An actor's life can change with a single role.
For John Carroll Lynch, that role was as Norm Gunderson, the husband of Frances McDormand's character Marge in the Coen Brothers' "Fargo."
"You gotta eat a breakfast Marge!" he tells her in the film. "I'll fix you some eggs."
"Oh, hon, you can sleep!" she replies.
"You gotta eat a breakfast."
Though he had done a couple of other films, he said recently, "That was the first role I had that didn't have the title of the job description in it."
Lynch was one of the many Minnesota actors scooped up by the Coens for "Fargo." At the time, Lynch was a company member at the Guthrie Theater. It was there, he said, under the leadership of artistic director Garland Wright, that he learned to act and found his voice as an actor.
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And he learned the importance of being a member of a company — "That my part in a movie or a theater piece was not only dependent but crucially invested in a fully knit world where the ensemble was the star," he said.
But playing Norm Gunderson launched Lynch's film career. He's appeared in more than 100 movies and TV series, including leading roles in "Zodiac" and recently as Mac McDonald in "The Founder."
However, it's only now that he's added another title to his resume: director. Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, the producers and screenwriters of "Lucky," approached Lynch to direct Harry Dean Stanton in the film.
Stanton, who died recently, was an iconic actor who rarely played the lead, but he always made a film better. In "Lucky," which hits theaters this weekend, he does play the lead.
"They wanted an actor to direct it," Lynch said. "Both Logan and Drago wanted an actor to direct the feature because they felt that would be better for Harry Dean and for the work they wanted to do."
"Lucky" is the story of a 90-year-old man living in a small Arizona town. He fancies himself as the gun-slinging type, but there's not much use for that nowadays. So he contents himself with doing his exercises, his crosswords and hanging out at the diner, but getting back in time for his game shows.
There's something else you should know about Lucky, Lynch said: He's an atheist, and he's contemplating death.
"This isn't the first time this guy has faced mortality — he's 90 years old," said Lynch. "He's obviously been facing it for a while. This may just be the last time he faces it. And in that last time he faces it, what is he going to do with it? How is he going to come to terms with being on a limited schedule?"
In the film, Lucky occasionally has doubts about his philosophy.
"Can I tell you a secret?" he asks a woman who comes to visit his home.
"Absolutely," she replies.
"You won't tell anyone?" He pauses for a long time. "I'm scared."
While Lucky's story is fictional, Lynch says his character is based on Harry Dean Stanton's, and his philosophy.
"The movie is really about living, it's not about dying," Lynch said. "It's about understanding a relationship with mortality, that makes you believe that this is the most important moment you have — this one, right now, is what you are living for, and that there is nothing else that's as important as this moment."
Lynch said he and the crew shot the film two years ago. The money and the production came together quickly, he explained, because when your star is 89, as Stanton was then, it's best to move things along.
Directing Stanton came with a challenge, he said.
"He is not acting," Lynch said. "That is a hundred percent his foundational choice as an actor: 'I'm not acting.'"
Harry Dean Stanton lived the truth of the roles he inhabited, taking each moment as the most important he had. Early reviews for the film say that, in "Lucky," he delivered the performance of a lifetime.