For a while there,
Lou Taylor Pucci
was calling Philadelphia home. In
, the 2008 indie made by his actor buddy
, Pucci had one of the key roles - a drug-dealing hipster dude, riding around Northern Liberties on his bike, dispensing pot and pills.
And in The Answer Man, which opened Friday at the Ritz Five after showing at Sundance and the Philadelphia CineFest earlier in the year, Pucci is the proprietor of a used bookshop - Old City's Book Trader. His character, Kris, has just come out of rehab, is trying to reconnect with his ailing dad, and then meets a world-famous author of spiritual-guidance tomes, played by Jeff Daniels. The film, which paints the town in loving colors - the city has never looked so good on screen - also stars Lauren Graham, Kat Dennings, Olivia Thirlby, and Nora Dunn.
"It was the craziest thing," says Pucci, who hails from the heart of Monmouth County, New Jersey. "I got to shoot two films in Philly not quite back-to-back, but pretty close. . . . And, honestly, if I hadn't done Explicit Ills and gotten to know Philly a bit, I don't know if I would have been so keen on going to The Answer Man audition."
That's not because Pucci, who made a big splash in the title role of 2005's indie hit Thumbsucker, wasn't looking for work. It was just that they called him on a Wednesday to see if he could come on Thursday to audition, and then start work on Monday if he landed the gig.
"They had lost the guy originally cast in the part," Pucci explained on the phone the other day. "My manager called a week before they were supposed to shoot and said, 'Hey, remember the script that you read four months ago?'
"And so I had to drive to Philadelphia that morning if I wanted to have a chance. And having done Explicit Ills made me know Philly - I knew where I was going and I knew that I liked the town and everything. So, I was like, 'OK, I'll do it.' "
Pucci dyed his blond hair dark brown to make himself look older than his then-22 years, met with writer-director John Hindman, and nabbed the part. A quirky romantic comedy, The Answer Man nonetheless explores deeper, darker issues. Pucci's character, an alcoholic, asks big philosophical and theological questions - posing them to Daniels' Arlen Faber on the front steps of the reclusive author's Delancey Street manse.
Since making The Answer Man, Pucci has been working steadily: Fault Lines, an improvised, Cassavetes-like relationship drama made with a gang of friends in Los Angeles; Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, John Krasinski's adaptation of the David Foster Wallace novel; The Informers, the disaffected-Angelenos pic based on the Bret Easton Ellis pulp best-seller (already come and gone), and Carriers, a postapocalyptic-plague thriller with Star Trek's Chris Pine that Paramount plans to release in the fall.
That said, Pucci confesses that he hasn't made any money for close to a year now.
"I don't have any idea what I'm doing next," he says. "I'm just auditioning a lot. . . . It's a strange world where I have these movies coming out but I have no money. . . . And that's just a testament to how bad the economy is and how many indie actors - and actors who haven't even hit the level of doing indie movies - must be going through even worse stuff than I am. . . .
"I'm doing my damnedest to find something good and not have to compromise. Because I feel like if I compromise, I'm just going to stop doing it. There's no way I'm going to be an actor and not like what I'm doing. . . . I'd really rather work in Starbucks."
Short subjects. September's Toronto International Film Festival is taking shape, and audiences there will get to take a first look at new work by Pedro Almodóvar (Broken Embraces), Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime), and Steven Soderbergh (The Informant, with Matt Damon), along with the Diablo Cody-scripted, Megan Fox-starring psycho-cheerleader thriller Jennifer's Body, among many, many, many others. . . . Emile Hirsch, so formidable in Into the Wild (and we'll just forget about Speed Racer), has been cast as the indecisive Dane in Catherine Hardwicke's modern-day retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ethan Hawke starred in the most recent modern-day retelling - released in 2000. That Hamlet was scripted and directed by Michael Almereyda. . . . Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, the disturbing home-invasion drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George that was released to considerable controversy in 1971, is getting the remake treatment. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are the couple whose home, and marriage, are put to the test by a violent intruder - Alexander Skarsgard, the glowering vampire leader in HBO's True Blood. Rod Lurie (Nothing But the Truth, The Contender) directs, starting in a few weeks.
QFest winners. Philadelphia QFest, the rechristened Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, ended its 15th yearly run on Monday night, with a party and prizes handed out high atop the Loews Hotel.
The jury award for best feature went to Patrik, Age 1.5, Ella Lemhagen's comedy about a gay Danish couple who adopt a boy considerably older than expected. (He's 15.)
The best-doc prize went to Off and Running, Nicole Opper's look at an adopted African American teenager trying to find a sense of herself in a Brooklyn household headed by two lesbians.
The jury prize for first-time director went to Nancy Kassim (for Drool), and for best short to "Awakening." The audience award for best feature was delivered to director Wendy Jo Carlton for Hannah Free, starring Sharon Gless.