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He looks like a spooked calf about to face the rope at his first rodeo. Knebel may have his feet in the Big Apple, but his mind is back home in Dunkerton, Iowa.
Hauling feed seems a darn sight preferable to squeezing into a monkey suit, swallowing that fancy big-city cooking and squinting through the strobes that greet his appearance at the opening of the prestigious New York Film Festival.
“I ain’t used to all the people and no grass,” says Levi, 18, who finds Manhattan almost as difficult an adjustment as accepting the fact that he is co-starring with Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard in the festival’s opener, Country, the saga of a farm family facing foreclosure.
Last October Levi was just a typical high school senior when he heard that Lange and Shepard were coming to town to make a movie about farmers.
“It’s that dishwater-light-brown hair and that same lankiness.” The Knebel family, including Levi’s father, Bill, and sisters, Lisa, 17, and Sara Jo, 9, were thrilled over Levi’s luck. “He’s like that all the time—all action, no talk,” says his mom.
The carrot for Levi was a chance for a ,000 Ford Ranger truck, the wheels of his dreams.
“He only took the role to buy that truck,” says Lange, who also served as Country’s co-producer. “She got out in the mud and dirt and she didn’t bitch about nothin’.” Of the much publicized offscreen love affair between Lange and Shepard, Levi is typically informative.
“We paid him every week and we were afraid that when he had enough money for the truck, he wouldn’t show up anymore.” Lange needn’t have worried. “She and Sam,” he says, “—pretty close.” He is slightly more effusive on the subject of Shepard, the reclusive actor and playwright. “We talked about trucks.” The two played pool and went trapshooting together and insisted on sending the stuntmen home when it came time to film their father-son fight scene.
Levi’s blue-green eyes fairly glow at the memory: “Sam throws open the barn door, pushes me into some sheep, then picks me up and throws me again.” Numerous takes were required.
The last one landed Levi at the local chiropractor’s office.