As with many first-time filmmakers, Logan Marshall-Green found a story that channeled both his passions and his personal life.
“I was lost as a dad,” Marshall-Green said about the inspiration for Adopt a Highway, his drama about a paroled felon who navigates some morally complex territory after finding an abandoned baby in a dumpster.
While such a story provided catharsis during Marshall-Green’s rough transition into fatherhood, the veteran actor decided to pair it to the struggles of ex-convicts trying in good faith to integrate back into society despite numerous obstacles.
“I have a lot of passion for people who are flawed and misunderstood. The California penal system is the worst in the world. I wanted to tell one of their stories,” Marshall-Green said during the South by Southwest Film Festival. “They’re just ejected back. They don’t give you a rulebook. I felt a lot of compassion for these men and women.”
His character-driven screenplay follows the soft-spoken Russell (Ethan Hawke), recently released after spending two decades in prison (the legitimacy of which is later questioned) and working a fast-food job when he makes the aforementioned discovery during a chilly night.
Rather than calling the police, he stumbles through caring for the infant himself, sensing a mutually beneficial opportunity for emotional fulfillment. Except that his parenting skills are severely lacking, despite the good intentions.
“I was trying to challenge myself to use my heart a little more,” Marshall-Green said. “I tend to use a little bit of my darker and more intense side as an actor, and I just wanted to get away from that.”
Rather than star in the film himself, Marshall-Green (Prometheus) wrote the lead role specifically for Hawke, who also signed on as a producer. So did prolific genre veteran Jason Blum, who collaborated with the director when he starred in the 2018 thriller Upgrade.
Although Marshall-Green, 42, felt comfortable as a rookie filmmaker while on set, he found greater challenges during postproduction, such as editing and music. That’s where Hawke became a mentor of sorts.
“This needed real chance-taking,” Marshall-Green said. “It was a huge learning experience for me.”
Hawke also suggested Marshall-Green reach out to Grammy-winning country artist Jason Isbell, who agreed to compose his debut film score.
“It guided us in a new direction. Jason knew exactly what this story wanted to be,” Marshall-Green said. “The score becomes a bit of a character, guiding [Russell] back to his roots. I think it’s a guardian angel, in a way.”