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Lou Taylor Pucci is busy building a buzz

The young actor's relentless schedule now has him poised for bigger and better roles in his career.

July 12, 2009|Mark Olsen

The quiet, soulful confusion projected by actor Lou Taylor Pucci has turned him into an indie film It-Boy and something of a fixture at the Sundance Film Festival, an actor who has often seemed just on the verge of bigger things.

In "The Answer Man," opening in limited release on July 24 and already available via video on demand, Pucci plays a fresh-from-rehab alcoholic who is simultaneously battling with his addiction, struggling to keep his used bookstore afloat and dealing with a disaffected home life. When he strikes up a provisional friendship with a reclusive, world-renowned author (Jeff Daniels), it has unexpected consequences for them both. The feature debut as writer-director for John Hindman, the film also features Lauren Graham, Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings.

To make plain the inner torments of his character, Pucci improvised an unusual process of inspiration.

"I grabbed all the alcohol I could find and hid it in my apartment," the 23-year-old Pucci recalled recently over lunch at a Hollywood taco stand. "In the fridge, in the cabinet, under my bed, and I didn't touch it for the whole shoot. It got me frustrated to just see it everywhere. It was perfect -- the exact thing that I wanted to get out of myself I uncovered by tricking myself into feeling like an alcoholic. It's so simple and so difficult, to have it all around and not drink it."

Pucci got the part on extremely short notice. Still living in his native New Jersey at the time -- he moved to Los Angeles about 10 months ago -- he got a call about a script he had read many months previously. Another actor had dropped out, and if Pucci could get to Philadelphia the next day he could audition for the production that would begin shooting less than a week later.

"He drove down and never left," recalled Hindman.

Hindman had already been a fan of Pucci's for some time, and his wife had actually been pulling for the actor to get the part all along.

"He's able to be still," said Hindman of what attracts him to Pucci's performances. "He's able to stand still long enough for you to watch the character's inner working. He doesn't feel compelled to always be doing something, and that's rare. He's able to just sort of exist."

Pucci began acting as a youngster, appearing on Broadway in "The Sound of Music" at 12. He appeared in his first film at 16, Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity," which won two prizes at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 and landed Pucci with the agent he is still with.

He garnered more attention at Sundance in 2005, with lead roles in both "the Chumscrubber" and "Thumbsucker," and then again in 2007 with "The Go-Getter." He has also appeared in such films as Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation" (2006), Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" (2006) and Mark Webber's "Explicit Ills" (2008).

In January, Pucci was busier than ever at Sundance with "The Answer Man" (then screening under the title "Arlen Faber"), "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," directed by John Krasinski, and the Brett Easton Ellis adaptation "The Informers." As well, Pucci was on the short-film jury.

Since moving to Los Angeles, he has been adjusting to the grind and hustle of heading out to auditions rather than just putting himself on tape as he often had in the past. With economic shake-ups hitting all levels of the film industry, Pucci admits this is "a weird time" to be a young actor, but he also feels the creative rewards are worth any added hassle.

"You're not an artist if you don't try."


My furry friend

After its world premiere at the recent CineVegas Film Festival, "Etienne!" picked up the Filmmaker to Watch Award and was dubbed "the unofficial feel-good film of the fest" by the Hollywood Reporter. The film has its Los Angeles premiere Tuesday with a screening at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater.

The feature debut from 26-year-old filmmaker Jeff Mizushima, "Etienne!" tells the wistful, whimsically heartfelt story of Richard (Richard Vallejos), who takes his pet hamster on a cycling adventure through Northern California when he learns the little creature has a fatal disease. Along the way, they intersect with Elodie (Megan Harvey), a recent college grad with issues of her own.

"The real reason I had a hamster was the absurdity of it," said Mizushima during a recent phone call from his home in Torrance. "But then it turns out a lot of people who worked on the film had hamsters and it strikes a chord with people."

By turns melancholy and hopeful, with its vintage-inspired sense of style -- think striped shirts and running shoes for guys and knee socks and simple dresses for girls -- and specific feel for objects and locations, "Etienne!" plays as an accessible thrift-store variation on the fastidiousness of Wes Anderson. The soundtrack features a mix of old-school French pop, new tunes composed to sound like French pop and a few songs performed on screen by the duo Great Northern.

"In addition to being in film school while writing," recalled Mizushima of the movie's cohesive, offbeat feel, "I was also working at an afterschool program for kids ages 6 through 12. So during the day I would be in school, at night I'd be watching old French films and in the afternoons I'd be hanging out with kids. So I guess it all kind of melted together."


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