John Carroll Lynch – Lucky
By: Paula Samford
Paula: How old were you when you first thought you wanted to act?
A) I was young when I wanted to act, like I acted in elementary school, you know? But when I thought I first wanted to pursue it, I was about fourteen years old. My brother was in a production of Camelot at his high school – he has a beautiful voice, my brother – and he comes out and he’s a British knight of the round table and I was like, “How is he doing that?” I know he’s not that knight and yet I am I saying he’s that knight. The buy in that I was doing automatically when somebody was telling me a story and the fact that I knew him, made that fascinating to me and I started wanting to act then.
Paula: Was there a certain actor or a movie that inspired you – other than your brother?
A) I loved watching movies and the theater came as my first love in acting. Probably the first movie star that I remember as a movie star was probably Kurt Russell because of all of those Disney movies he made — The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes and The Barefoot Executive. And Dean Jones who was also in those movies. And Cesar Romero was in those – But I knew of Cesar Romero because he played the Joker on television. I’d say as far as movies were concerned, when I was young, those are the ones I remember seeing the most.
Paula: How did you get the opportunity to get to direct your debut Lucky?
A) My friend, who was one of the co-writers, Drago Sumonja, and I had talked about my desire to direct for a while. I’ve been writing with the co-writer for a long while and we have a variety of scripts that we’ve tried to get made and it’s a very tricky business. It’s hard to find the right thing that matches all of the pieces together. Along with that, I’ve been on a lot of television and you try to leverage yourself into the director’s chair and circumstances had not worked out that way so far… And Drago knew that I wanted to direct and we had talked about it. The circumstances came up for this one that they were looking for somebody who would commit to directing this — Drago and Logan [Sparks]— And he asked me if I would do that. I was already aware of the script because they had asked me if I wanted to act in it and I had said yes. So, I talked to them about the story. I was in a laundry mat in Atlanta and while my clothes dried, I told the story to Drago and Logan over the phone, “This is what I think the movie that you wrote is actually about. It’s the spiritual journey of a 90 year-old atheist.” And we talked about the scenes and what each of them meant and then we started working on the script. They were writing it. I was just noting on it and I asked for certain changes and we talked about it all and we got a script together that they were happy with and that I was happy with. And we then went to the financiers after that.
Paula: So whose was idea was it to have Harry Dean Stanton star in Lucky?
A) The movie was inspired by Harry Dean. There was only one person who could play this part. For a lot of different reasons that’s true… Logan, in particular, had known Harry for fifteen years and had been friends with him and had worked for him a couple of times in the process. Logan’s an actor, producer and a writer and when Harry needed an assistant and he had time he’d go do things with Harry — Honestly, he would go over to Harry’s house every day whether he was working or not. He would just go to Harry’s house and they would hang out or he would pick him up to go to places. When he was working, he’d go. They were just really close – In fact, Logan’s first child is named Stanton so he wanted to work with Harry and they started conceiving this script for him.
Paula: What was it like working with David Lynch? Specifically, with him being a director.
A) [laughs] He never gave any advice… First of all, we were just so fortunate to get him. The part was written for him as well, as the doctor role was written for Ed Begley Jr. One of the things that they conceived of, and I certainly agreed with it, as did the producers is that this is really a celebration of Harry as a person and Harry as an actor. So, everybody from David Lynch to the prop department came to play with Harry Dean. He means a lot to a lot of people. Anyway…David was the consummate professional. As an actor he came prepared, he came ready to work, he took notes, he did everything I think he would want an actor to do. [laughs] And I have to tell you, I learned about being an actor on a set for a director with David acting. I learned a lot about that.
Paula: Do you feel differently towards directors now?
A) Yes. I also learned a lot about how to talk to directors and writers about the work and to collaborate better from this process, I think.
Paula: Did you rehearse anything ahead of time?
A) No, we didn’t rehearse. The prep for this was… During pre-production and a couple of weeks before pre-production, I was going over to Harry’s house on Sundays and it was me and Logan and a couple of the other producers and Drago would be there… And we would sit down on his couches and they were eerily like the couch we had in the movie and he would press mute his game show and he would start asking questions like, “I don’t understand. Why am I saying this? What does this mean exactly?” And we would basically walk through whatever was on his mind. And then once he got to the end of the questions it’d be like, “I guess we’ll just put it on the burner. Okay,” and you knew it was kind of done when the game show came back on. And it was like that for three or four weeks and there came a moment where there was a longer – there was the longest of those sessions and you really felt him lock in. As a character actor, and I’m grateful for this, incredibly grateful for the work that I’ve done as an actor and as an actor, there’s lot of people who want to tell you, “we are writing a script for you,” and you’re like, “oh that’s great.” Then, after a while you’re like, “I don’t believe you anymore,” because it’s so hard to get a movie made and I think, for a long time, with this script, I don’t think Harry believed them. Then there was a moment Harry goes, “I guess we’re really going to do this thing then,” [laughs] and I said, “Yep. We really are Harry.” And then the questions were really like… He was after it.
Paula: How long were the days when Harry was on the set?
A) We kind of had two clocks in the movie. The day clock and then the time where we wanted to make sure Harry had time to rest. An eighteen days shoot… I did an eighteen day shoot right before this one, as an actor and I was exhausted. So, we did everything – the producers – we did everything we could to manage the schedule so as soon as Harry could go home, we sent him home. And if we could stagger days – we had two day weeks and we had three day weeks. We had a couple of five day weeks and he was great. He was exhausted a lot of the time but he gave everything he had to it. It was impressive.
Paula: Still pretty sharp.
A) The thing about the sharpness that Harry brings, that I haven’t seen in anyone else, is that he can be there with you in such a true way without a feeling of any artifice at all. And if you’re going to act with him, you have to be there with him. He demands it. Not that he tells you he has to do it some way but the mere presence he has would demand it. I would use the word “soul,” but he would yell at me if I did because there is no soul.
Paula: Do you have any plans to direct again?
A) I would like to direct again. I have no present plans to do so. It will have to be based on the material and based on the time and money, but I would like to do it again. Yeah. I learned a lot. Throughout the process, often times painful, as any acting job I’ve had has been too. There’s a lot of joy in the work. I love telling stories and the thing about being the director is that, as a storyteller, you’re no longer precluded from stories that can only be told with this body. To tell a story about an 89 year-old man who lives outside a small town in Arizona… I wouldn’t get that call as an actor, so it was very nice to get that call as a director.