Rather than film the movie on the plains, where Haruf's novel is set — in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado — the crew was based in Florence, with forays into Colorado Springs and Denver. Ahead of the film's premiere today, September 29, we spoke via email with Hendrickson about his experience lending his home to filmmakers for two months.
Westword: How did Our Souls at Night find your house?
David Hendrickson: Purely by happenstance. A location manager tasked with finding a suitable home drove up our street and left a note on our door.
Why was your house chosen?
’Cause it’s our baby, the object of our love and respect. Seriously, I can’t exactly say, as that was their decision, and the witness should not speculate. It worked for the script they had in hand and for the shots they contemplated. At the beginning, they said they liked the wraparound porch. It has a kitchen big enough to film in and a nice back yard. And it wasn’t too fancy or modernized, exuding an air of genteel decadence. We were frankly a bit embarrassed by the condition of the house, as it needed a paint job (which we got around to doing this summer).
How long did filming take, and where did you live while the movie was shooting?
Filming took about two months, from early September to early November 2016, at various locations, but with numerous dates in our neighborhood. My wife and I moved out in late August, a couple of weeks before filming began. By good fortune, I was on sabbatical that fall, and spent most of that period away in Santa Fe working on a book at a friend’s house, but my family was also able to rent a house across the street from our home for the duration.
Could you tell your friends, family, etc.? If not, how did you keep the secret?
The film people didn’t want us talking about the filming to the press, so we didn’t, but the local TV stations and newspapers did a number of stories on where the filming was taking place. Of course, family and friends were greatly interested, and we had great fun telling them all about it.
Did you meet any of the actors? If so, what were your interactions with them like?
I shook Jane Fonda’s hand. She inquired if we liked what they did to the house. I said, “We did!” Jane was really sweet to the neighborhood people around the set, taking the time to engage with them.
Did you get paid? If so, do you mind telling us how much?
I thought you might ask that. You know the answers.
Did they change your house at all? If so, did they put it back together?
They painted the entry hallway and the kitchen a color that I adore. They planted lots of beautiful bushes and flowers around the house, put up attractive curtains and wallpaper. They moved our furniture out and brought in theirs for the set, then helped us move back in with ours. We kept most of the changes they made to the house and grounds, but the crew was excellent and really helpful in its restoration work.
Were your neighbors aware of the shooting, and if so, were they impacted at all?
Yes, all the neighborhood was well aware, as on many days during the filming they had a couple of city blocks closed off. Despite hearing a few complaints, most people thought it a net positive; many were thrilled to be in close proximity to the making of a movie starring Fonda and Redford. “I mean, how cool is that?” was the general sentiment. The location crew established good relations with the neighborhood. My son was able to get a job as an assistant under the location manager and learned a lot from the experience.
Had you read the book or anything by the author?
Once our house was chosen, I read the novel, which had me emotionally undone at the end. The author is an expert in the anatomy of human feeling.
Any fun stories or interesting tidbits you want to share?
We have yet to see the film. We’re having a neighborhood party to view it when it’s released on Netflix [today]. We are anxious to see how the old homestead fares!
David Hendrickson has taught in the political science department at Colorado College since 1983. His forthcoming book is called Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition, to be published December 1 by Oxford University Press.