MANSFIELD -- Many of the cast and crew of the Shawshank Redemption gathered in Mansfield Friday night to celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary.
Even the movie's director, Frank Darabont, reunited for the occasion, which included two panel discussions and a showing of the film at the Renaissance Theatre.
"I've been back here twice before and had a wonderful time, and I knew this would be a celebration," said Bob Gunton, who played Warden Norton.
Gunton recalled many fond memories of Mansfield from filming The Shawshank Redemption.
"They were so delighted and delightful," he said of his interactions with Richland County residents and the extras, some who traveled more than an hour daily for a shot on the big screen. "Some of them didn't even know anything about the story.
"I never dreamed at some point they would make an an industry of the three months they spent working on the film."
Gunton said he is impressed by the Shawshank Trail and The Ohio State Reformatory's lure which has drawn Shawshank fans from all over the world.
Further, he returned in hopes of reconnecting with long lost acquaintances, fellow actors and the director. Though he and Darabont both work in Hollywood, Gunton explained, they don't often cross paths.
"The last time I saw Frank, I had just bought a red Jaguar. I was in my salad days, and he said to me, 'nice ride,'" Gunton recalled with a laugh.
The occasion was a reunion for countless background actors, too. Eleven of them were part of a background actors panel at Theatre 166, moderated by Mark Sebastian Jordan, a local actor who was also a background character in the film.
They recounted countless memories of their interactions with Morgan Freeman (Red) and Tim Robbins (Andy), who did not attend the reunion.
"(Freeman) was so friendly and chatty. He was never not talking," Jordan said.
According to his recollection, Freeman was far more talkative than his co-star, Robbins. Freeman would be joking off camera and easily switch into a more serious role when a scene began.
"For a young actor, that was a master acting class," said Brad Spencer, who now resides in Los Angeles and has a career in acting.
Robbins, on the other hand, appeared to be more of a "method actor," one panelist said. He was more prone than Freeman to improvise with his own wording.
One theory is that a method approach tends to offer a more sincere performance. But at least once, Darabont asked Robbins to recite the exact lines.
"(Darabont) said, 'Tim, when I wrote this, I had specific words in mind,'" Jordan said.
Another background actor, Mark Koehler recalls fond memories from the filming. He was always laughing and smiling, even when walking by a serious conversation once, and it actually made the film.
"My sister said, 'you're the happiest looking prisoner,'" he recalled.
More than once, Koehler wondered if he'd be fired. On one occasion, he and other background actors were pretending to watch a movie. They practiced "hooting and hollering" on cue several times before the lead actors arrived.
Then, they were instructed to react the same way without making any noise. Sure enough, Koehler missed that part, so when signaled to "hoot and holler," he gave out a long, loud yell.
Still, he wasn't fired.
For another background actor, Jodiviah Stepp, the movie had a lifelong impact. While on lunch, he'd often feed two dirty, stray dogs.
As filming was wrapping up, he recalls being summoned to the director's office. There the dogs were, freshly groomed with wagging tails.
"He asked if I'd like to keep one," Stepp said.
He took the one named Rita. The other's name was Hayworth, as a play on the movie's original title, The Shawshank Redemption and Rita Hayworth.
"She was just the most wonderful dog," he said.
Rita became known as the "Shawshank dog" among his friends, and eventually had a book written in her honor, too. The momentum helped Stepp raise awareness for animal shelters across Ohio.