Sundance directors, actors find reteaming a winning formula
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Whether muse or friend or both, actors and directors choosing to work together again is a tale as old as cinema.
It’s no different this year at the Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off in Park City, Utah on Thursday and sees the reteaming of some must-see collaborators, from “I’ll See You In My Dreams’” Brett Haley and Sam Elliott to the “Obvious Child” team of Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate.
Here’s a look at a few at this year’s festival:
THE HERO (Director: Brett Haley, Actor: Sam Elliott)
Writer-director Haley became friends with Elliott while making the underseen gem “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” where Elliott’s character charms a fellow retiree in Blythe Danner. He and his co-writer Marc Basch knew they wanted to follow it up with a film written for Elliott. Initially, they thought they’d draw on his cinematic legacy and make a Western. But they quickly realized everyone makes a Western with Elliott, so they decided to play on that idea. “He’s a Western icon of sorts and a guy who now makes his living doing voiceovers,” Haley said. “We basically took what we loved about Sam, the legacy that he has, and we made him less famous, less successful and more of a screw up.”
LANDLINE (Director: Gillian Robespierre, Actor: Jenny Slate)
While casting for the “Obvious Child” short, Robespierre remembers stumbling upon Slate, an SNL cast member for a single season in 2009-2010, and knew she’d found her muse. “She felt like a friend and she had a whole audience in laughter but also there were quiet moments where they were engaged,” Robespierre recalled. “She’s so present and beautiful and not traditionally what Hollywood considers a movie star. She’s got a beautiful, ethnically Jewish looking face and curves and this non-perfect blonde hair, blue-eyed presence. We just thought, ‘Wow wouldn’t that be wonderful if the main star of our movie looked like a real woman.’” It was a no-brainer that they’d re-team for “Landline,” a ’90s-set comedy about two sisters (Slate and newcomer Abby Quinn) investigating their father’s suspected affair and trying to keep it from their mother (Edie Falco).
A GHOST STORY (Director: David Lowery, Actors: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara)
In the lyrical “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which played at Sundance in 2013, Mara and Affleck were outlaw lovers, but director Lowery’s latest (after going big with Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”) is “about as art house as art house can get” with Affleck playing a ghost and Mara as his grief-stricken love. Because it was so small and self-financed, Lowery knew he wanted to work with only friends. “I’m lucky enough that at this point my sphere of friends include both of them. I was able to call them both up and say, ‘Hey I’m making this weird thing, do you want to come to Dallas for two weeks?’ They both said yes. I did not expect either of them to say yes. It’s a risk. It’s definitely not a normal movie and they both were excited about it and to work together again. I lucked out.”
GOLDEN EXITS (Director: Alex Ross Perry, Actor: Jason Schwartzman)
Schwartzman brought his acerbic wit to director Perry’s “Listen Up Philip,” a 2014 Sundance movie, and the two have become close friends since. For Perry, calling on Schwartzman to co-star in his new film “Golden Exits,” about an outsider who upsets the dynamic of two families in Brooklyn, was a very practical matter too. “Increasingly in the way film continues to flounder and struggle, having personal, direct access to actors you want to work with is very valuable and it’s something I’ve been very lucky to have been given the support to build up,” Perry said. “The next person I talk to, whether I know them or not, I can say, ‘Jason’s in this’ and they’ll say, ‘OK, this is already on its way.’”
NEWNESS (Director: Drake Doremus, Actor: Nicholas Hoult)
Doremus, who won the 2011 Grand Jury prize for “Like Crazy,” returns this year with his “Equals” star Hoult in “Newness,” about 20-somethings in the online dating game who are addicted to the new, never giving relationships an actual chance before moving on to the next option. Hoult lived with Doremus for three months during the shoot, which became a camp-like experience. “We can say anything to each other. There’s nothing that’s off-limits. Everything gets done right because we make sure to push it as much as we can,” Doremus said. “And, as far as actors go in their mid-to-late-20s, to me, he’s the best around.”
Veteran filmmaker Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) is working again with her “Riot Club” star Sam Claflin in “Their Finest,” about an arrogant WWII-era screenwriter. She was excited to see him play something more “witty and romantic,” which she’d seen in him since the start, while writer-director Marianna Palka director teamed up with longtime stars Jason Ritter and Martin Starr for “Bitch.” Similarly, Jeff Baena (“Life After Beth”) called upon an entire roster of his regulars for “The Little Hours,” including girlfriend Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon and Adam Pally, which would require a trip to Tuscany in the spring to shoot the unconventional comedy set in the middle ages.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr