Over the years, when filmmakers from Hollywood and elsewhere have shot in Minnesota, one of their favorite locations has been Lake Minnetonka. The most recent example was the Fox Searchlight comedy-drama movie Wilson, which was released earlier this year.
The film, which stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, was shot in several Twin Cities locations, including Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge in Spring Park, where key scenes featuring the stars were filmed in summer of 2015. Harrelson, Dern and others involved in the project were also frequently spotted at various Lake Minnetonka spots in their off-hours.
John Klick, president of Excelsior Brewing Co., hosted a visit by Harrelson, his family, and Dern one memorable evening. Harrelson, his wife Laura Louie, and their kids were living in a home on the lake they had rented from owner Jeff Phillips. “Jeff's girlfriend stopped at the brewery during the day to ask if she could sing at the open mic that night,” Klick recalls. That night, the Harrelsons showed up at the brewery, along with Laura Dern. They all had a good time, says Klick, who gave Harrelson a tour of the brewery he has operated since 2012. “Woody and his wife were super-nice, very cordial and genuinely interested in the tour.”
Actress Rachel Weber, a native of the north metro, played a waitress in a scene with Harrelson at Lord Fletcher’s. When Harrelson’s character comes to the restaurant looking for his ex, “I’m the first person he runs into,” Weber says. She landed the “very minor, supporting role” through Moore Creative Talent, a Twin Cities agency that did the local casting for the film. “A huge chunk” of the Wilson cast were Twin Cities-based actors, especially in some of the smaller parts, says Weber, who started acting as a teenager at an Anoka community theater. “A few of them came in from Hollywood and Atlanta.”
Weber has previously acted in several other films, including Personal Space, a comedy short made last year, and To Say Goodbye, an indie drama shot in 2014. She’s also done TV commercials. Wilson was her first involvement in a widely distributed film, and she was impressed by the down-to-earth friendliness of both Harrelson and Dern. She shares a fun memory of her time on set: To keep from nodding off during a long, tiring day of shooting, Weber was quietly singing the Broadway show tune “If I Were a Rich Man,” which drew a laugh from Harrelson, she recalls.
Working with stars like Harrelson and Dern is a good way to learn new acting techniques, Weber says. “The biggest thing I picked up was that, when you're on a set of that size, you have to be extremely focused,” she explains. “I also learned the power of having a director and director of photography who aren't getting stressed out.” When shooting a major film, “it is so easy to feel the time crunch involved in shooting and you can feel stress among the crew. There wasn't any of that on the Wilson set. They were able to keep everyone feeling good.”
The staff and customers at Lord Fletcher’s took everything in stride, too, Weber says. “People were cool, and respectful of [the cast and crew’s] space and their time. Woody and Laura were very friendly and warm. Laura introduced herself to me. I don't know how it could have gone any better.” The fact that Lake Minnetonka has been a popular location for film shoots is no surprise, Weber says. “The whole area is lovely,” she says.
The Lord Fletcher’s shoot included about 30 extras hired for the day. Many of them had worked on previous film shoots, but that wasn't the case for Kara Moline, a Lord Fletcher’s office manager who was cast as an extra. “We thought we were going to have to be there at 5 a.m., but we found out pretty late the night before they wouldn't need us until noon,” Moline recalls. “Then they brought us into the wardrobe trailer to try on outfits. We all filled out W-2 forms, and then it was a waiting game until about midnight.” What did she think of the finished product? “You can only see me fuzzy in the background,” she says with a bit of a smile. But for Moline and her fellow local actors, the Wilson shoot was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience.