Logan Marshall-Green Explores Directing Path With ‘Adopt A Highway’

"Adopt a Highway" director/writer Logan Marshall-Green. Photo: RLJE Films
Actor Logan Marshall-Green has carved out creatively enriching career in cinema (Upgrade, The Invitation) and television (Damnation, Quarry), and as a debut director he brings a subtle and nuanced hand to Adopt a Highway. During the interview, he talked about working with Adopt a Highway’s Ethan Hawke (lead actor) and Jason Isbell (score), his love for Tender Mercies and filmmaker Michael Haneke (Amour, Caché), and why the acclaimed Quarry isn’t exactly dead and buried.

Ethan Hawke in “Adopt a Highway.” (RLJE Films)

Adopt a Highway centers on Russ Millings (Ethan Hawke), a man who struggles with adjusting to civilian life after spending 21 years in prison (he received a 3rd strike conviction for possessing an ounce of marijuana). Working as a dishwasher at a fast food restaurant, Millings’ life is profoundly altered after he finds an abandoned baby in a dumpster.

All those years in jail has left Russ ill-equipped to deal with people, so caring for a baby is entirely out of the question. That being said, family and love is rarely a predictable or preordained thing, and his journey towards a more fulfilling life may be just under his nose.

Director/writer Logan Marshall-Green refreshingly avoids cliche and mawkish sentiment in his humanistic tale, and coupled beautifully rendered work from Hawke and Elaine Hendrix (as an inquisitive stranger who befriends Russ), Adopt a Highway is a tale I won’t soon forget.

Grammy winning artist Jason Isbell, whose musicianship and songwriting has few peers, crafted the score and Marshall-Green also provides a meticulous touch to his visual compositions. Also included in the Q&A is a brief and tantalizing comments regarding his past series Quarry and the new video game Telling Lies (which I have recently downloaded on iOS and will post a review of the game later this week).

Director/writer Logan Marshall-Green, “Adopt a Highway.” (RLJE Films)
How vital was it to have Ethan Hawke serve as your lead in Adopt A Highway?

Getting Ethan Hawke was essential. Certainly when Ethan said he was interested, we hit the moon because that’s who I wanted.

And then I needed to find out ‘well wait a minute, does Ethan see Russell Millings the same way I do?’ Within five minutes not only did I know I was going to be able to orphan this role to him – he was going to take it and elevate it like he does all of his roles in ways beyond I could ever imagine as a writer or director.

Can you talk about the brilliant stroke of having Jason Isbell as the person doing your score? He adds another layer to your story with his own gifts as a musician and as a songwriter. 

I’m so glad that you mentioned Jason Isbell because his score has become a character in the movie. It’s almost like a guardian angel to Russell. It almost comments on it with its beauty and its simplicity. Jason Isbell was not the original intention. In fact, we had a beautiful electronic score from Tim Hecker, one of my all time favorite musicians ,and he did everything I asked him to, but it simply wasn’t elevating the film. 

To bring it full circle, it was only through Ethan’s suggestion that I throw just a solo guitar at the character and see what happens. In seconds, boom – it came to life. We’re finding now who was going to be that storyteller sonically and once Jason Isbell showed an interest, it was a no brainer. And then, the greatest thing, happened. Jason Isbell introduced the film to me and the rest was history to me in many ways. A lot of that is because of Ethan as a leader and Ethan’s understanding of music which is far beyond mine. 

Sure enough here we are with Jason Isbell, whether he knows it or not, being a character in this (film).

Ethan Hawke in “Adopt a HIghway.” (RLJE Films)
Was this screenplay, which seems to come from a very organic and nuanced place, a challenge to write?

Well it wasn’t a challenge to write the screenplay. In fact, when I’m writing I’m having a blast, otherwise I’m not writing.

That said, I knew what I was doing when I was writing it without any guns, any explosions, any sex. I knew I did not want any of those tropes that we lean so heavily to tell stories in a dynamic way.

I knew I wanted my dynamics to be in character, in purpose and in framing. I locked that frame off. Michael Haneke is a huge influence to me. In writing it, I already knew the eye of the camera and I also knew that I was writing a story about a baby. Having done this for 20 years, yes there’s the saying you don’t act with animals and babies and there’s a reason – they’re hard.

I won the lottery when I found Sarah and her twins (Savannah and Everly Sucher) who would play Ella because I wasn’t auditioning kids really. All I cared about was the mom or the dad. Whoever it was going to be and I needed the twins who we were going to use to not be their first born so there wasn’t going to be a sense of preciousness. There was a sense, just like everybody else, of rolling your sleeves up and ‘let’s keep this baby in frame.’ Because I knew that was our CGI budget, and I demanded that unknown variable to be on set every day with Ethan.

Ethan’s a father of five. He knows what he’s doing. The beauty of Ethan’s performance is making it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Ethan knows exactly what to do with a baby. It was about getting out of his way and getting out of the baby’s way and just taking what we get.

Yes, there are moments that are written where Russell leans over the baby, keys fall out of his shirt, the baby reaches out and grabs the key. That’s written, but unless you have a mom, a crew, and a lead actor who can give you that preparation and time, you don’t have the luck. That’s all you are relying on with shooting with babies – and that’s luck.

One of our CinemAddicts listeners is a huge fan of Dark Blue and Quarry. He wanted to ask you if you were disappointed with their cancellations or if, in general, you were just appreciative of the opportunity.

Hey man I’m always thankful and fortunate to be who I am and be given the jobs that I’ve been given for 20 years. I am the most fortunate and grateful actor you will ever find – truly.

That doesn’t mean though that I don’t treat every job like a job. Like work. I am there for a reason. I’ve earned my stripes, but that said I don’t see them as cancelled – do you know what I mean? The stories are just unfinished. 

Let me throw a bone to your listener – I love Mac Conway. I love playing Mac Conway which is the lead in Quarry and I don’t believe Mac Conway’s stories are finished. 

And I will leave it at that. I won’t say anything more.

Ethan Hawke and Elaine Hendrix in “Adopt a Highway.” (RLJE Films)
There is a section in the film where Russell (Ethan Hawke) and Diane (Elaine Hendrix) talk about their favorite films. Diane mentions The Year of Living Dangerously and Russell cites Predator. Can you name one of your favorite films and what is it about that film that speaks to you?

One of my all time favorite films is Tender Mercies. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to make this film with Blumhouse. They essentially said ‘this is like our Tender Mercies’ and that’s how I wrote it. They literally chose the film that I had thought of. So it was an easy answer.

I love Tender Mercies because of its simplicity. (Also) anything Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) has directed is pretty much destination for me. 

That’s not to say though that I wasn’t brought up watching Predator. For me, I was too much of a jock to hang out with the theater kids and I was too much of a theater brat to hang out with the jocks. I land somewhere in between.

That’s why movies like Predator and The Year of Living Dangerously exist in the same sentence for me.

‘That spectrum, that dichotomy exists in me. I have a real love of the classics. I’ve been raised buy an incredible thinker/feminist and lover of all things theater in my mom. So while I can quote Shakespeare, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see Carl Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger tearing up an alien. 

I love all stories. That’s why I’m going to watch Scorsese and that’s why I’m going to watch Marvel. Everybody’s got an opinion. No one’s right and no one’s wrong. Why are we not figuring this out? I don’t understand. Why are we all going to our corners and arming ourselves and not coming out and tapping each other on the nose with a boxing glove? Why are we going to our corners? I don’t get it, but I digress. I love film. I love all films and I love people who love films. I don’t care what films you like, I’m going to keep making mine and I hope you go to them.

Ethan Hawke and Loni Love in “Adopt A Highway.” (RLJE Films)
Thank you so much, very quickly after this interview I’m going to download Telling Lies on my iOS. Is the gaming space just another form of storytelling that you’re just willing to gamble on,  explore, and just live in?

100%. I just want to keep pushing boundaries in narrative, that’s it. As a producer and as a lead actor in Telling Lies, I’ll tell you right now that $6.99 is going to be the best money you’ve ever spent. 

Logan thank you so much for your time. Love the film and I can’t wait to play Telling Lies.

Oh man, can’t wait to hear what you think. 

100% man. Take care!

Be good man. Thanks again.

****Adopt a Highway hits theaters, On Demand and Digital on November 1. My audio interview with Logan Marshall-Green is available to our CinemAddicts Patreon members. For details on our $5 catch all tier, go to patreon.com/cinemaddicts.