The Spiritual Journey of a 90-year-old Atheist
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr, Tom Skerritt, David Lynch
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Running Time: 88 minutes
Synopsis: Lucky follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off the map desert town. Having out lived and out smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment. Acclaimed character actor John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut, Lucky, is at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on mortality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection.
Release Date: November 16th, 2017 (Perth November 23rd, 2017)
Interview with John Carroll Lynch
Question: What drew you to Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja's script?
John Carroll Lynch: First and foremost, I thought the script was funny. I liked the dialogue, the characters and the sense of community. This small town embraces everyone - even if they, like Lucky, think they are not a part of it.
Also, it felt like I got to know someone in the script that I had never seen before. Someone who is a holdout in so many ways. Lucky's lives at the edge of town, and at the edge of mortality - with no fanfare, no huge dramatic events, he confronts his isolation and his connection with eternity.
Question: Was the story written with Harry Dean Stanton in mind, or how did you go about casting him?
John Carroll Lynch: The story was absolutely written with Harry Dean in mind. It was written as a love letter to the actor and the man. It is in essence, biographical. Lucky's stories, his behavior are drawn from Harry's life. Logan Sparks is an old friend of Harry's as well, and that's where the insight came from.
An example of this is Lucky's first line in the film. He walks into Joe's Diner and says to Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) "You're nothing." Joe replies "You're nothing." And Lucky says, "Thank you." This exchange is one captured from Harry going to Ago's in L.A. He and the valet have this exchange every time he goes in. It is how Harry feels about what we all are. Nothing.
So, we all felt an immense responsibility to create from Harry's life, and from Harry's interactions, a story about a man who suddenly brings into his heart that he might have weeks and months to live, not years and decades.
It also had to reflect Lucky's journey from something to nothing, but not through "bucket list" experiences. No bank robberies, or jumping from planes. While those things are dramatic, they don't represent most of our experiences. We change from the inside. Not the outside. But it definitely was created to celebrate Harry. That's why the film in the titles says Harry Dean Stanton is "Lucky."
Question: Describe the casting process for the supporting characters. How did you go about getting everyone on board?
John Carroll Lynch: David Lynch and Ed Begley came on board due to their long association with Harry. Their parts were written with them in mind. Logan was the one who made that happen. For the others, I would describe it as Rolodex casting. I had worked with Ron Livingston, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Beth Grant and I knew Bertilla Damas. Ira Baer knew James Darren. Hugo Armstrong is a great friend of Drago's. We met Yvonne through friends of the project. Others came through Petite casting.
I imagine the draw was celebrating Harry Dean. It was for me.
Question: How was the transition from acting to directing for you?
John Carroll Lynch: I had wanted to direct for a long time. I was so grateful that Drago and Logan offered it to me. That was quite a bit of trust.
I have always been drawn to understanding the whole story and have studied film as a storyteller, I found the learning curve was Himalayan.
It is one thing to understand a story. But then you have to figure out a way to reverse engineer it. Think of a bridge. To build the bridge, you have to create the apparatus to build it. That's what directors and producers do in film terms.
You have to create the process and assemble the machinery and fellow storytellers who will use the camera, production design, costumes, their bodies and souls, etc. to tell the story. Many of these choices were new to me. But my instincts as a storyteller come from character and story. I found that is true of all of the collaborators who came on board too. Then I needed to learn how to orchestrate everyone's efforts and personalities in real time to create the raw materials that you will use in post to actually make the movie. All of this was exciting, difficult, painful and overwhelming. And so much fun.
Question: Many actors also cast themselves in roles in their directorial debuts. Did you consider taking on one of the characters or did you always intend solely to direct the project?
John Carroll Lynch: I was originally going to play Joe. But after seeing what I needed to focus on, I decided it was silly. We didn't need me in the film for financing, so it seemed wiser not to be in it. Also, I wanted this town to reflect the world I live in. Where we all live together side by side. It was important to me that we had actors of all colors prominent in the movie. Regardless of that desire, when it came to Joe, Barry was a no brainer. Anyone would be lucky to have him in their picture.
Question: Not only do you move from acting to directing with LUCKY, but you also have a notorious director acting in your project. What was it like directing David Lynch?
John Carroll Lynch: David was gracious, responsive, supportive, prepared and committed. It was clear he'd come to play and to simply be an actor. I imagine he was the kind of actor he always hopes to work with. And I learned a lot about being an actor on set in the days he worked.
There was a moment that Harry was struggling with a moment in the text and I had given him an explanation as to why the words were there. Harry was not convinced. As often happens on set, an actor turned to his fellow actor for clarification. In this case it was David Lynch.
Harry turned to David and said: "Do you understand this?" And David said "Yes, Harry." Harry said: "What the fuck does it mean?" David looked at me and I said; "Jump on in." He turned to Harry and said with calm compassion: "It's not my place to say, Harry." Wow. I loved his respect and his willingness to let me handle it. Harry played the moment and we moved on. It was very cool.
By the way, in the cutting room, Harry was right, we didn't need those lines. They are no longer in the movie. So, Harry knows his business.
Question: Lucky is a bit of a loner, but also garners a certain affection from the locals in town. How do you think Lucky feels about where he is in life?
John Carroll Lynch: In some ways, it feels as if the town understands Lucky better than Lucky understands himself. He thinks he is an island and until the events in the story transpire, he doesn't see himself as part of the community. But he has been a part of it forever. It is the illusion of self-sufficiency we all suffer from in a way.
He walks around town every day and everyone has feelings about him. Even though he has little or no feelings about them. Like Boo Radley in a way.
Question: How do you characterize Lucky?
John Carroll Lynch: He is a loner. A lover of puzzles and games. He prides himself on his self-reliance and thinks of himself as a master of his fate. He knows he's the smartest guy in the room even when he isn't. When he is confronted with his vulnerability, his first instinct is to rail and return to the illusion of self-sufficiency. But that comes at the price of connection. As it does for us all I think.
Question: Where was the film primarily shot?
John Carroll Lynch: We wanted Harry to sleep in his own bed every night. We shot in the desert north of L.A. Then we shot in Cave Creek, AZ for a day at the end to get those desert shots and the Saguaro. And the tortoise. And the saguaro. And the tortoise.
Question: Did you find it hard to shoot everything you wanted with a limited budget? Did it create a sense of urgency on set to get as much as you could in each location with every scene?
John Carroll Lynch: I imagine if you get $200 million or $20 there is a sense of urgency. That said, 18 days was a challenge.
But the primary clock was Harry's energy. Before shooting this film, I had played the lead in film with an 18-day shoot. I was in every scene, and I was exhausted - and I am just a little more than half of Harry's age.
We made a schedule that had as few five-day weeks as possible. We tried to husband his energy in every way we could. but sometimes, we couldn't.
In the walking scenes, with the repeating of the sequences, Harry walked about three miles in 100 degree heat. And that was just onscreen. He gave us everything he had.
Release Date: November 16th, 2017 (Perth November 23rd, 2017)