Writer-director Brett Haley, who appeared at Sundance 2015 with I’ll See You In My Dreams co-starring Sam Elliott, has returned to the festival this year with The Hero. This one stars Elliott in another film playing off of and celebrating the Western movie icon; the pic was just acquired by The Orchard in a $3 million deal.
Co-starring Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, and Elliott’s wife Katharine Ross, The Hero follows Lee (Elliott), an aging Western film star who finds himself re-examining his past, while also looking to the future.
“The whole Western thing has dogged me, on some level, forever, but I think that I embrace it now,” Elliott told me, appearing at Deadline’s Sundance Studio. “There was a time when I didn’t, when I felt like I was boxed in, and that was kind of what I was known for, and that was pretty much going to be it. But there’s been opportunities that have come along recently that have allowed me to get outside of that, and this is certainly one of them. This is a great gift, there’s no question about it. You don’t get this kind of material handed to you but once or twice in a career, probably.”
Also appearing at the studio were Prepon, Offerman, and Ross, all of whom mentioned Elliott in their decision to board the film. “When Sam came to work on Parks And Recreation, we fell in love quickly and irrevocably,” Offerman quipped. “Any chance to get to work with Sam, who I learn a great deal from, both as a human being and as an actor, and a bearer of whiskers, that would get me on board immediately. But then I was introduced to Brett and his writing, and his enthusiasm and his perspicacity, so I would have paid good money to work on this film.”
Prepon was also a fan of Elliott, who works alongside her “brothers”—That ’70s Show alums Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson — on the Netflix series The Ranch. “For me, it’s always been material first, so once I read the script, I just absolutely loved it, and then once Brett and I started speaking about the character, it was a no-brainer,” the Orange Is the New Black star said. “I think that the movie speaks to a bunch of beautiful things, in terms of like, everybody thinks about what they’re going to leave behind when they move on in the relationships that they create in their life, and what’s important. It felt important to me to be a part of it.”
To hear Haley discuss his process in casting the film and building a rapport with his actors, take a look at Deadline’s video exclusive above.