Alexandra Furssedonn Howard had a quick chat with actor turned director John Carroll Lynch about life, art, and the legacy of the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton in his film Lucky. Read her review of the film here..

How did the film come about? Did you have the concept first and then you went to the writers, or were you given a script and asked to direct?

Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks, the co-writers of the movie had known Harry Dean Stanton for a long time. Logan had been a producer, and Drago had directed a documentary – and they were driving through the desert one day just talking about ideas and how they could get to do two things– write something they could both be really proud of, and maybe get a chance to work with Harry.

So they came up with this idea of a kind of guru on the edge of the desert and its turned into this Lucky character, who was inspired by Harry Dean himself. They wrote the script in about three months and they started to kind of populate the cast and crew with Harry's friends – he'd turned down work of this size , he wasn't really looking for a part this big. He was happy going out and doing Twin Peaks and The Avengers, so I think he was really motivated by working with friends.

Drago and Logan brought the script to me as an actor first , they wanted me to play a part in it. I'd met Harry a couple of times, and that seemed to qualify me as a friend of his. Of course, the opportunity to work with him was attractive to me – he'd inspired me for a long time as an actor –  he's a beloved figure in the acting community.

Drago knew I'd been wanting to direct and was just trying to figure out how to leverage myself into that chair, so after a few months of interest he called me and said we'd really like you to direct if you're interested. So I spent some time talking with Logan and Drago, discussing what we wanted to do with the story, what the real journey was, and then we started the process of putting it together. It was a very fast process; it took basically 18 months from start to end of production. But when there’s an 89 year old man as your lead, you wanna go. We'd cast friends of Harry, of mine, the crew, but the last piece of the puzzle was David Lynch. It was Harry's idea , we all agreed it was a terrific idea, we just didn't know if he'd have time to do it – he was busy with a little project of his own. But in the end he said "Yeah I could do it, I just don't know when", so there was a bit of time trying to figure out timing, but once that was agreed, we just went in.

What was it that made you want to go into directing? Was it something you'd always wanted to experiment with?

It's partly the outgrowth of 3 things – 1, there are stories I would like to tell that I can't be in. 2, things I'd like to talk about that I can effectively talk about. And 3, is the lateral nature of acting as a career, many people who act for a long period of time end up with amassing a lot of experience, but then there's no way to go beyond that, to stretch your muscles. You can help off set but you can't create the weather – Lucky was an opportunity to do that. Often on set whilst acting I would think, I could really help here, but you can't do that, and you shouldn't. I had such a great time working with the visual elements of the movie, and working with the artists who contribute to those elements. It was exciting to develop my vocabulary and communication with the artists and as a director.

What were your inspirations regarding the direction? The mise-en-scéne is incredibly earthy yet barren, the plot takes place in limited locations, where did those ideas come from?

Most of the visual palette is to serve the story, and I think that's true with any directing. I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and McDonagh's growing sense of confidence about his understanding of the visual elements of filmmaking is exciting for me to watch.

There are many films that I see, for example the work of Denis Villenueve, how he blends what is essentially animation and live actors seamlessly, is aspiriable for me. This movie was doable for me, in that it had visual ambition, but it was still a movie.

But the question as a director now is, what is the growth of that? I don't want to get caught up in "how can I do this, this, and this", I want to focus on what needs to be done to present the material in the best way possible. Everything in Lucky is simple, the schedule, the set, the cameras, because it all served the screenplay.

Did you find it intimidating at all, as a first time director dealing with Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch?

Yeah, I was more intimidated in essence with Harry than David for a few reasons. One of which, is because I was working with Harry so intimately and I needed to learn his vocabulary. Another thing was that David came so well prepared and in service to the material, he came in like an actor. I never felt like he was going to try to pull rank, as a matter of fact he decidedly didn't do that.

 It took a few days with me and Harry, just because our experience levels were so vastly different. Although I've been on set a lot as an actor, first day as a director and I forgot to say "Action! Everyone, sound, cameras, were ready" – and just silence. Harry looked at me and asked "Are ya gonna say action or what? This is why you're doing it man.", and I was like oh yeah that's my line!

 Finally, do you have a particular memory of Harry that stands out for you?

 There was a moment where we were sitting on the street, he'd been walking for a while. We were changing lenses, reloading the cameras, so I just went and sat down with Harry, and chatted for maybe a minute. Then we just sat for five minutes in silence. Yeah, that felt really good. He was really good at silence. I'll miss that about him. 

Lucky is out in UK Cinemas on Friday 14th September.

Harry Dean Stanton in 2017's LUCKY.