Writer/director Todd Solondz, a hero of American independent cinema thanks to the edgy, modern classics "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness," is scheduled to be at the Sarasota Opera House today to attend the screening of his latest feature, "Dark Horse."
The Sarasota Film Festival centerpiece selection stars relatively unknown character actor Justin Gelber ("Boardwalk Empire") as a thirty-something suffering from arrested development. He's obsessed with collecting ThunderCats toys and still lives with his parents.
They're played by Hollywood greats Christopher Walken ("The Deer Hunter," "Wedding Crashers") and Mia Farrow ("Rosemary's Baby," "Hannah and Her Sisters").
"Hellboy" and "Legally Blonde" actress Selma Blair, who will soon be seen opposite Charlie Sheen in the new FX comedy series "Anger Management," is the beautiful but troubled woman the protagonist pursues.
"There's always a lot of pressure to cast someone who is well known but it was liberating to cast someone unknown," Solondz said of Gelber, who's also schedule to appear at today's screening. "He had auditioned on a previous movie of mine and was more suitable than any stars that would have been considered for the role."
As for Blair, she's basically reprising her role from Solondz's 2001 film "Storytelling."
"It is kind of a sequel for her, her character is the same one, but 10 years older," the filmmaker said when reached by phone Thursday in New York City. "I was just happy she was available."
Walken's appearance should come as a surprise to theatergoers.
For starters, the Oscar-winning actor will be wearing a wig.
"In his case, he has such a larger than life quality, I did want to make him much more ordinary," Solondz said. "I gave him a toupee ... everything was more muted to make him more regular and middle class and he was game.
"I think, in his words, he said he was, 'Just happy to be playing a human being;' since he's often called to play oddball characters."
Farrow, who had not previously been seen in a film since 2008's "Be Kind Rewind," initially told Solondz she had retired from acting.
"But her son Ronan is a big admirer of my work and pressed her to take the job, ending her retirement," he said. "I was very fortunate. It was a total joy to work with her."
Details: 7:30 p.m. April 20, Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets: $20. Information: 941-364-9514 or www.sarasotafilmfestival.com
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.