EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Daniels, Timothy Busfield and Melissa Gilbert have teamed to launch Grand River Productions, with their first project, Guest Artist, set to have its world premiere Saturday at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The creative partnership joins the fellow Michiganders who will look to mount modest-budget films.
That plan starts with Guest Artist, which Daniels adapted from his stage play and stars in. Busfield directed, and the trio are producing along with Tony-winning Broadway producer Michael A. Alden and executive producer Donald Clark.
“Our shared love of the American theatre is evident in every frame of our modern little throwback,” Daniels said. “Together, we felt that there was a film in Guest Artist that spoke to the precarious role of the American artist and that made it the perfect project for Grand River Productions’ feature film debut.”
Daniels, who just won an Emmy Award, his second, for Netflix’s Godless, originally wrote Guest Artist in 2006 for his The Purple Rose Theatre Company. In the film he plays Joseph Harris, a legendary but troubled playwright who comes to a small Michigan town at Christmastime to mount his latest play. Greeting the cynical New Yorker is a young, aspiring writer who challenges his literary hero to be the icon he’d hoped for. Harris wants no part of any of it, and desperate and scrambling to keep Harris in town, the young man must face his hero and explore the tangled relationship between the dreams of youth and the wisdom of age.
Purple Rose players Thomas Macias, Richard McWilliams, McKara Bechler, Ruth Crawford, Dan Johnson and Lynch R. Travis also star along with Erika Slezak. The pic premieres Saturday at 4:20 PM at the Fiesta Theatre in Santa Barbara.
“I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s writing for 25 years,” Busfield said. “I love his writing. He blends funny and dramatic as well as anybody. And Guest Artist is one of my favorites of Jeff’s plays. To be able to direct Jeff in the movie version was an incredible opportunity.”
Said Gilbert: “Working with Jeff and Tim has been one of the great joys of my career. Guest Artist holds a special place in my heart – from Jeff’s beautiful adaptation of his play and fantastically nuanced performance to Tim’s extraordinary ability as a director-producer. It’s been a thrill to be a part of this production and partner in Grand River. We are very excited to share Guest Artist with audiences.”
The company’s launch comes as all three principals are plenty busy. Daniels is currently on Broadway playing Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Busfield, an Emmy-winning actor, recently appeared in and directed Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Heartstings and directed and/or acted in episodes of Designated Survivor and Law & Order: SVU. Gilbert has been working Off Broadway with credits including If Only: A Love Story at the Cherry Lane, The Dead 1904 with the Irish Repertory Company and My Brilliant Divorce at the New Ohio Theater. Last year, the Emmy nominee starred in Lifetime’s movie Hometown Christmas and is up next in the indie When We Last Spoke.
Daniels is repped by ICM Partners, Martino Management and Rogers & Cowan. Busfield and Gilbert, who are married, are repped by Innovative Artists, with Busfield also repped by 3 Arts Entertainment.