By Richard Thomas
Since its start as the 15th state, Kentucky has been one of those places that produces noteworthy people entirely out of proportion to its modest population. When it comes to Kentucky’s rising thespians, few are as true-blue or as noteworthy as Bethany Brooke Anderson.
A Lexington native and University of Kentucky-trained actor, Anderson has returned to the Bluegrass after a stint in Los Angeles to co-write, act in, produce and direct her own backcountry moonshining movie, Burning Kentucky. And whenever art, Kentucky and moonshine all come together around the same person, I always ask if that person has a taste for whiskey. In Anderson’s case, the answer was a firm “yes.”
RT: You’re so much of a Kentucky girl that you studied at UK and acted in Silas House’s first play. So let’s start with how you feel about Kentucky’s native spirit. What are your go-to bourbons, and how do you like to take them (ice, with water, neat, etc?)?
BBA: When I do drink, it’s always Kentucky Bourbon. I actually go double Kentucky. My go-to is Woodford Reserve with a splash of Ale 8. It’s like the Wildcats winning a championship in my mouth. Sorry. I had to [say that].
RT: What do you think of the way bourbon has gotten big in recent years? Is it as big in your film circles as it is generally, or perhaps bigger?
BBA: In 2013 I traveled everywhere with my Burning Kentucky script. Meeting with filmmakers at Sundance and Cannes, and in LA, New York and London. Bourbon is universal with film folks. I even met some people who had been on the Bourbon Trail for a vacation from the city. I was like “hell yes.” Everyone is so fascinated with Kentucky and the Appalachia region. It has a magnetic pull. Sometimes not for the right reasons. That’s why we feel it’s our job to represent the special parts of our heritage as a state, especially in the film world. Bourbon is one of those things we celebrate.
RT: Now onto a different kind of Kentucky spirit, moonshine. How did you become acquainted with white lightning?
BBA: Being a Kentucky girl, it’s hard to remember my first encounter with white lighting. It’s one of those things that’s always been around. It would quietly appear at parties or during holidays or in someone’s granddaddy’s barn. But no matter where it shows up, it’s never treated like just any drink. The process of sharing it with someone is almost ceremonial. When you see a mason jar of clear, you treat it with the respect it deserves. Making a film about bootleggers has put a lot more moonshine in my life. I’ve traveled almost 50,000 miles just within the state of Kentucky in the last year. Everyone wants to share their shine with me. It’s like sharing a part of themselves. And that’s what Kentuckians do best- they bring you in with open arms.
RT: You and your husband wrote a novel, Burning Kentucky, which you are now turning into a film. ‘Shining and bootlegging figures prominently in that story, and as a native Kentuckian, moonshine fan and writer myself, I’m wondering if you could tell us about how your authentic experiences figured into your fiction.
BBA: My fathers roots run deep in the Appalachian region. My family has always had a longing to live a self sustained life. To homeschool, garden, build their own home- to rely on family and not society to take care of them. I think that’s the heart of why Kentucky makes the best spirits too. We want to do things on our own. Be independent. Create. And then share it with the people we love. The “bootlegger” family in my film aren’t the “bad guys”. They are what I consider an idealistic family. My film challenges some of the ideas around family values and the real right and wrong.
RT: Let’s say you were talking to some bourbon fans, and you wanted to introduce them to virtues of moonshine. How would you sell it to them?
People don’t drink moonshine for the taste. They drink it for the experience. There’s a community in it. Moonshine has been a precious commodity in Appalachia forever. It’s an art. It’s also illegal. Letting someone share in it with you- it means something. Loyalty and trust.