'Morning Sun' cast embraced by Lewiston
Actors enjoying village's restaurants
By Joshua Maloni
"I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me."
- Sally Field, accepting the Actress in a Leading Role Oscar at the 1984 Academy Awards
Lewiston has incredible historical significance, adorable shops, a first-rate music venue and some of the country's top restaurants.
It is a world-class destination.
Or so we think.
How does Lewiston really stack up with much larger and more famous villages, towns and cities? Is our stuff really that good, or is it just good to us?
Well, in 2010, highly touted TV foodie Adam Richman brought his hit "Man V. Food" series to Lewiston after he heard about The Silo Restaurant's "Haystack" sandwich. Richman enjoyed the sandwich so much, he told Philadelphia to take sub-making notes.
Just two years later, Lewiston won the online portion of the Rand McNally-USA Today 2012 Best Small Towns in America "Best for Food" contest, ultimately finishing in the competition's top 5.
The following Christmas, in 2013, Lewiston was featured in national publications when its historical association commemorated the 200th anniversary of the burning of Lewiston with a "Flames Through Lewiston" re-enactment and dedication of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument.
Earlier this month, New York City-based Choice Films announced it would shoot the movie "Morning Sun" in the Barton Hill mansion and at a handful of Village of Lewiston locations, including Apple Granny and Artpark.
"When we came to magical Lewiston, we immediately fell in love with it," director Tony Glazer said at a kickoff press conference. "We came initially just to see the house - the mansion. But on the way we said, 'Wait a minute. What's going on in the town?' It was just the perfect town for us.
"So we immediately fell in love and felt that it sort of captured all the elements of the movie. We even changed elements in the script to accommodate things that are iconic in Lewiston."
Glazer and "Morning Sun" producer Summer Crockett Moore weren't the only crew members to fall in love with Lewiston. Three of the film's stars - Neal Bledsoe, Diana DeGarmo and Danny Pudi - each said Lewiston is, indeed, a special destination.
Bledsoe said everyone in the village has treated him "Magnificently."
"Especially The Brickyard - and Carmelo's, too," he said Thursday. "There's a lot of good stuff; a lot of good food; a lot of good places to hang out in Lewiston. I wish I got more time to see it, but what little time I've had to really spend some time around I've enjoyed."
"It's great," DeGarmo said. "At first, I felt like I was in a movie within a movie (laughs). It's so picturesque and beautiful. And being on the water is so lovely. Everyone's very kind and nice. It's been fun discovering all those different restaurants and little shops up and down Center Street in between filming."
"We are enjoying ourselves," she added.
Pudi said, "I'm getting a nice taste of autumn here, and it's been super fun. I feel like I'm making friends left and right. I love it."
Danny Pudi on set at Apple Granny.
Having been spotted several times at the Orange Cat Coffee Company, Pudi has become an honorary Lewistonian.
"Everyone is very, very friendly and welcoming. I've gotten stories," Pudi said. "I had a woman the other day, like, literally, for about 30 minutes, tell me the entire history of Lewiston. She told me all about the War of 1812 and Tuscarora and the Underground Railroad. So, for me, this is fantastic.
"And I've never been to this area. ... I came here once on a family vacation, years ago - not to Lewiston, but just to Niagara Falls. To actually spend time in a city like this, it's been really, really, really lovely.
"It's got all this history, of course, but everyone couldn't have been nicer to me. And, you know, I'm a weird guy. So, that's really nice. That says something about the people of Lewiston."
Plus, the food's great, he said.
"That's one of the biggest things," Pudi said. "A couple of things that I'm going to take away with me: One, it's just a really quaint, lovely town. And being here in the fall is fantastic. The No. 1 thing is I love running. And this area is phenomenal for running. I've been running through Artpark and I ran the Niagara Trail. Seeing all the colors changing along the Niagara River - on both sides - and staring at Canada and looking out at that, it's majestic and beautiful and lovely.
"So, the running here is stellar - the trails - I've really enjoyed that.
"Second thing is the food. The food is really great - especially for the size of this town. I'm so impressed. Carmelo's is fantastic. I've eaten there so much. But across the board. ...
"Orange Cat has been like my lifeline here. I'm pretty much just pouring their coffee on my body all day. Brickyard. All these places have been really great. DiCamillo - that bakery ... just that pizza bread!
"I've got to say, on the whole, it's just been a very, very good experience, and the food is fantastic.
