietrich in the forthcoming “My Fair Lidy.”
UPDATE: No word yet on whether “Deliverance Creek” has been picked up for a full season. Sparks did tell Lifetime he has enough material for four seasons and would prefer a series rather than a min-series.
Photo credits, from top: “Deliverance Creek” cast, from left, Yaani King, Christopher Backus, Caitlin Custer, Wes Ramsey, Lauren Ambrose, Riley Smith, Christopher Baker and Joel Johnstone; Lauren Ambrose as Belle; and Christopher Backus as Jasper, all by Zade Rosenthal and courtesy of Lifetime.