The death of Harry Dean Stanton on September 15 left made the movie world immediately wistful. Over the course of his career the 91-year-old subtly affected some of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid, doing so in a manner so deft that he made it look effortless.
Stanton was so impactful that screenwriters Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks were inspired to write the script for “Lucky” purely based on the actor’s work. John Carroll Lynch, who directed “Lucky”, made this admission when I recently talked to him about Harry Dean Stanton’s impromptu farewell with the film.
“The idea for ‘Lucky’ came from a drive across the desert, rather appropriately, from the two writers. They were talking about their desire to work with Harry Dean Stanton. They came up with this idea of an old guru who lives on the edge of this desert town. They really wanted to capture the world view that Harry Dean had imparted over the years.”
Lynch admitted that there was no back-up plan if Stanton declined. “It was a situation where, if he’d said, ‘Nah, I don’t think so.’ That would have been it.”
“The character was deeply inspired by him, so much so that most of the material was autobiographical. We were almost working on a meta level. We talked about what these experiences had actually meant to Harry Dean in his life, and then what they would mean to the character of Lucky.”
Shooting Harry Dean Stanton and then re-watching his performance while editing it together over the last two years has only taken Lynch’s appreciation of the actor’s talents and efforts to another echelon. Especially because Stanton is in pretty much the entire movie, while he had to shoot these scenes in the heat of the desert, and, due to budget and time restraints, in a preposterously quick manner, too.
“I have spent the last two years or so in intense circumstances watching his work over and over and over again, and marveling at the appreciation of a man. Because the circumstances were exhausting, especially for a man of his age, and he was pushing himself to do an 18-day shoot where he carried every single scene and every single moment. And to watch his work and to cut his work and to watch over the performance he was after, and to get to a point where we have been able to translate that to the screen, I have only grown to appreciate both him as an artist and as a man.”
And while Stanton’s death left Lynch riddled with sadness, he did admit that “Lucky” does offer fans the perfect opportunity to bid farewell to the actor.
“Obviously we would have preferred not to, but it is a pretty good way to say goodbye. In some ways I do believe that it was the role of a lifetime, because his life was so wrapped up in the creation of it. The screenplay was written for him, it was written kind of inspired by him, if there is ever the role of a lifetime then this was it.”
You can bask in Harry Dean Stanton’s final ever performance when “Lucky” is released into cinemas on September 29, while you can read my review below.
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch
3 (Out of 5) Globes
Plot: Harry Dean Stanton stars as the titular Lucky, a 90-year-old atheist who suddenly has to confront his own mortality. Along with the help of the variety of characters that also inhabit the off-the-map desert town he calls home, the fiercely independent Lucky goes on a journey of deep self-exploration in his attempts to find enlightenment.
Review: It is always hard to be objective when you watch a film starring a beloved actor that has recently departed. Considering the length and breadth of Harry Dean Stanton’s illustrious career this was always going to be doubly difficult when it came to “Lucky”. Heavily inspired by the personality and viewpoint of Dean Stanton, it makes complete sense that the actor is instantly able to mesh with the character, evoking weight and experience just through a stare, gesture, or with even the slightest of utterances. Stanton’s performance is so compelling that he’s able to carry “Lucky” through its intended aimlessness, patching together scenes that would otherwise overwhelmingly frustrate without him. At times “Lucky” does cross this line, and it even outlasts its 86-minute running time. But Harry Dean Stanton is so utterly mesmerizing to watch that you can’t help but try and savor every moment he’s on-screen, all the way up to the film’s highly emotional but perfect final shot. It’s a performance that really does posthumously put Harry Dean Stanton into the Best Actor Oscar mix. But, of course, that might just be the grief talking.