Any fan of venerable actor Harry Dean Stanton will be excited to know that we can soon enjoy a new movie featuring him, David Lynch and Ed Begley, Jr. Now 90, Harry Dean was coaxed back to acting by good friends Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks, who co-wrote the film specifically with him in mind. “Lucky” just premiered at the 2017 SXSW film festival and will be at the Chicago Critics Film Festival May 13th – May 18th with an Q&A with Drago and the director John Carroll Lynch. Below, Drago discusses more about the film and how it came about.
I’ve seen your film “Character” which features Harry Dean Stanton; had you stayed in touch with him since then? Was it difficult to get him to sign on?
I’ve known Harry for quite some time. We met in January of 2000 at Dan Tana’s restaurant in Los Angeles through a mutual friend of ours, Dabney Coleman, who was also in the documentary “char•ac•ter,” and the three of us have continued to be friends ever since.
Harry had decided to retire from acting so convincing him took more than a little finessing, all of which was done by my dear friend and co-writer Logan Sparks. Logan and Harry are the best of friends, family actually. And although I am Harry’s friend, if it weren’t for Logan, I don’t believe Harry would’ve ever signed on.
In return, Logan and I wrote a love letter to Harry, a screenplay filled with all of Harry’s knowledge and personal philosophies that had affected Logan and I over the years. I’m happy that we were able to give Harry a gift in return for all he has given us. I’m very grateful to both of them.
Did you have the other actors in the film in mind for their characters, such as David Lynch?
Logan and I wrote the other characters in the screenplay specifically for our friend Ed Begley Jr. and for David Lynch, both of whom we were fortunate enough to have come on board. Obviously Harry was the reason for David signing on and because the character of “Howard”, who David portrays, is instrumental to the story and through his performance becomes an affectingly beautiful character. His monologue is incredibly moving, we were all absolutely struck with it.
All that being said, I must absolutely give credit to both Logan and David Lynch’s right hand, Michael T. Barlie for organizing the shooting schedule that would allow us the opportunity and privilege of working with David Lynch. And I will tell you, without question, nobody else could have made that happen. Period.
What was the genesis for the screenplay? Had you worked with Logan Sparks before?
Logan and I had talked about working together over the years but had never done so prior to writing the screenplay.
The genesis of the screenplay was birthed inside of Logan’s automobile on interstate 10 heading west sometime around high noon back in the winter of 2015. We were headed back to Los Angeles from Cave Creek, Arizona where Logan is from. He had been working on a documentary and asked if I would come to Arizona and assist with some research.
On the drive home we both talked, yet again, about working together. Knowing Logan was very close to Harry I said, “If I were you, I would write a screenplay for Harry.” Small fragments of what a screenplay for Harry would look like were thrown out freely as we pulled off the road to re-fuel.
I believe I then said “I would just write a movie about and old hermit, who occasionally leaves his house to go to the bar. You know, like Harry. Write what he does on a daily and weekly basis, include his philosophies and all of the things you and I have witnessed and experienced with him over the years. Just write that and it will be gold.” We then spent the remainder of the drive home listening to Willie Nelson, Sinatra, Kris Kristofferson, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and all the while hashing out a rough framework of what would become “Lucky”.
At this point you’ve acted, directed and written; is there one aspect of the business that you prefer or gravitate toward?
I don’t necessarily prefer or gravitate toward any one of those disciplines. I tend to gravitate towards interests first and then towards the best way to express them. I began as an actor, and still continue to think of myself as one, as I also think of myself as a filmmaker. I believe writing, directing and producing to be an organic and natural extension of acting.
The projects that I’ve made over the years have always been a direct result from my work as an actor. Acting has always been the seed of how I approach a project. I’m interested in telling stories that take a nuanced and honest look at the human experience. I believe that classical forms of storytelling can seem new when they are rooted in truth; and that new forms can feel familiar when they evolve from necessity.
Are there any plans for LA-specific events around the film after Chicago?
Currently there isn’t a LA-specific event scheduled. Perhaps in the near future though.
We’re fortunate enough to have Magnolia Pictures distributing the film and they are currently in the process of finalizing an international premiere at a festival (TBA), as well as a few other potential festival screenings followed by a full theatrical release sometime toward the end of the year.