SXSW Interview – John Carroll Lynch – Lucky
I interviewed first-time director John Carroll Lynch for his film, Lucky, which had its world premiere at SXSW. Lynch is not known for his work behind the camera, but in front of it in roles in The Invitation, Jackie, and The Founder most recently. We spoke about his film and the great Harry Dean Stanton.
Sarah: I am speaking with John Carroll Lynch for Lucky, which you directed.
John Carroll Lynch: Yes
S: Not starring in.
JCL: Not even in
Sarah: Not even a cameo.
JCL: Not even with or and.
S: Since this is your first, your directorial debut, how did this come about that you crossed the threshold into doing that?
JCL: I have wanted to direct for a while, and one of the co-writers Drago Sumonja, was the person who… we have been friends for a while and he knew that I wanted to direct. The circumstances came up in this, I was aware of the script and I wanted to be in it. They asked me if I would play Joe, the part that Barry [Henley] plays. And I was like, yeah, four days with Harry Dean, sure, I’ll do that. And then they called me and said we would like you to consider directing for circumstances, doesn’t really matter what they are. So I starting working with him on it, and I said yes. Thought about it, said yes. That was in August 2015, and by August 2016, we were editing the movie. That’s how fast that happened. When you’ve got a lead who is 89 [years old], when you are going out to financiers, it’s a quick no, it’s great, or let’s see if we can wrap this up. People were all for it. Ed Begley, Jr. was attached and Harry Dean was obviously attached, and David Lynch was attached. With those elements attached, we were able to find the financing for the movie.
S: Where did you shoot and was it a true indie film with a quick shooting schedule?
JCL: It was an 18-day shoot. We had a 19th day for exteriors in Arizona. We did the rest in L.A. It was crucial for us, the primary clock was to husband Harry’s energy because he is in every scene of the movie. He hasn’t had a part like this since Paris, Texas (1984) just as far as sheer volume, so we wanted to make sure he was taken care of. So we did it in 18 days. We staggered the days so they were as short as we could make them, and still continue the process. He was great. I mean, he was tired a lot, but he really put himself on the line for it.
S: I think it is interesting that the theme is that there is this really old guy and it takes that fall to really snap him out of it.
JCL: Wake him up.
S: Yeah, wake him up and I might die soon. It’s interesting.
JCL: The story has two other… In the screenplay, there are two other moments that he talks about. Talks about recognizing his mortality directly. One was when he was 13 and the other is when he is in the war when the kamikaze plane is headed towards his boat. And this time, the difference is that, he’s on the edge of this thing, and he knows it, so there is no escaping. That is why the story about the little girl is so vital for him is that she’s facing death, and he has to face it now. He can’t get away from it anymore, and that sounds really depressing, but the movie is really funny. I feel as if the movie is a triumph for that character. He finds peace in accepting that he doesn’t know when it is going to happen, but he’s ready for it whenever it happens. In Hamlet, there is providence in the swallows that follow the sparrow. At the end of that speech, the readiness is all.
S: Other than Harry and David, you have a pretty great cast.
JCL: It’s crazy.
S: It’s what I see a lot with indie films, you have such a short shooting schedule and you ask some actor you know to come out for a day to shoot. And they say, sure! Was that what it was like with some of these actors like Tom Skerritt?
JCL: Yes, that was very much what it was like. Everyone came for Harry Dean. When I was asked to play Joe, when I was first attached to the movie, I read it and was like, I love Joe. I mean it’s a fun character and it’s an interesting guy, but it’s the scenes with Harry Dean you want to play. You want to be able to feel like, you know… He attaches to the world of cinema. He has 236 films. He started in 1956. The Johnny Cash song in this movie, he and Johnny Cash’s careers are concurrent until Johnny’s death. Johnny may have hit a couple of years before Harry started working, a couple of years, but not much. He’s been around and just have the chance to say, “Yeah, I got to act with him.” So I think everyone kind of came for that, and certainly his friends did. David came because it was Harry. It was written for David to do. Howard was written for David to do. Kneedler was written for Ed, and he was happy to come. And then there were friends of mine, people I have worked with like Barry Henley, Ron Livingston, and Beth Grant.
S: Beth, I love her.
JCL: Yes, she is incredible. Talk about a… She’s going to be a Harry Dean. She has worked with everybody.
S: You see her in everything, like you.
JCL: Yeah, we both try to be in everything.
S: This is a small indie film, but with a lot of star power and at SXSW. It is premiering here. What do you hope happens with this film?
JCL: It’s a good question. I guess I would say, I really want the film to be a celebration of Harry Dean, and I’d like the opportunity to provide everyone, the cinephile audience, the hipsters who love him, the music community that loves him, the institutions of the industry to be able to give him a standing ovation. That’s what I would like. I would like that because I think he is worth it. Some actors feel like they never acted. He never feels like he is acting. He’s got it in his head that he doesn’t play anyone anymore, he just plays Harry Dean Stanton, and certainly in a movie that is based so squarely on his life, that has things in the movie about his life, that might be a mistaken impression, even by him. But I cut the dailies, he is a hell of an actor. There are things you saw on the day that I went back to over and over again in the dailies, and everytime it took my breath away and surprised. Tim Suhrstedt [cinematographer] said… we were in the bar scenes and we really wanted them to be dark and we wanted them to feel like Casa Vega, this bar/restaurant in LA, and there is this moment when Harry looks up and we get to the cut, and Tim says, “I don’t know how with those brows, you see those eyes. I don’t know how. I don’t have a bounce card, but he is looking down at that drink, and he looks up at James Darren and those eyes flash, and he’s there.” He’s in there in a very deep way, and it is really impressive.