Lisa Blount: Getting Back to Down Home

Lisa Blount was born in Fayetteville in 1957 and raised near Pine Bluff and, later, Jacksonville. Smart and determined to act, she left high school at an early age to begin college. Although she didn’t have a high school diploma, she “acted” her way in, claiming her diploma must have gotten lost in the mail. By the time school officials caught on to her, she was on the dean’s list.

“That’s just how I lived my life,” she said. “I didn’t wait to graduate from high school to get the education I wanted. I was in Hollywood, set up with my own apartment when I was still a teenager. I’d been to college, I’d been in a Universal movie,” she said. “You’ve got to get it while the gettin’s good.”

She met her husband and business partner Ray McKinnon on set, and the two Southerners had an instant connection. “My mom would send me care packages, and his mom would send him care packages,” she said. “My mama sent me canned poke salad and turnip greens. His mother sent him pepper sauce. That happened at the same time. It was a match made, right there.”

Blount lived in Los Angeles for 28 years, during which time she acted in a number of movies, including 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman,” co-starring Richard Gere. She also acted in a number of thrillers and action movies that required a great deal of physical strength. “At that time in my life, I was very fit,” she said. “I was looking for something new to do, and I started boxing. I got into it, and I really enjoyed it.”

Then, 17 years ago, she hit a roadblock. “I hurt myself, and I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just thought, ‘That’s life, and that’s just how it is with athletics. You do hurt, and that’s just part of it.’”

But when she finally saw a doctor, he discovered that her body had begun an auto immune response to injury, creating internal scar tissue that squeezed against her nerves and left her with immense chronic pain. The condition was only made worse by surgeries, which caused the development of more scar tissue. “Initially, I was still able to work, but I could see that unless I got better, this was going to diminish my ability to work as an actress.”

She had always wanted to be a producer, but writing wasn’t her strong point. McKinnon wasn’t a writer either, but she saw his inherent talent. “He wrote cowboy poetry,” she said. “He wrote the most amazing, mystical kind of really out there stuff while we were dating. And I thought, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ And we began to figure out how to become filmmakers.”

Together with Walton Goggins, one of McKinnon’s longtime friends, the trio founded Ginny Mule Pictures, which produced the short “The Accountant.” The film received an Oscar at the 2002 Academy Awards for live action short film. McKinnon also wrote a part for Blount in 2004’s “Chrystal,” co-starring Billy Bob Thornton, and 2007’s “Randy and the Mob,” which Blount says was the funniest movie she was ever in.

Blount and McKinnon’s decision to leave L.A. and move to Arkansas was pivotal. “One reason I came back here is that I knew there were some really good doctors here. In fact, I’m about to get another nerve surgery. I’m hoping for the best, of course, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

The couple also moved here to make great Southern movies, at least better than the ones the “non-Southerners” were making, Blount said. “They think the accents are right, but we all know different,” she added. The immersion in Arkansas culture and community has allowed them both to step away from the spotlight a bit and focus on their writing and producing. “You can only rely on memories for so long. You need life experiences that are current if you’re going to tell stories about what you know. This is where we need to be.”

Being away from the stress and fast-pace that plagues L.A. has also allowed Blount to work on other projects, like her singing career. “Ray always loved my singing,” she said. “So he had me sing in ‘Chrystal.’ We drove up to Missouri and were able to make these little recordings for really cheap, next to nothing. I truly found my singing voice there. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a record. I’m probably going to do it with the Drive-By Truckers, who are good friends of ours. We featured their music in two of our movies [including “That Evening Sun,” which headlined the Little Rock Film Festival].”

Blount acknowledges that although her chronic pain has diminished her ability to act, it’s opened many doors that she would have walked past before. “If my acting career had continued, I doubt if this would have ever happened,” she added. “So, you just never know where your blessings are. You never know what life is going to throw you and what you can learn from it.”


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