Joanna Bayless, Chasty Ballesteros and Lance Henriksen weigh in on film script, village life
By Joshua Maloni
The "Morning Sun" cast has appeared in hundreds of productions, including blockbuster movies and critically acclaimed television shows. Five of the six actors are "famous."
But it's the sixth one whose work has drawn the most praise. When talking shop with the well-known thespians, conversations turn into something like this: "Yeah, yeah, yeah ... but Joanna - Joanna is a stage actress."
Joanna Bayless has been a successfully employed actor for more than three decades. Her work on stage has inspired and drawn praise from critics - and her co-stars.
The problem is, those live performances came and went without a permanent recording. Realizing this, Bayless decided it was time to make a lasting mark on her industry.
A chance encounter turned into her opportunity.
"I first read this ('Morning Sun') script about two and a half years ago, and I was in a class, actually, where you meet playwrights who are doing new work," Bayless said. "This was one of the new pieces. And it was being optioned for Broadway as a play. I thought, 'Well, that's that,' because, as much as I'd love this role, and wanted the challenge, I knew, of course, if you're going on Broadway, you're going to get the biggest star available. And I hadn't reached that caliber yet. I was realistic about it, and I let it go and didn't think about it.
"And then later, I was thinking, 'Well, I'm going to retire. I've been acting for 30 years. And I have all these glorious reviews and memories and photos, but I have no record of my performance.' So I thought, even despite my age, I would like to do a film. I would like to have something I could say, 'That was mine,' and 'That was what I did with my life.' "
She found Choice Films partners Summer Crockett Moore and Tony Glazer.
"They said, 'We need new material.' And then, just out of the blue, I thought, 'That never went on Broadway. I wonder if that's available?' And we went in search of it. Found the playwright. Found him eager to actually make it into a film script for us. And, after much negotiating, we were able to get him to do that," Bayless said. "We were very happy with the product he came up with - and excited."
Though she's had smaller roles on film, this is Bayless' first lead role. The actress said she couldn't be happier to be working in Lewiston, which is also making a big screen debut in "Morning Sun."
"Lewiston has won my heart," Bayless said. "Not just the fact that it has the most charming architecture and it has a little bit of everything, but it's all in this flavor that is just delicious.
"It's so refreshing after Manhattan. It has sort of an easygoing (spirit). ... It just feels homey. It feels loving. And the people, I've just been so impressed with. I really have."
Bayless smiled as she recounted showing the village to her social media circles.
"I have been advertising your town, in fact, because I keep putting up pictures," she said. " 'Look at this! Look at this!' And getting lots of responses. 'Oh, yes, that's beautiful.' So, I love Lewiston. I really do."
Bayless plays Mary, the matriarch of the misguided "Morning Sun" family.
"Mary is very troubled," Bayless said. "Something very tragic has happened to her - and to her entire family - but most particularly to her. And her reaction to this tragedy branches off to affect everyone involved. It's a very powerful role, and very challenging, because she goes to great depths and kind of pretty high highs, too."
Lance Henriksen sits in front of the Lewiston waterfront.
Bayless' on-screen husband is a legend in the world of science fiction. "Aliens," "Pumpkinhead" and "Millennium" star Lance Henriksen portrays Richard, who is better known as "Dicky."
"The character I'm playing in this, he's reached the end of his rope, in terms of family life," Henriksen said. "You know, some of the most dangerous people in the world are people that are older. Because they have nothing to lose!"
"Morning Sun" is a dark comedy - a genre Henriksen admitted is somewhat out of his wheelhouse.
"I never thought I would do a comedy, because I don't think I'm funny!" he said. "I just think that situations are funny. I love situations. Wherever I am, I'm always zeroing situations. ... I thrive on situations and other people's take on life. I thrive on that. That's what acting is. Acting is 50 percent talking, 50 percent listening."
He, too, was aware of "Morning Sun" prior to signing on for the movie adaptation.
"I love this script," Henriksen said. "When I read it, I went, 'This is a play.' But it had been transitioned into this movie script - and very well done.
"The dialogue is excellent. Excellent. And I thought, 'Well, I'm very excited about this.' I felt like I had fallen into something wonderful."
Henriksen said Lewiston was an added bonus.
"This place is perfect," he explained. "The house that we're working in (the Barton Hill mansion), and all the locations are just right on. That's easy to say after the fact, but it's hard to do."
"I know that they're going to be coming back to Lewiston to make more movies. There's no doubt in my mind," Henriksen said. "There are so many locations here. Lewiston has a quality - it could be Virginia; it could be anywhere in the world, depending on the time of year that we're here."
Chasty Ballesteros at the Barton Hill mansion.
Television star Chasty Ballesteros was the last actor to land in Lewiston. She arrived during an unusually warm stretch of weather and was surprised at what she found.
"It's so funny," she said. "I've flown into small towns, and I expected this to be a really small town. But coming into the airport, the airport's beautiful. And it's not tiny. ... It's beautiful, and to be right by the border, the waters. I'm Canadian, so, just to know that, literally, you could swim across - not legally (laughs). It's just awesome that you can see across.
"It's beautiful. This town is just so beautiful."
Ballesteros has appeared on "American Horror Story," "Modern Family" and "The Newsroom." In "Morning Sun," she plays Yuan, who is dating Brandon (Neal Bledsoe), and meeting his flawed family.
"They've been together for a little bit. They're progressing in their relationship. ... Potentially going to get married. He has some of his own issues that he has to deal with," Ballesteros said. "He has to deal with some stuff at home, and he's kind of ... more introverted about that kind of stuff. A little bit more private.
"She is his future, and I feel like he needs to kind of deal with a lot of the stuff from his past in order to move forward. I'm his catalyst to move on."
Ballesteros said she appreciated the storyline, because it's "so real and so raw in the way that there are such family dynamics. And this (family), even though it's a bit dysfunctional, it's real. And that's what really appealed to me.
"I know families like this. I just love the comedy with it - the little hints of comedy here and there - and that there's still a story to be told."
Though some will have seen "Morning Sun" on stage, Henriksen said the theatrical version "is becoming so well done that, even if you read it, you wouldn't know until you see it what it's like. Because film is different than a play. It's much more intimate."
And having a small cast, Bayless said, provides each actor with a unique platform to perform.
"What I like about this whole process is that each of the characters has their moment," she said. "It's not like one person takes it all. Each character has a time within this film when it is their moment. And Mary definitely has hers, which are usually more dramatic. But the balance of the light and the dark is what really makes it effective."
Bayless called "Morning Sun" her "swan song." She doubles as a producer and said she hopes the film will find placement at film festivals next year.
"All of which I will be participating in!" Bayless said.
No matter where the "Morning Sun" takes her, "This has been an ideal place to film, and I will always have enormous fond feelings for Lewiston," Bayless said. "That's why I advertise it on Facebook (laughs). You must come here!"