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'Deliverance' screening, concert will take place at Civic Center

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FARMINGTON — Ronny Cox has made a lot of movies, but that isn't the same as being a movie star, he knows.

Cox — best known for his roles in such films as "Deliverance," "RoboCop," "Total Recall" and "Beverly Hills Cop" — likes to say there are two broad categories of actors. There are those who essentially play shades of the same character again and again — John Wayne, for instance — and those who play a different type in every film.

"I pride myself on working hard to be that guy who plays wildly different roles every time," said Cox, who will be making two local appearances in Farmington this week.

That approach has allowed Cox, a New Mexico native, to have a long, distinguished career as a film and television actor. After all, it isn't much of an exaggeration when he says, "In the '80s, I was in every movie they made."

But it hasn't made him a movie star. Cox knows this from the reaction he gets when people encounter him in public. His face is familiar enough, but the quizzical looks he often gets are proof that he's not a household name.

"People almost never recognize me as an actor," Cox said last week during a telephone interview from Truth or Consequences while on a road trip to Silver City, where he was scheduled to perform that night with his band. "They think they know me, but they don't know how. Most of the time, they think I'm from their hometown. You can't convince them otherwise."

Rather than bristle at that lack of firm recognition, Cox laughs about it. He even takes it as proof of his effectiveness as an everyman character.

"When you think about it, that's really the best compliment an actor can get," he said.

Local audiences will have the chance to fully absorb Cox's talents — actor, musician and storyteller — during his two-night stay at the Farmington Civic Center this weekend.

On the first night, Cox will present a screening of the seminal 1972 thriller "Deliverance," which served as Cox's debut film role and placed him alongside such future stars as Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty. He will follow the screening by describing his experiences on the set and reflect on an acting career that has lasted a half century.

On the second night, Cox — an accomplished guitarist and songwriter – will perform with his band. He promises each song comes with its own story, for Cox pictures himself first and foremost as a raconteur, and he treasures the chance to interact directly with his audience.

"I love acting and music coequally," he said before quickly reconsidering. "Well, actually, I love music a little bit more. That's because there's no imaginary fourth wall."

Cox does his best to build a literal one-on-one relationship with those sitting in the crowd at one of his concerts by venturing into the audience to chat people up before he even takes the stage. Making himself so accessible often pays big dividends when the lights come up and the show begins, he said, noting the energy he receives from an engaged, appreciative crowd is unlike any other form of artistic reward.

"That's an opiate that is undeniable," he said. "And I get to use all the arrows in my quiver."

While he isn't as well known for his music as he is for his acting, Cox has built a solid career in that arena, releasing 10 albums and often taking advantage of acting gigs that allow him to show off his musical chops. In recent years, he has combined the two pursuits through a recurring role in the TV series "Nashville" and a part in the 2017 film "Pure Country: Pure Heart" alongside Willie Nelson.

"These days, I turn down 80 percent of the acting (offers) I get," he said. "I won't let any movie or television show interfere with the musical gigs I have booked."

But Cox loves to tell stories about his acting career, and that's what he'll be doing the night of the "Deliverance" screening. The film not only firmly established him as an actor and allowed him to escape "starving artist" status, it also gave him an iconic entry on his résumé, as "Deliverance" is widely considered a cinema classic that continues to resonate with audiences 47 years after its release, despite its dark, violent nature.

Cox said he plans to dispel many of the myths that have grown up around the film over the years.

"About 95 percent of the things you've heard about 'Deliverance' are false," he said.

It's a wonder why those legends have persisted, given the fact that many of the true tales Cox will share are splendid in their own right. The experience of shooting the film with director John Boorman was unique, Cox said, though he may not have fully realized it at the time since it was his first film.

For instance, there were no stuntmen used — a deeply questionable decision, given the danger of the Class IV and Class V rapids on the Chattooga River where the film was shot and the fact that none of the stars of the film had any meaningful whitewater experience. Even though the actors underwent extensive training before filming began, the danger posed by those rapids was very real, Cox said, and it was a wonder no one was seriously injured or drowned.

"I think John Boorman realizes how he really dodged a bullet," Cox said.

Additionally, the film was shot in sequence — an unheard-of and extremely inefficient method of filmmaking.

"There has been no film ever made like that before or since," Cox said.

The film includes two iconic scenes that people still talk about today — a musical sequence that made the song "Dueling Banjos" a major hit and a graphic scene in which Beatty's character is raped at gunpoint by a local woodsman. Cox said the latter scene made many male viewers so uncomfortable they were put off by the whole film.

"Women got that film long before men did," he said. "They had been dealing with the concept of rape for centuries, but for most men, it was the first time they had to come to grips with that. And in the film, they could viscerally feel what we were going for."

The screening of "Deliverance" takes place at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Civic Center. Tickets are $20. Cox's concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, also at the Civic Center. Tickets are $20 and $28. Call 505-599-1148 or visit fmtn.org/CivicCenter.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610, or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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