Here's the story: Stella and Dot, two seniors who've been in a relationship for 31 years, drive from a nursing home in Maine to Nova Scotia in order to be legally married. Dot is blind, and Stella begins to wonder about their future, whether she'll be able to continue to care for Dot as they get older.
At its heart it's a road movie, though in a special subgenre, maybe. With both Atlantic Canada and gender issues in its descriptors, one imagines it has both Candy Mountain and Transamerica in its creative DNA, an amazing and unlikely combination of antecedents.
This is Thom Fitzgerald's new project, Cloudburst, which he staged as a play at Plutonium Playhouse in April. Now a film shooting in Halifax, Lunenburg, Grand Pre and other locations around the province, it stars frequent Fitzgerald collaborator, Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis (3 Needles, Moonstruck) as Stella, and Oscar winner Brenda Fricker (Stone of Destiny, My Left Foot) as Dot. Clare, Nova Scotia, native Ryan Doucette played a hitchhiker named Prentiss in the theatrical version, and Fitzgerald brought him aboard the film in the same role.
"He's a modern dancer from Lower Economy who got picked up by these two women," says Doucette of Prentiss, on the phone from the set outside Canning. "He was dancing in New York and he's just going back to see his fam." The longtime couple "pick him up on the road and he sticks with them. He figures out who they are and what their story is, basically. He's this really awkward third wheel."
Doucette is a 26-year-old comedian and mime who has performed on TV and in theatre, including his one-man physical comedy show Ryan Doucette: Première Ronde. His English theatre debut was in Vimy at Eastern Front Theatre in 2008. This is his first feature-film role, and he's clearly thrilled to have it, working for Fitzgerald.
"It's been great," says Doucette. "He's such a cool director. He tells me exactly what he wants and he's very easy to work with. He has a very dry sense of humour, which is fun."
Anyone who caught the play will know what to expect when the film is released, says Doucette, as the cinematic version of the script deviates little from the theatrical. Working with Dukakis and Fricker, two performers with such a wealth of experience in front of the camera, has also been a great learning experience for the neophyte film actor.
"It's just a joy, they just help me out every day," he says. "They're very patient, and help me understand. It ups my game by so much."
In order to help him work out the scenes, the leads suggested a series of different approaches, including to do it in French first. "They know I'm a very physical-based person," so they suggested to him, "you don't give a shit about the text, figure it out with your body so you'll know what to do then."
One of things Doucette especially appreciates is that though his character is straight, he never has any preconceptions or discomfort in joining this same-sex couple on their journey to Canadian legal matrimony.
"That's the cool part, I found. He doesn't have any judgment whatsoever. And they don't judge him, really, for what he does or the way he is," says the actor. "I think that's the first time he's ever got that. You know, he's the small-town boy, wanted to be a modern dancer. He didn't want to be the mechanic or plumber or whatever."