“The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice.” John Carroll Lynch ‘Lucky’ Interview (THN)

Out today is Lucky, a very personal comedy-drama about a man at the end of his years coming to terms with life in a remote part of America. Playing the title character is the man who inspired it, the late great Harry Dean Stanton, in his final starring role.

Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch was tasked with bringing Lucky’s story to the screen. Lynch is well known as Norm Gunderson from the Coen BrothersFargo, as well as Twisty the Clown in American Horror Story. He’s worked with the best in the industry for decades, from Michael Keaton (The Founder) to Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino). We sat down with John to talk about this ambitious directorial debut and what it was like working with Harry Dean, as well as supporting actor and namesake David Lynch

THN: What brought you to Lucky’s door?

John Carroll Lynch: My friend Drago (Sumonja) was one of the writers, I had known Logan (Sparks, co-writer) as well and the two of them approached me as an actor to play one of the roles in the film as they were trying to put it together. Then a couple of months later, because Drago knew I had wanted to direct for quite a while, they came back to me and asked if I would direct the film. I really loved the script, I thought it was really good and Harry was already attached to play Lucky, which is not surprising because they based it on him. It didn’t take me long to say yes.

You’ve worked with many great directors over the years. For your directorial debut, you had Harry Dean Stanton, who’s worked with everyone, and David Lynch on top of that… you must have been very confident or very nervous, or both! What was it like…?

The opportunity to work with great people has always been attractive to me, and it’s been true since I started out as an actor. Great people, being great at their jobs make you better, in terms of how they come to the set or the stage to work, but they also teach you about how you could do that too. All of that was attractive to me, not distracting.

The film was shot at a rapid pace of eighteen days. When you’re doing your directorial debut, try to find an actor as good as Harry Dean Stanton to play your lead… do that first! See if that doesn’t cover a lot of your problems. That being said, I knew I had a leg up, once the cast came together and once David said yes I turned to Ira Steven Behr one of the producers and said: “Now I’m the only person who can f*ck this up!”

Gratefully it came out the way it did and people have responded…so many people get an opportunity to do their first film and they’re very good but nobody sees them. And with this one, it’s played all over the world, particularly in Europe because of Harry and David’s fan association there. In terms of how the movie unfolds, it’s a very European film.

Let’s talk about David Lynch… he’s known as an actor but in his own projects. What was it like directing him outside of his own universe?

Well, he loved Harry, he was one of his best friends. They had met when Harry was doing a film… interestingly enough Terrence Malick was in the first class at the American Film Institute and David Lynch was in the second. Terrence Malick had gotten more notes than Harry Dean Stanton to do his student film, which is shocking, the idea of that makes me laugh. They met when David came to observe one of Terrence’s shooting days, so they’d known each other since 1970. He had been in, I think, seven of his projects, and that’s the reason he’s in the film. We had been looking for somebody to play Howard and it was Harry who suggested him.

When he came to the set we were barely able to get him for any amount of time. But he agreed to it, he came to the set and it was the first time I had spoken to him directly. He came so well prepared and so steeped in the material. He had done a bit of adjusting to make it easier for him to read and it was a beautiful adjustment he had made. I know I should have been more worried, more intimidated, but he made it easy not to be. And also because it was close to the end of the picture and my focus was on Harry he really made it so simple. He came, and he made a Howard who was so disarming and innocent, which I thought was surprising given the rest of his work! (Laughs)

In the opening shot, a tortoise has to crawl across the frame. I was thinking that must have been either quite easy or extremely difficult to shoot. What’s it like to direct a tortoise?

The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice. (Laughs) So we tried to bribe the tortoise by putting strawberry juice on various rocks that it would smell and move towards. It didn’t always do that, so we have a lot of extra material where we’re resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise! That choice of shot is important because it teaches the audience how to watch the movie. Almost all first shots in movies teach you how to watch them, and that was no exception.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

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‘King Cohen: The Wild World Of Filmmaker Larry Cohen’ Review (THN)

Think you know Larry Cohen? If you’re a movie buff you might recognize his name from cult classics like Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), The Stuff (1985) and notorious infant horror picture It’s Alive (1974).

Steve Mitchell’s wild yet warm-hearted documentary is here to tell you one thing… you don’t. Cohen is a major player in American independent film but has managed to hide in plain sight for decades. He employed the services of great Hollywood veterans such as star Bette Davis and composer Bernard Herrmann. At the same time he stunned the cinematic community with his guerrilla filmmaking approach.

This contradiction between loved figure and health and safety nightmare is at the heart of the film, and it works beautifully. It’s a treat for anyone interested in seat-of-the-pants movie production, containing stories that will shock and amuse in equal measure. For example, there was the time he caused a panic in New York by staging a pitch battle on the exterior of the Chrysler Building for Q.

As remarked by the doc’s numerous contributors (among them Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante) Cohen is a one of a kind, who existed in a pre-911 climate. A time when a crew could rock up at an airport and stage an impromptu brawl on the baggage carousel without causing an international incident. For Cohen, if such a thing occurred, he’d have his camera out ready to include it in the picture.

The man himself is wonderful company, a frustrated stand up comedian walking the line between swagger and sensitivity. Cohen has been in the business since he was a teenager and there are some big surprises here. I had no idea he created The Invaders (1967-68), and if you don’t know what that is maybe you’ve heard of blaxploitation? Cohen was right there at the start of it!

King Cohen is affectionate but anarchic, showcasing a great director and most impressively of all a prolific writer. Even today, Cohen is producing pages of material that both inspire and infuriate his peers.

Mitchell’s portrait will hopefully bring Cohen the acclaim he deserves. He’s had it from fans and fellow filmmakers in spades. Now it’s time for the world to know who Larry Cohen truly is.

 

This review first appeared on THN.