Writer and actor Ryan Vallo is on a mission to make sure Andrew Jackson’s legacy connects beyond the $20 bill.
The 29-year-old Vandalia-Butler High School graduate and Muse Machine alum has written and developed a TV drama/miniseries aptly titled “Andrew Jackson,” based on the intriguing life of our nation’s tough, controversial and polarizing seventh president, commonly referred as “Old Hickory.”
Vallo’s project, tailored in the style of HBO’s Emmy Award-winning miniseries “John Adams,” spotlights Jackson’s life (1767-1845) through his military and political careers, from the War of 1812 to the White House, while inserting flashbacks for greater insight into his youth.
Although awaiting a green-light, Vallo has faith in his project, which he believes has the power to resonate with a new generation looking to rediscover some of America’s most influential cornerstones.
“Andrew Jackson was so popular, so powerful in his day, that he is now the only person in our nation’s history who has an era named in his honor,” said Vallo, who graduated from the musical theater program at Baldwin-Wallace University in 2009. “England has the Victorian Era and the Elizabethan Age, but here in America we have the Age of Jackson. Two hundred years ago, he was the most well-known man in America. Today, Jackson and his story remain relatively obscure even though he is depicted on the most recognized currency in the world.”
Five years ago, Vallo set out to create the series and has since established a nationwide network of historians vital to advising it. In fact, he is working with The Hermitage, Jackson’s legendary estate in Nashville, as well as the estates of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Martin Van Buren. The project is also being marketed to production companies, producers, directors and actors from Los Angeles to London, England. Vallo, who regards Jackson as the American “Braveheart,” is confident current industry trends and entertainment tastes will work to his advantage specifically due to the popular, award-caliber rise of Netflix and Amazon programming.
“Jackson and the chapters of his life are made for episodic television,” he said. “In some ways, ‘Andrew Jackson’ is ‘House of Cards’ meets ‘Downton Abbey.’ Overall, his story is about love, war, politics, conspiracy, betrayal, sex, scandal, power, greed, control. The audience is going to continually doubt each character’s integrity and question who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, which makes for great drama. The audience will be conflicted by these complex characters. It’s very easy to portray Jackson as either a hero or a villain, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to portray him as human. Our goal is to find the spirit, the heart, of these characters.”
Vallo says the series would be well-timed considering the Hermitage’s new exhibit “Andrew Jackson: Born for a Storm” and a recent online movement to replace Jackson on the $20 bill with a historical woman primarily due to his support of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears. Due to the growing popularity of historical figures specifically given new life through the world of musical theater in such shows as 2010’s Tony Award-nominated rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and this season’s off-Broadway megahit “Hamilton,” based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, Vallo feels he has effectively tapped into our nation’s curiosity with the past.
“Andrew Jackson is a true reflection of who we are as Americans,” he said. “We look at celebrities or famous leaders and tend to project upon them what we hope to see in ourselves. I also find it interesting right now that people are looking back at those who have come before us or looking at those still among us for inspiration and encouragement.”
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