Director Rob Perez talks Josh Hartnett, Minneapolis life, new movie

Perez made nobody while living in Hartnett's Kenwood house

In the late '90s, a girl broke my heart and I decided the best thing to do to get over her was to steer clear of women for the period of Lent.

The plan was to keep a detailed journal and turn that into my first novel. Unfortunately, the unabridged first draft came in just shy of 13 pages. A bit shorter than any novel I had ever read.

Not having any contacts in the magazine world, I sat on it for a few years until a producer friend of mine asked if I had any ideas. I told him about the Lent thing and he liked it.

The movie gods smiled on us, and two years later we had ourselves a real, live major motion picture called 40 Days and 40 Nights.

During the filming, I became good pals with the leading man, Josh Hartnett. People sometimes ask me what it's like to be friends with a movie star, but the truth is, it really depends on which movie star.

Some are incredibly self-obsessed, not very bright, and make lame jokes. Worse, they think their lame jokes are funny because they surround themselves with people who laugh indiscriminately at all of their jokes. This group's not too much fun to run with.

But some movie stars are curious, intelligent, and actually tell pretty funny jokes. Josh belongs to the latter category, because he keeps people around him who only laugh at funny jokes.

I'm convinced another reason he remains grounded is that he's from, and stays connected to, Minnesota.

That's part of what drew me here. After 12 years of living in Los Angeles, I was in need of grounding myself.

After starring in a couple of films and making a bit of money, the first thing Josh did was buy a house in Minneapolis. Naturally, the first thing I did was invite myself over for a drink. I came out and saw the Twin Cities through his eyes.

I had blown through before, but never taken the time to really appreciate it. This place was hopping. It had all the good urban stuff—culture, arts, ethnic food—surrounded on all sides by actual nature. There are lakes right in the middle of the city! There were fish in the lakes, birds in the air, rabbits on the ground. It was like that damn ride at Disneyland, without the annoying music.

But the biggest thing for me was the people. They were open-minded, kind-hearted, and liked to laugh. This was, in the words of Sammy Cahn, my kind of town.

A few years later, one of my closest friends, Ryan Miller, lead singer of the band Guster, and I decided to write a screenplay together. We set it in Minneapolis.

Smaller in scope and ambition (and budget) than my previous studio fare, this was conceived for a first-time director—namely, me. A few years later, I found my leading man doing a one-man show off Broadway. Coincidentally, he was a Minneapolis native.

Oddly enough, no major players in Hollywood were interested in financing an independent comedy staring Sam Rosen, so I started flying back and forth to the Twin Cities, rattling the can, trying to raise the money here. The fat cats were interested, but I could sense that they were a bit worried I was going to take their money, move to South America, and order a lot of umbrella drinks. I had to convince the potential investors that I was here to stay. Since Hartnett was an executive producer, I texted him, asking him if I could move into his then-vacant house in Kenwood. To be honest, this next part's a bit hazy, because he either said "fine" or simply didn't say "no." The upshot being that I threw everything I had into storage, packed a car full of clothes, and moved to Minneapolis in September 2007.

Exactly two years later, we have ourselves a real, live actual minor motion picture called nobody. It's a comedy about a sculptor who's looking for inspiration, and it premieres at the State Theatre on October 1.

As with anything, some folks will dig nobody, and others not so much. But I do think most people will agree that it looks fantastic. Of course, shooting on 35mm and hiring an outstanding cinematographer helps, but the bulk of the credit has to go to the Twin Cities. In independent film, you don't have the resources to build lavish sets, so you're largely limited to locations that already exist.

Our primary location was the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Whether it's the dark room, metal shop, or, my personal favorite, the print room (overflowing with typeset letters, presses, etc.), the campus is gorgeous, and rich with creative energy. The Goth scene was shot at Theodore Wirth Park, and the vegan-revolution scene outside of Porky's on University.

Where did I shoot the scene where they recruit Lindeman (our hero) for a vegan revolution? Funny you should ask. That was shot in the alley behind the Black Forest Inn. We filmed an intellectual conversation in the parking lot of the Sunnyside Café. The interior of the Manhole, which is the name of the gay bar in the picture, was shot downstairs at the Minneapolis Eagle. The line to get into the gay bar was shot Seventh Avenue North and Third Street, where a queue of young men wait patiently to be checked off by the bouncer, move past the red velvet rope, and climb down into, well, a manhole.

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