About The Production
The world's introduction to "Happy, Texas" came in a setting worlds removed from the sun-drenched, down-home town of Happy. The film premiered beneath the snowy skies of Utah as part of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. For the film's two key creators
-- director/writer/producer Mark Illsley and his co-screenwriter and producer Ed Stone
-- that wintery night's screening marked the end point of one remarkable journey
-- getting their film made -- and the beginning of another: basking in the acclaim of a film instantly embraced as one of the top discoveries at this year's festival.
The glowing praise that the Sundance audiences showered on "Happy, Texas" exceeded Illsley and Stone's wildest dreams. In truth, when the two longtime friends first sat down to collaborate on a screenplay, .all they-envisioned for the so-called "production process" was something laid back and simple
-- maybe gathering a few friends and neighbors in the backyard and shooting a movie for the pure fun of it. Illsley even admits that his inspiration throughout the writing process was "Rebel Without a Crew," Robert Rodriguez's autobiographical how-to memoir that chronicles the making of "El Mariachi" on the tightest of shoestring budgets. But what ultimately transpired
-- as the witty words and colorful characters of "Happy, Texas" took shape on the page
-- was much more than a backyard gathering, even by independent film standards. Indeed, the script for "Happy, Texas" ultimately caught the eye of top Hollywood agents, casting directors and some of the independent film industry's most celebrated talent.
Rick Montgomery signed on as producer "because, frankly, I read the script and thought the writing was brilliant," he says. "It was different. It had its own voice, and I knew it would stand out from the scripts of other films trying to be made at the time." Collectively, the newly-formed filmmaking team decided to set their sights high when casting the ensemble of actors who would bring the town of "Happy, Texas" to life. They succeeded in bringing together an acclaimed ensemble that includes rising stars Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn in the central roles of Harry and Wayne, in addition to Academy Award nominee William H. Macy as Chappy, acclaimed independent film actress Illeana Douglas as Ms. Schaefer and film, TV and stage veteran Ally Walker as Joe.
Each actor admits it was the quality of the screenplay and the richness of characters, that drew them to the project. "It was the only script I've read that the minute I finished it I turned to page one and read it again," says Steve Zahn. "It made me laugh so hard!"
"The script made me literally laugh out loud," says William H. Macy. "It's a great story, a worthwhile story with real humanity and a genuine love for all the characters. It could've so easily been
cliched in that mean-spirited way so many movies are now, with cardboard-cutout stereotypes. It could've made fun of people, but it didn't. That's what I just loved about the story."
Brit Jeremy Northam found it a challenge to play an American who's living in Texas, but not a born-and-bred. Says Northam, "I've played an Irish New York gangster, but this was all quite new to me. Here I was agreeing to play a con artist in a small Texas town, and I had to do the accent of a city guy from the Eastern seaboard of the States. What I particularly loved about this project was what it said about place and people's sense of dislocation. We're tempted to believe that life is always someplace else, yet we really can't escape. When actually, it's right where we are.
"Honestly," says Ally Walker, "this kind of material doesn't come around very often. The script sings. These guys are playing it realistically, and the fact is that life is funnier than art. There's a sense of innocence, too; an open
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