VIRGINIA - About 30 black-clad mourners gathered, heads bowed and hands clasped, recently at Bauman-Cron Funeral Home. A large photograph of the deceased - holding a fish during happier times - hung at the front of the chapel, the same image used in the program that listed pallbearers in a looping script.
A straggler in soft-soled brown shoes, a plaid shirt and a dark green cardigan with elbow patches slid into a back row. He wore oversized glasses and a tamed version of his signature puff of white hair.
Actor Christopher Lloyd is part of a small cast and crew that has set up on the Iron Range for three weeks of filming the adaptation of the best-selling novel “I Am Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells. The project stars Lloyd (“Taxi,” “Back to the Future”), Max Records (“Where the Wild Things Are”) and Laura Fraser (“Breaking Bad”), but has also tapped the natives to fill in as extras and has used their homes, yards and businesses as locations.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Virginia mayor Larry Cuffe Jr., who added that the town has tried to accommodate the film crew when possible. He has seen Lloyd and a few other famous faces around town, he said.
“Right now, it’s a small economic boon for the community,” he said. “It gives the citizens some diversity. The people, they love it. They’re lining up for the opportunity to be an extra.”
The filmmakers planned to stay through at least Friday before moving on to Minneapolis and then returning to Ireland for post-production. The goal is to complete the movie in the fall for consideration during next year’s festival season.
Welcome to Virginia
“I am not a Serial Killer” is the story of John Wayne Cleaver (Records), a teenaged sociopath who lives in a mortuary with his mother. Cleaver is trying to stifle his bad urges when a bunch of murders occur in his small hometown. He uses what he knows, firsthand, about the inner workings of a serial killer to find the source of the grisly deaths.
The young adult thriller with a supernatural touch earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews - and it caught the attention of director Billy O’Brien, who wrote the screen adaptation.
“It’s a wonderful script,” said Dee Noah, a Minneapolis theater actor who also played Matt Dillon’s mother in “Factotum.” In this movie, she plays Lloyd’s wife.
“The boy’s story has a wonderful arc to it. When they said it was a horror story, I went ‘Ewww. If it’s a slasher, I don’t want to do that.’ I read the script and thought it was wonderful.”
The Irish filmmakers were looking for a small, snowy town in the midwest to use as a location and shopped in Ohio and Michigan before setting up in Virginia.
“Main Street is like time stood still,” said producer Nick Ryan. “It’s an amazing location.”
O’Brien said the crew has been influenced by another dark narrative, set in this region, and the Minnesotans who made it.
“Being here in Minnesota, the home of the Coens and the setting for ‘Fargo,’ is inspiring to all of us,” he told the trade publication Screen Daily.
Coates Plaza Hotel has served as headquarters. A main-level meeting room has been used for catered group dinners, and its adjoining space holds costumes. From the lobby, it’s possible to see Fraser - who played exporter Lydia Rodarte-Quayle in latter seasons of “Breaking Bad” - waiting for an elevator or to catch the guitar plucks of Max Records, who was sprawled across a couple of chairs during a break in the wardrobe area.
The filmmakers have used a handful of locations around town. On a cold night two weeks ago, they filmed an outdoor scene that attracted more vehicle traffic than the filmmakers envisioned when they picked the spot, according to Ryan.
“It was like a scene from ‘American Graffiti,’” he said. “People were just doing loops.”
There was a dance scene at the VFW, according to a blog post from an extra, and about a week-and-a-half ago, the crew filled Arynn Isaacson’s home to capture Christopher Lloyd walking through her front yard.
“I was super excited,” she said. “I didn’t think it was real.”
Isaacson, 17, said the filmmakers stopped her mother on the sidewalk and asked to use the house for the scene. They gave her a business card to prove they were serious.
“They said they picked our house because we still had our Christmas lights up and garland on the stairs,” Isaacson said.
Later that night, there was Lloyd - an ’80s pop-culture figure who wasn’t lost on the Virginia High School junior.
“‘Back to the Future’ is, like, my life,” she said.
During off-hours, the crew has gone bowling or descended on Poor Gary’s Pizza on Chestnut Street. Waitress Angie Pasch said a recent sighting of a white-haired man with oversized glasses caused some buzz among the customers.
She reported: “(They) said ‘That really looks like him.’”
Pasch wasn’t brave enough to snag a photo or autograph of Lloyd, she said. But she offered up a bit of dish:
“Wings. He loves wings,” she said.
This past Thursday was funeral day. The cast and crew worked a scene set in the chapel at Bauman Family Funeral Home and spent hours on site. Lloyd made his entry again and again. A casket was rolled out through double doors and then rolled in, so it could be rolled out for another take.
The mourners exited and re-exited.
“Nailed it,” said Steven Tedman, an 18-year-old from Palo, before taking a break with other extras in a back room with a snack table that included a spread of Goldfish crackers, vegetables, granola bars, bagels and a box of Emergen-C and handwarmers.
Tedman is a senior at Mesabi East High School and has starred in a couple of musicals. He travels with his accordion and plans to study opera after he graduates. He responded to a call for young men to serve as extras.
“I sit there and listen to your garden variety speech in a funeral home,” he said. “I do an amazing slight look to the right. This has been real neat. It’s cool being around all these big fish. I don’t get nervous - it’s just inspiration.”
After Isaacson’s home was used for a scene, the filmmakers emailed her mother about using her as an extra. She had been part of a candlelight vigil and had been filmed filing out of a church before the funeral scene. Acting isn’t really her thing - she’s been too busy in head-to-head competition with her best friend for the title of valedictorian. Still, she’s enjoyed this glimpse into the movie biz.
“You see the same people all the time,” she said. “To have famous people invade your town - it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Lifelong Iron Ranger Trenton Wytaske, 46, has been a truck driver for the past 25 years and was taking advantage of the chance to try something new. He’s always had an acting bug, he said. He would like to get work as a stuntman. For now, he was satisfied to be a part of the funeral scene.
“The adventure of it,” he said, watching the day unfold from the lobby of Bauman’s. “These people get out everywhere on the planet. It’s just something new and exciting. Something to break the monotony of what I do.”
His son, Shane Wytaske, had only told his boss that he was involved with the movie. He wanted to surprise friends and family.
“I was sort of planning on telling (people) when they watch it. ‘Hey, that’s Shane in it,’” he said.
Fraser, dressed in a dark pantsuit with a low ponytail, was friendly. She asked a member of the crew about the flower tucked into his shirt (it was his birthday) and swept through the room while eating a bowl of oatmeal. Max Records, hair grown long, hung out among the extras who described him as funny.
During off-times, Lloyd shuffled through the funeral home trailed by an assistant. He didn’t talk much, just responded to the film crew, and was not available for comment or photos. At one point, he smoked a cigarette while sitting outside on a bench.
Still, around town, he has accommodated fans looking to make a connection.
“He was nice enough to let us get a picture with him,” Isaacson said.