You might remember Reese Witherspoon trekking along the giant cedars and firs on the Pacific Crest Trail in the 2014 made-in-Oregon film “Wild,” thinking you might just like to try it out yourself (with better boots, of course).
The magnificent landscape was a crucial piece of the film; some might say it had its own starring role. In much the same way, another made-in-Oregon film to hit the big screen, “Lean On Pete,” may have you yearning to visit Eastern Oregon’s high desert.
Released in spring 2018 after broad acclaim at several international film festivals, the feature-length drama stars Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny and Charlie Plummer. It filmed mostly in the small Eastern Oregon community of Burns in 2016, during the Harney County Fair, Rodeo & Racemeet — a pro rodeo event that draws cowboys and cowgirls from far and wide.
“Lean On Pete” director Andrew Haigh is best known for his films “45 Years,” “Weekend” and the HBO series “Looking.” We caught up with him to ask a few questions about his latest film’s inspiration, setting and message for movie-goers.
After reading Portland writer Willie Vlautin‘s 2010 novel, “Lean On Pete,” how did you come to consider Harney County as a setting for most of the film? What were you looking for?
What is special about the novel is that it is very specific regarding the locations. For example, there is a scene in the movie set in the Apple Peddler Restaurant in Hines [the neighboring community to Burns], which is the precise diner that is named in the book. I was very keen on using as many of these real locations as possible and I spent three months in Oregon back in 2012 traveling around to get a greater sense of the world. It is this sense of the world that is vital for me when making films. Harney Country has some beautiful environments too, both in terms of landscape and in the small towns and communities that exist there.
How was the experience of filming in Harney County? Did anything surprise you about this community?
I have very fond memories of my time spent in Harney County. The community was incredibly helpful to us when filming, opening doors for us wherever we went.
There’s another made-in-Oregon classic, “Free Willy,” about a boy befriending an animal, leading to a transformative experience. What message do you hope people walk away with after watching “Lean On Pete”?
Although there is a transformative relationship between the boy and the horse at the heart of the film, it is probably not a feel-good movie for kids! It is a more grounded version of such a story. I hope that people get different things from the film. I hope that it affects them on an emotional level. To me it is partly about the importance of kindness and compassion, about the need to look after those that are struggling in challenging circumstances.
Would you return to Oregon again to film? Any upcoming projects in the works?
Absolutely. The crew in Oregon is fantastic and I would love to come back if the project was right. Unfortunately, my next project is set in the Arctic, so Oregon is a little too warm!