Nearly every reporter he speaks to asks Brett Haley, 31, why his feature-film debut is about people who are 40 years his senior.
In Haley’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Tony- and Emmy-winning actress Blythe Danner, 72, plays a retired schoolteacher and widow in Los Angeles whose routine-dedicated life is upended when her beloved dog dies.
Encouraged by her friends, who are also of mature age, Danner’s rudderless Carol Petersen takes risks she never anticipated.
Haley, a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, will attend Saturday’s Louisiana International Film Festival screening of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” at Cinemark Perkins Rowe. Featuring 60 films, the festival runs through Sunday.
“I don’t know that it should be so weird that someone writes about someone who is nothing like the writer,” Haley said of the age difference between himself, his co-writer, Marc Basch, and the characters in “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”
“Most people making independent films are writing about themselves, but the writers of bigger movies, especially from the ’70s, and the great novels, they didn’t write about themselves,” Haley said. “That’s what influenced me. I really looked at it as an exercise in empathy.”
Another thing — Haley is not interested in writing about himself, at least not at the moment.
“If you look at the next scripts I’ve written, the next films I want to make, they’re not about a 31-year-old guy with a beard living in Brooklyn,” he said.
Danner was Haley’s first choice to play Carol in “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Her previous films include “The Great Santana,” the “Meet the Parents” trilogy and Woody Allen’s “Alice.” She’s also the mother of actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
“I’ve seen Blythe onstage in New York,” Haley said. “I’ve seen her as a leading lady many times. She has layered nuance and depth in her performances that are unique. She’s incredibly funny. She can do big, emotional stuff as well.
“And she’s a very gracious actress, someone who doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight. Because she’s in every scene, you see the chemistry with her and everyone she’s with throughout the movie. I think that comes from her graciousness.”
Haley lobbied Danner to be his film’s leading lady.
“She likes to work, but she doesn’t have to do an independent film,” the director said. “If an actor does an independent film with an unproven director, it’s a risk. But I met with Blythe and told her that she’d be my No. 1 priority on set.
“She seemed to have some trepidation about being in every scene, (wondering) if her stamina could keep up. But she trusted me. She jumped onboard and gave me a hundred percent every day.”
The other veteran actors in the cast include Sam Elliott as a new man in Carol’s life and, playing her friends, Mary Kay Place, June Squibb and Rhea Perlman.
“Most the people in the film have been in the industry longer than I’ve been alive,” Haley said. “Which was a little intimidating, but at the same time, it was a refreshing, fun thing.
“The shoot was only 18 days. No time for messing about. The professionalism of the cast and all of that experience really came in handy. We had a great time.”
Following Saturday’s Louisiana International Film Festival’s screening of “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” the film will open May 15 in limited release. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
“It was a dream come true being at Sundance,” Haley said. “And a little overwhelming. I’m really glad that people responded to the film the way they did. We got a standing ovation.”