Director Finds Key to California Solo

Yes, Marshall Lewy admits, it was a risk to write the lead role of his second movie with actor Robert Carlyle in mind. If Carlyle wouldn't do it, he would be pretty much screwed.

"Oh, I had a Plan B," Lewy says, of his film, California Solo, which opens Friday (Nov. 30, 2012) in limited release. "I had other people I envisioned going to. But it was written for him. I've always been a fan."

Luckily for Lewy, he was able to get it to Carlyle, who read it and responded positively: "It's almost as if it were written for me," he marveled to Lewy, who replied, "It was."

In California Solo, Carlyle plays Lachlan MacAldonich, a Scottish transplant to southern California agricultural country, who once came to America as part of a rising Brit-Pop band. He now spends his days managing his boss' farm, doing everything from fitting irrigation pipe to manning the stand at the local farmers' market.

But his whole world is threatened with change after he is arrested for drunk driving. Though he has a green card, he also took a pot bust in his younger, foolish days -- and that now threatens him with deportation.

Lewy had the idea for a Brit living in the U.S., even as he was researching America's immigration bureaucracy. His discussions with immigration lawyers sparked the idea for the film: "I wanted to make a movie that showed a different image of immigration from the one you usually see in the movies."

Once he'd gotten the script to Carlyle, things came together quickly: "He had a little window in his schedule and so he said he'd do it. It's the first independent American film that he's done. He was a great collaborator. He brought a lot of knowledge. He became famous at the same time that that scene was happening."

"That scene" was a blip on the pop charts from the early 1990s called Brit-Pop, a mini-wave of British bands like Oasis, Suede and Blur that was much bigger in England than it ever was in the U.S. Those bands were beguiling the U.K. around the same time that Carlyle was breaking out in films like Priest, Trainspotting and The Full Monty.

"Carlyle knew the groups in that scene and the audience may be able to relate to him that way, to remember him with that time period," Lewy says.

The film is the second for the 35-year-old writer-director from Mamaroneck, N.Y., who would spend his summers off from Harvard (where he majored in Russian history and literature) working as a production assistant on films in Manhattan. After working in development and acquisition at New Line Cinema, he went to grad school at Columbia University, where he made shorts that played the festival circuit. His first film, a Borat-influenced comedy called Blue State, was released in 2007. He was working as a writer on a film called Born to Run for actor Peter Sarsgaard, who happened to share a manager with Carlyle and was able to get him the script. Once Carlyle was on-board, California Solo quickly found its funding.

"The big thing is getting the actor," Lewy says. "It's easy to imagine the rest of it if you know who's playing the central part. It came together pretty quickly; I wrote it and, a year later, we were filming."

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