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SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA

Living In Utopia
The participation of Robert Duvall and Lucas Black had a seismic effect, soon drawing a supporting cast of some of today's most intriguing actors. With the part of Sarah, who sets off sparks of her own with

Luke Chisholm, Deborah Ann Woll takes on a role that is almost the polar opposite of the rebellious and naïve young vampire she plays to the hilt on HBO's hit series TRUE BLOOD.

Woll says it was Utopia that compelled her when she first read the screenplay. Coming from Brooklyn, New York, just imagining life in a small Texas town was an exhilarating experience. "What struck me was the sense of community, that there's a tight-knight group in this town that care so much about each other and I really liked that idea,” she says. "I'm not a golfer and had never read the book but I was drawn to a story about real relationships and the concept that the journey is far more important than the destination.”

Sarah's journey veers in an unexpected direction when Luke crashes into her world, just as she is moving out of grief and rediscovering her own passion for life. "I think Sarah is someone who has been lost and when she sees Luke, she recognizes that he is lost, too,” observes Woll. "When you find someone who can understand your experience like that, you feel that immediate connection.”

To get into her native Texas character, Woll immersed herself in the daily life of Utopia and trained with a horse wrangler before shooting began – but she also says working with Lucas Black was key. "Lucas is from a small community a lot like this, and he really understands what that is like. He effortlessly became a part of Utopia and it was a treat to watch him. I learned a lot about life in small towns, which was mind opening. You get a sense of how wide human experience can be.”

Getting to know Robert Duvall was another surprise-filled experience for Woll. "He's a larger-than-life icon, but once you get to know him, he's just a real decent guy who loves acting and just has a great time doing this,” she says.

Brian Geraghty, who came to the fore recently as an elite bomb diffuser in the Oscar®-winning THE HURT LOCKER, takes on the role of Jake, the local Utopia rodeo champion who isn't too keen on the town's latest visitor, until they begin to compete with each other. Geraghty says he saw the film as fitting into the roster of feel-good sports movies that he admires. "I love movies like RUDY and KARATE KID, and I've always wanted to be part of something like that,” he explains. "Jake is also a character unlike any I've played before – a golfer, a rodeo champ and kind of a bad guy . . . but with a good heart inside.”

As for Jake's initially intolerant view of Luke, he says: "I think Jake really doesn't know how to react to Luke except through these kinds of manly challenges. He's probably jealous and feeling a bit threatened, so he wants to cut Luke down. But, in spite of themselves, they start to develop a bond. For Jake, I think it's an 'if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em' kind of situation, and he comes around.”

Once he got on the set, the New Jersey-born actor found the change of scenery challenging but eye-opening. "I got to play cowboy, learned to ride horses, and found out what it's like to live in a town of 350 people. It was an exceptional experience,” he says. "Being in Utopia really added another dimension for us as actors. It's not some Western movie town, it's a real, living, breathing place with its own character and a lot of use discovered a whole world we really weren't aware of.”

Another Academy Award® winner, Melissa Leo, who won the Best Supporting Actress award this year for THE FIGHTER after a nomination for FROZEN RIVER, came on board in the role of Lilly Hawkins – Sarah's mother and Johnny's close friend, who has seen him go through changes. What first turned Leo's head when she received the script was the film's focus on golf. "Golf is near and dear to my heart because my father's dad played,” she explains. "But I also liked that it's a tale about people in a community making a difference in other people's lives. I think community is an extremely important part of our lives even though we see less and less of it nowadays.”

Like her cast-mates, Leo found herself falling under the spell of life in Utopia. "Is it the land, the sky or the spirit that gives it so much power? I think it's the people who have been here for generations and always protected its serenity. There is undeniable peace in Utopia,” she concludes.

Adding to the stirring atmosphere for Leo was her first opportunity to work with Duvall. "My very first scene with him sitting on Johnny's porch, we ended up shooting at two o'clock in the morning,” she recalls. "It's something I'll always remember. I've admired him for so long and it was delightful watching him affirm my suspicious that he is a true actor, through and through.”

By the end of her time in Utopia, Leo saw the film and the characters in a whole new way. "The golfing aspect of the film was great and done in such a devoted way, but it became so much more for me about the people, and the universality of the story,” she says. "Golf is just the way Luke starts to learn lessons about who he is, about hanging in there and letting go and all those valuable things we all have to learn. I hope I continue to learn those lessons everyday.”

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