"They're making it easy for us here."
Jennifer Pauly, president of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, said, "The Village of Lewiston is often said to be the best-kept secret. The chamber would love for it to not be a secret! We are happy that the film crew is really taking in their experience here.
"Visitors fall in love with this region and it's easy to see why. The movie industry is great for this area, and I know our businesses are very appreciative of the new money it brings in. Funds are spent at local restaurants, accommodations, the hardware store and more. Not only is money being spent, but the cast and crew also are able to meet the great people that work in our local businesses.
"We hope this leads to future productions realizing the richness in history, architecture, landscape and culture we have in this area, and having them choose the Niagara River Region for their next project."
"It's a such a great town, and such an idyllic place to live and to work - and to think that I'm from (in the movie)," Bledsoe said. "You can't help but fall in love with it, in a way.
"I hope that that love and that kind of ownership that we feel over the city is communicated in the film."
Danny Pudi (Photo by Dan Busta)
Bledsoe described "Morning Sun" as "a black comedy about family. It's the story of coming home and understanding what kind of family you've got."
Pudi said, "It has this sort of evolving tone. I guess that's what it is. It's this tone that goes back and forth from these wonderfully comedic moments - almost farce-like circumstances - to like really deep-layered family drama. For me, that's always fun to play with."
DeGarmo explained, "The story is about a family that has gone through a crisis. Their son is coming back for the first time in a very long time. And the comedic drama that ensues (centers on) the family kind of being reunited for the first time in a really long time and rehashing all their problems again."
"It's a great story about family and, luckily, Lewiston is shown in the most beautiful way possible," she added. "The Barton Hill house looks tragically gorgeous. I'm excited that Lewiston gets to be, definitely, a prime character on its own."
At the heart of the film is Bledsoe's character, Brandon.
"The character Brandon in this film really appealed to me, because he's somebody who, I think, a lot of people wouldn't like to admit that they are, but somebody that's quite relatable in a lot of ways for how he behaves," Bledsoe said. "He's a man-child. He's somebody that hasn't buried the hatchet and really kind of become an adult with his parents. Even though he's in his 30s ... he still has the same sensibility and the same kind of viewpoint on his parents that he would've had when he was a teenager. And I think a lot of people don't grow out of that.
"So, what Brandon does is he comes home every time, and he's the kind of guy that looks around his parents' house and catalogs the items that will one day be his."
Bledsoe said Brandon is "glossing over" life's negative moments and has an unrealistic idea of who should support his endeavors.
Pudi gets to inject some humor as Brandon's friend, Adam.
"For me, what's really interesting is I play this character who's going through this crisis, in his head, and then I enter this other environment where they're undergoing a whole other set of crises, and what it does is it really just kind of puts your life in perspective," Pudi said. "It checks you a little bit. And I think sometimes it takes that. (Sometimes) it's a change of scenery and looking at different trees for a while to realize that things change and you're going to be OK if you just put yourself in a different place. But in this situation, it's one of those moments where you sort of look around and realize how many blessings you have. But sometimes it takes being uprooted from your own life and going into somebody else's. And that's kind of what happens in this movie."
"I like stuff that makes me think, that makes me laugh, and that makes me sort of cry," Pudi added. "I feel like this film has a lot of those elements. It's your classic family reunion."
The cast members had high praise for Glazer and Crockett Moore.
"It was a great script," Bledsoe said. "I had worked with Summer and Tony about five years ago on a feature film that was his debut. A film called 'Junction.' We had such a positive experience - it won a few awards - and really felt like we walked away with something we could all be proud of.
"That's a really rare experience to have in this business. I think that, when you find people that you like to work with, and people that you can sort of see eye to eye with artistically, you tend to want to make more (things) with them. Because you recognize how rare that is."
Pudi added, "If I had to say what's one characteristic that I have noticed or enjoyed is Tony's calmness. I mean, we're halfway through this film. I haven't seen him freak out once. His demeanor on set - his whole demeanor and calmness and confidence - everyone feeds off it. It's like a really chill, good vibe.
"I would say good vibes. I'm going to call him Tony 'Good Vibes' Glazer."
"That's him and Summer," Pudi said. "They both ... create this really wonderful, calm, Zen-like energy on set. That, to me, has been really lovely - especially for a piece like this that has all these layers and all these elements that go from ensemble comedy to ensemble drama. It's nice to have someone who's sort of like in the middle overseeing it all, but keeping everyone sort of in this nice, balanced state."
