Directed by John Carroll Lynch, Lucky is a poignant and powerful look at a 90-year-old man (beautifully played by the late Harry Dean Stanton) and the life he lives in his off-the-map desert town. As he finds himself at the edge of mortality, he is still fiercely independent while also seeking the human connection that we all need until our final moments. It is a film worth seeking out and it is a performance that will likely be thought of as one of the actor’s best.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, John Carroll Lynch talked about his journey to directing Lucky, what he was most excited about getting to do with the film, what acting taught him about directing, working with David Lynch, as an actor, what it was like to have Harry Dean Stanton at the center of this story, what he’s most proud of and impressed by when it came to his performance, and how he wishes that he had been able to see the film prior to his passing. He also talked about playing Twisty the Clown in American Horror Story and what it’s like to see that character take on a life of its own.
Collider: When you made the decision that you wanted to direct, and then you set out on the journey to direct your first feature, could you ever have imagined that it would be this film with Harry Dean Stanton?
JOHN CARROLL LYNCH: Under no circumstances, did I ever imagine that. When I started the process of thinking, “I think I’d like to direct,” it went by more traditional routes, in my mind, like going through television to learn the process, as many actor friends of mine have done, and then finding a piece of material, after that, of some kind. I’ve been writing with my writing partner and we have some lovely screenplays, but they’re not really first feature screenplays. They’re a little too physically and visually ambitious, as well as business ambition. We were in the process of coming to a new idea when this came up for me, in a way that I couldn’t have imagined, which was through a guy, named Drago Sumonja, who I had done a short film with while I was making The Good Girl. A P.A. on that asked me if I would read something, and it was a little short film, called Details, and I agree to do it on a weekend when my wife was out of town. So, I did that and met Drago, and that was 16 years ago. Who knew that, 14 years later, he’d ask me to direct this screenplay. It’s how all first features come!
Lucky seems like a film that, if you didn’t end up directing it, it would be easy to see you acting in it, as one of the characters.
LYNCH: That was originally how they approached me. (Screenwriters) Logan [Sparks] and Drago asked if I would play Joe, the character that Barry [Shabaka Henley] plays in the movie, and I was perfectly happy to do four days of that. That was fine. And then, a couple of months later, they called and asked me if I would consider directing it. We had a discussion about that while I was in Atlanta and they were here in L.A., and we all agreed on where the script was headed and had agreed to work on it together, not really to change it so much as to get an understanding of how to show what they had written. Harry Dean was already going to do it, and so was Ed Begley. That’s how we started.
How did you get David Lynch to do this? He’s not somebody who just takes acting roles, so what was it like to work with him?
LYNCH: What happened was that we were looking for someone for that part. A few people had come up in our minds and we were working on how to get it to them. I don’t remember when it was in the process, but Harry brought David up. Logan asked, “Do you think he’d do it?,” and Harry said, “Well, ask him.” We all thought it was a good idea, and we found out that he was amenable to the idea. Michael, his assistant, was incredibly helpful, in that regard. He gave us two days, in the midst of post-production (on Twin Peaks), on the 4th of July weekend of 2016.
Is it scary, at all, when you’re a new director on set directing someone like David Lynch?
LYNCH: I was grateful that it happened at the end of the shoot and not at the beginning. I think that would have been a pretty intense experience. I was also grateful for the way David approached it. He simply approached it as an actor. He was very respectful. If he had had thoughts about what I was doing, he kept them to himself. He came so prepared and so ready to work, as an actor, that it was very simple to treat him as one.
Was it cool, on a personal level, to work with the actors in this, knowing that they’re the type of actors who wouldn’t have been there, if hadn’t wanted to be?
LYNCH: Including Harry Dean, himself. You don’t convince Harry Dean to do anything he didn’t want to do. With all of that, 100% of the attraction was to work with Harry Dean. Everyone was there to work with Harry Dean and to celebrate him. The script was very good. If the script hadn’t been good or if they had mistrusted me, I think there would have been other issues, but nobody seemed to have that. They were perfectly happy and willing to work.