Shana Feste finished the screenplay for Boundaries before she told her father that the main character was, in fact, based on him.
That character is a drug-dealing ex-con who abandoned his daughter and has been estranged for years. With that in mind, the real-life dad only had one question — who’s playing him?
“My father has been in and out of prison most of his life and married six times. He’s a total rascal,” Feste said during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. “He’s incredibly funny and sharp, so he makes a great antihero. I really wanted to explore some of our relationship. As scary as that is, I’m glad I did it.”
She also directed the lightly comic story of reconciliation and family dysfunction centered on Laura (Vera Farmiga), a single mother whose pot-dealing father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), is kicked out of another nursing home, prompting a cross-country relocation in a vintage car with Laura’s teenage son (Lewis MacDougall) in tow. Along the way, Jack’s insistence on taking pit stops gradually reveals secrets about their relationship.
Feste (Country Strong) grew up in California but has extensive ties to Texas. She attended graduate school in Austin and spent several childhood summers on a farm in Kilgore. A handful of family members live in the Dallas area.
Her father went to prison for marijuana trafficking and for cheating casinos, among other crimes, with part of the proceeds going to college funds for his six children — by his six wives.
Their connection has always been strained, with bad memories outshining the good ones, so the semiautobiographical screenplay became a source of catharsis for Feste. Still, her father was supportive of the project, and even plays a cameo role.
“During my childhood, I was always so happy to see him. We’d spend the weekend together and rent 15 movies. He’d never censor my movies. So I was 4 years old watching The Godfather. That was something we always shared,” she said. “Then there were the ordinary moments when you just wanted your dad to watch your horrible soccer game, and he was never there. When he was with me, it was amazing, and when he was gone, it was kind of heartbreaking, which is a tricky balance for a young girl growing up.
“I think I had a lot of resentment and some anger that I never got to express, and this film was a way of me expressing that.”
Feste, 41, said Laura is an “exaggerated” version of herself, although she shares the character’s affinity for rescuing animals — a trait she acquired after watching her father take in strays during cross-country road trips. She has about eight animals at home.
Meanwhile, she said the casting process for young Henry was extensive, featuring mostly American actors. They wound up choosing Scotland native MacDougall (A Monster Calls) without even knowing if he could handle an American accent.
“Henry is different from anybody I had done before,” MacDougall said. “[Plummer] is such a legend, and I was a bit intimidated and star-struck at first. We had a lot of scenes with just the two of us, and he really made me feel at ease.”