Right now, producers are calling the Lewiston-set film "Morning Sun." The movie is based on playwright Jonathan Caren's work, "The Morning the Sun Fell Down," and that is the film's title on IMDb.
Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano, left, discusses "Morning Sun" details with actor Neal Bledsoe and director Tony Glazer.
Impact on Lewiston
Never before has Lewiston been such a prominent part of a major motion picture. As such, the "Morning Sun" filming will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of area residents.
"It's cool to be part of something that's bigger than just the script," Pudi said. "That's nice. It's such a good feeling to be part of something that is affecting people in a really wonderful way. I think that's all we could ever ask for as an artist."
Orange Cat proprietor Michael Broderick said Lewiston has benefitted from the "Morning Sun" publicity, as people have come to the village to try and get a peek of the actors.
More importantly, "When they first came to town, some of the actors ... we didn't know how it might be, but, honestly, the whole cast and crew, they're all so friendly and nice and hanging out all the time.
"When I popped in the store today, the director ... was there with a group of his people, and I overheard, 'How many times you been here today?' And they had been here four times already today - and that was at 10 o'clock. They really are just becoming part of the community, which is fantastic, because they're super-friendly. And it's great for business, too, because it gets people talking, and we see it coming through Twitter ... people that are catching a glimpse of something like this happening in town."
"Morning Sun" is tentatively set to be released Sept. 17, 2016. The film also stars Lance Henriksen, Chasty Ballesteros and Joanna Bayless.
Danny Pudi, seated, poses with Orange Cat employees (from left) Gina Munno, David Loraine and Wendy Park. (Photo courtesy of Michael Broderick)
Actors plan next projects
Actor Neal Bledsoe can be seen in the upcoming Amazon Prime series "The Man in the High Castle," which tells the story of a very different world - one in which the Nazis won World War II.
The show is based on a novel by acclaimed author Philip K. Dick and produced by "Alien" director Ridley Scott.
"Any chance you get to do something that was written by Phillip K. Dick, you want to jump at it, right?" Bledsoe said. "His resume is pretty impeccable.
"It's smart; it's cerebral; it forces you to kind of think about the world in a different way. The supposition that the Axis Powers have won the Second World War, and what that does to the American people, is a pretty great bit of world to play in."
"We didn't have the sunny Eisenhower, James Dean, sort of rock 'n' roll days," he said.
"Any time you get to ... start to think like that, critically, about all those changes, all those given circumstances that would affect you as a person, it's just such an incredible opportunity," Bledsoe added.
He called it a "great honor" to work with series star Rufus Sewell and the "great talent" behind the camera.
"I had a blast," he added.
Bledsoe also is working with Sports Illustrated and the Arena Football League on a behind-the-scenes project.
Diana DeGarmo, who first came to fame as runner-up on season three of "American Idol," is juggling acting and singing opportunities.
"I just got off the road; I was actually up here in Buffalo ... this time almost exactly last year. I was on the road for almost two years with 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' And that just ended back in May," she said. "I finally got back home, and my husband ("Idol" alumni Ace Young) and I are building a studio at our house. And we're both working on new material individually, which is exciting.
"I hope that maybe it will be out in the near future, but we shall see. So, definitely new music is in the works."
Comedic actor Danny Pudi can be seen alongside Jon Heder, Kevin Pollak and Iqbal Theba in the comedy "The Tiger Hunter." Depending on which Hollywood report you read, there may be another season of "Community," the former NBC sitcom he starred in as the offbeat yet lovable Abed. His co-stars there included Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Donald Glover and Alison Brie.
" 'Community' ... no one can describe it," Pudi said. " 'Community' is the greatest gift (laughs).
"For me, and my career, it changed everything. It provided so much for me - just the platform alone. But for my family, too. So much changed. And I learned so much. And I really got to work with a wildly diverse and ferociously talented group of people. And I know I will probably never have that experience again.
"It was just challenging and wonderful in every possible way. It's one of those experiences that, when you're in it, you're just, 'Whoa.' It's all-consuming. And then, two weeks later, you want to go right back into it.
"So, yeah, I think the answer is I don't know if I can ever get rid of 'Community.' I think I always want more. I always want more 'Community.' "
Follow writer Joshua Maloni on Twitter @joshuamaloni