TEXAS, 1836: A GROUP of ragtag regulars in the Texian army huddles under a live oak in a relentless rain. Soaked through, they shield their weapons under their dusters, wordlessly enduring the chill. Finally, a stubble-faced volunteer breaks the silence: “So, is the game on?”

The soldiers are extras, their battlefield a movie set. Two for Texas, which debuts January 18, is an original movie from TNT, a network that excels at neatly rendered period pieces (Lakota Woman, The Rough Riders). Based on an early work by mystery novelist James Lee Burke, Two for Texas tells the story of two convicts (Kris Kristofferson and Scott Bairstow) who escape from a hellish Louisiana prison and join up with Sam Houston (Tom Skerritt) at San Jacinto. Fresh from a day’s work at the missions San José and Espada in San Antonio, the cast and crew have descended upon the Murry Roberts Ranch in Garfield, some fifteen miles east of Austin, to recreate the decisive battle that won Texas its independence from Mexico. The sprawling set includes a lavish re-creation of Santa Anna’s doomed camp: dozens of muslin tents artistically adorned with saddles, serapes, water gourds, blackened stew pots, and a misplaced lawn chair. Nearby, carpenters assemble a primitive cabin, and wranglers tend to the horses that, like the extras, are glumly marking time in the rain.

Skerritt is the only actor on call this wet fall morning for a brief scene in which the general rides with and reviews his troops. (Kristofferson occasionally throws open his trailer door to check the lowering skies, then slams it in disgust.) Director Rod Hardy, a burly Australian, has decided to turn the weather to his advantage, using it to add an authentic level of misery. “Could we have the cavalry after the First Infantry, please?” he asks an assistant director. “Tell ’em to come in at a full trot.” The sideburned Skerritt, standing next to him, ties on a maroon sash, dons a coat with raven insignia, and submits to touch-ups. Then—escorted by a slicker-clad assistant who holds an umbrella over his head—he strides toward the handsome white horse that plays Saracen, Houston’s celebrated steed.

Staring at the panorama through a video monitor, Hardy gives the high sign. A crew member snaps the clapboard. “Roll, please!” Yipping and yelling, the foot soldiers run through brush to the open field, their mounted compatriots just behind. Suddenly, Saracen balks. “What a shame!” Hardy cries. “The flag scared him.” The banner bearer is relocated, the army redeployed, Saracen soothed. “Once more! Picture! And—roll, please!” Two additional takes and Hardy is satisfied: “Cut! Print it!”

He’s just in time. A sudden, vicious downpour drenches the entire set. Crew members spirit Skerritt away; others sprint to cover the cameras with plastic. Most huddle under tents (including one lanky soldier who already boasts a bloody chest wound). The poor extras are left unsheltered on the swampy battlefield. Suddenly, a voice rises over the thunder: “I’m singin’ in the rain . . . ” The group breaks into laughter. Like the Texans they portray, they are hungry, tired, and muddy—but determined to prevail.