Donnie & Nancy Emerson Discuss The “Realism” Behind “Wonderful” ‘Dreamin’ Wild’


Dreamin’ Wild is the true story of Donnie Emerson, a talented singer/songwriter whose debut album with his brother Joe was released with zero fanfare. Some 30 years later, the album Dreamin’ Wild was reissued and met with critical acclaim via Light in the Attic Records. Donnie and his wife Nancy Emerson talked to Find Your Film co-host Eric Holmes about why the movie is more of a drama than a run of the mill music biopic. Both Eric and I loved this film, and this interview with the Emersons gives an insightful look at the picture.

Casey Affleck plays Donnie Emerson in Dreamin’ Wild, and the film captures Donnie’s unwavering dedication to music and his family. Walton Goggins is Donnie’s easygoing brother Joe and Beau Bridges is their supportive dad Don Sr. Zooey Deschanel stars as Nancy in the feature.

Zooey Deschanel and Casey Affleck in ‘Dreamin Wild.’ Courtesy of River Road Entertainment

The music, which includes the catchy Donnie Emerson track “Baby” and the closing song “When A Dream Is Beautiful” (co-written with Nancy Emerson) is terrific. And though there is a healthy share of music in the movie, Dreamin’ Wild’s strengths lies in its subtle and nuanced explorations of Donnie’s relationships with his father and brother. It’s a first rate film all around, and it should receive excellent word of mouth when it hits theaters August 4.

How do you feel about the portrayals of both of you and your family in the film?

Donnie Emerson: I love it. I think it’s great. The characters are true to themselves. It’s got a lot of emotion and a lot of depth in the relationships between my brother and I and my father. My wife in the film, (is) played by Zooey Deschanel. I love it.

Nancy Emerson: I thought they did a wonderful job. We’re so happy about this cast. We’re still happy. We’re ecstatic.

Donnie Emerson, Bill Pohlad and Casey Affleck – Dreamin’ Wild BTS (Courtesy of River Road Entertainment)

Which character do you feel that they got particularly right, especially with the details.

Nancy Emerson: For me, Casey. He spent about a year and a half with us. At our home and recording studio. Cooking and making a salad with me. Opening the refrigerator. Doing the dishes. He stayed the night in a tent on the side of our house one night.

He was very personal in getting to know how Donnie was. We went to a club with he and his girl and a bunch of friends. It’s Spokane, Washington so it wasn’t that wild. We’re a little bit more mellow (laughs). It was nice because we got the time to get to really know each other.

When I saw the film, I look at Donnie. I’ve been with him for 38 years. We work together. Casey nailed it. It was 100% Donnie but not 100% of the time. Because the movie is only a certain period of what Donnie went through. He got it. Spot on. Our kids even said the same thing. So for me it was Casey Affleck.

And Donnie what about you?

Donnie Emerson: Well obviously Casey. Walton Goggins was unbelievable. Beau Bridges played my father just so eloquently. Just beautiful. His skill. So believable. I can’t say enough good things about them. The young guys. Noah (Jupe). Jack (Dylan Grazier). I love Jack and how he portrays my brother in that sweet way.

This movie is not your typical biopic. Can you talk about what makes this movie special for you? Secondly, what was the experience of, first off, not having people listen to your album when it came out and then getting acclaim 30 years later?

Donnie Emerson: You made a good point. This is not a typical biopic. It’s a drama. I’ll address that question first. The way that Bill Pohlad directed this film – I love it. I love a drama. I like realism. We’re just real people.

As far as your first question, not (being known) and then all of a sudden 30 years later you get known for the record. It’s like, what do you do? How do you relive your past? That dilemma of you just want to move on. But then you feel guilty because if you keep moving on, you can’t, especially in this film we lost so much of the farm.

Over the decisions I’ve done and my family as well. Now my father and my mom are going to be able to get their finances back. Even though it was an investment on my dad’s part. He believed in us from the get go. We weren’t typical kids. We were hard working farm boys and loggers and then we wrote our music and took it seriously. My dad made a point of that.

Zooey Deschanel in “Dreamin’ Wild” (Photo Courtesy of River Road Entertainment)

Seeing you guys play live in the film was an emotional experience. I’m welling up right now. That was such a beautiful moment.

Donnie Emerson: Thank you so much for saying that. I have a living photo album that I can look at my family and my dad the rest of my life. And my kids and my grandkids, if I have grandkids, what can I say?

Nancy Emerson: And his dad just turned 92 a couple of weeks ago. His mother turned 89. My mother is 89. It’s so nice to get to have this experience. His mom and dad are like rock stars in Fruitland, Washington.

Donnie Emerson: You have an obligation to your fans and your new fans to do it the best you can possibly can. And you can’t let them down.

That is so awesome and I’m glad you connected to that. That’s what we wanted with the song that Nancy and I wrote together.

Nancy Emerson: With “When A Dream Is Beautiful,” we wrote that song for each other. We were really thinking of how we can present this song live. A lot of people were depending on this song. We just had to write this song so when people hear the song, it’s (for them). It’s for everybody when you lislten to the lyrics.

Walton Goggins in “Dreamin’ Wild” (River Road Entertainment)

The movie shows how you had to be honest with your brother regarding his skills as a drummer. It also delves into your music rapport with Nancy.

Donnie Emerson: It’s spot on. I can tell you that much. Joe has continued his music as well. He’s a guitar player. He likes to play guitar now. He doesn’t like to play drums. But at that time period, you just don’t give up drums and expect to be a drummer. It’s not going to happen. You lose your chops. There’s no way you can do it. I was really candid about and straightforward with Joe (and said) “You cannot do this. You got to have a reality check here.”

It’s realism. There’s no faking about it. I just want people to know it’s okay to believe in something as long as you don’t get out of hand and belittle somebody so bad that it breaks their spirit.

Nancy Emerson: And (Donnie) has always known that he plays with Joe sometimes, he plays with me sometimes. But it got to the point where we connected more and Donnie did start playing the bass drum while I played guitar. And I play the snare. So when he plays with Joe every once in a while, (Donnie) will play the drums now and Joe plays lead guitar. But they do it for fun.

We just had a concert in L.A. with some other players and we have a show tonight.
The movie opens in theaters August 4th which is rare for movies like this.

Donnie Emerson: I know!

I hope everyone gets a chance to see it. I live in Colorado Springs so I hope you guys tour around here sometime soon. I’d love to watch you guys live and get a beer with you maybe.

Nancy Emerson: We love Colorado.

Sweet! Love you guys and love your music. Look forward to hearing more from you guys soon.

Donnie Emerson: I just want to say thank you for going into those scenes and really understanding. And just taking your time to understand it.

Thank you much!

Dreamin’ Wild hits theaters August 4.

Here is the video version of the Donnie and Nancy Emerson interview:

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