Writing for this here internet every day, we end up crawling through a lot of news stories. We look for fresh takes on the events that unfold across our great state, for simple stories that delight with their charming details, and other ways to make our readers informed Texans.
But sometimes—rarely, but sometimes—we encounter a story from a daily newspaper, a brief missive from the outskirts of the state, that demands a more substantial treatment. It’s a story that bursts outside the confines of our website, one that deserves to be communicated to the masses via a wide, popular medium—the medium of film, perhaps. Today, we encountered one such story.
The story comes from reporter Darla Guillen Gilthorpe of the Houston Chronicle, but the headline for the version aggregated by the Dallas Morning News presents the events that unfolded with the most drama: “Texas grandma kills 12-foot gator,” it reads, “Says she’s finally avenged her miniature horse.”
The story itself is slim, but evocative—it runs just over 300 words, told through highlights. Let’s first go through them:
- Judy B. Cochran, the woman who killed the gator, is a great-grandmother and the mayor of the Polk County town of Livingston, population 5,335. She is new to both of those roles.
- This is not the first alligator a member of Cochran’s family has slain. In 2009, her then-five-year-old grandson killed a gator in the very same pond at the family’s Goodrich ranch.
- She, like Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, has had a particular vendetta against this gator. “We think this is the gator that ate one of our miniature horses several years ago,” she told the Chronicle. “We’ve been looking for [this one].”
- Cochran’s son-in-law helped her lure the gator to the surface by hanging a “seasoned raccoon” on a hook above the water.
- Polk County, one of only twelve Texas counties that permits alligator hunting, only allows gator killin’ twenty days out of the year, which means that Cochran had to plan her strike like it was The Purge.
- Having successfully felled the gator, Cochran plans to eat the meat, mount the head, put the tail in her office, and make boots from the hide.
You have thus been briefed on the story. It has a compelling hero, a boo-worthy villain, a motive for the protagonist that’s ironclad (that poor miniature horse!), and a cast of colorful characters with franchise potential written all over them. Now, it’s time to envision the film.
Who should play Judy “Nana” Cochran, the protagonist of this story? Allow us to submit three options: Sissy Spacek, the legendary co-star of this fall’s The Old Man and the Gun, and one of the finest Texas actors to grace our screens; Debra Winger, star of Urban Cowboy and An Officer and a Gentleman, who has continually proven her enduring talent on both television and film; or character actress Margo Martindale, a Jacksonville native fresh off her Emmy award-winning turns in FX’s The Americans.
All three are prodigious talents who are fully believable as a proud matriarch devoted to seeking justice for her miniature horse. Everything we’ve seen from Spacek, Winger, and Martindale makes them entirely credible as someone who could not only harbor a years-long grudge against a gator, but slay the beast with a single, climactic shot. Pick your favorite, call their agent, and let’s go.
The other roles in the film are crucial in helping us understand the world of Don’t Mess With Nana (our working title for this project). Simon Hughes, Cochran’s grandson—the gator getter of 2009—is a part of the family saga. He was five years old at the time, and to tell the story of who he’s become in the ensuing years, we need a teen actor capable of playing the part with pathos. Austin native Josh Wiggins, who starred in Hellion and Max, possesses the necessary gifts. At 20, he’s older than Hughes, but it’s Hollywood, and the details will need to be fudged (child actors are also bound by restrictive labor laws, which is why most teens on film and television are actually played by young adults). The important thing is that Hughes can communicate that he has grown up knowing that he’s capable of striking down an 800-pound, twelve-and-a-half foot creature, and Wiggins possesses all the gifts a thespian needs to pull off such a feat.
There’s also Scott Hughes, Cochran’s son-in-law (and Simon’s father) who used the raccoon to lure the alligator to the surface so that Nana could fire the fatal shot. Hughes, who wears a goatee in photos on his Facebook page (where he seems to revel in the attention the story is bringing his family) has to balance the complexity of being sandwiched between two generations of skilled gator hunters. Ethan Hawke has built a career playing men who vacillate between “wounded rebel” and “nurturing father,” and he’s one of the few celebrities in 2018 with the courage to keep his nineties-era Vandyke even as the trends have moved past him.
Finally, of course, there’s the gator. A real alligator can’t be trained to act as the antagonist of a family saga, obviously, so let’s go with CGI. And if we need to get into the gator’s head, to turn this not merely into a man-versus-nature story but a generational saga of a miniature horse, the family who loved it, and their quest for justice against the one alligator they were unable, despite their need for vengeance, to kill—until now!—then we need an actor who can slither around wearing those motion capture suits and bring humanity to the part. Obviously the only Texas actor with the correct amount of weirdo charisma to get excited about that opportunity is the pride of Garland (and Texas Monthly heartthrob), Caleb Landry Jones. Honestly, it’s weird that he hasn’t played a CGI alligator already.
As the chronicle of a Texas bloodline waging a war against the reptile that killed one of their own, we’ll want a filmmaker who understands the way that familial bonds shape relationships. Few Texans have done that with as deft a hand as writer/director Kat Candler, who demonstrated it working with Wiggins in her debut feature, Hellion; in her short film, Black Metal; and last year as showrunner of the OWN hit Queen Sugar. In her hands, it’s obvious that Don’t Mess with Nana would be a story that depicted the family, their triumphs and tragedies, and their struggles in the wake of the loss of their miniature horse. To underscore all of that, it’s obvious that Explosions in the Sky, whose sad-yet-triumphant scores have graced films from Friday Night Lights to Prince Avalanche to Lone Survivor, is the only choice.
The gator is dead. Soon, it’ll be stuffed and mounted in Cochran’s office. Perhaps, if an enterprising producer sees the same potential in her story as we do, it’ll soon be accompanied by a slew of Golden Globes.