“The Man on Her Mind,” which opens tomorrow, is screenwriter/co-director Alan Hruska’s whimsical, sunny look at two cute, eccentric loners’ budding romance, with a twist–they each have imaginary friends.
There’s another twist. Leonard (Samuel James), a ghostwriter, feels unrequited lust for book publisher Nellie (Amy McAllister); repulsed by Leonard, she reinvents him, in her mind, as Jack (also played by James), who is slicker, more self-assured, has a nicer haircut and–most importantly–wants only casual dalliances with her. Meanwhile, Leonard imagines a sweeter version of Nellie (McAllister again) who guides him on how to win the heart of the real Nellie. As Leonard tries to break down Nellie’s iciness, the two apparitions meet and worry about their ultimate fate, should Nellie and Leonard match up.
In more demented hands, Leonard and Nellie would be schizophrenics, possibly dangerous, but Hruska, who adapted the script from his 2012 play, which ran in England and featured the same four actors, has gentler ideas on his mind.
“I’ve always been interested in the interplay between imagination and happiness,” Hruska said during a recent phone interview. “Imagination is the great dream machine, one of the prime engines in obtaining happiness, and it’s a great engine for repeating happiness.”
By senior year at Yale, I realized that moviemaking was halfway to starvation and I ought to do something more practical,” Hruska remembered. “I was on my way to a seminar taught by [author] Robert Penn Warren, who wrote ‘All the King’s Men,’ and I saw the law school down the street. I went in and the dean happened to have 20 minutes free, and he said ‘I see no reason why you shouldn’t be admitted.’ It was a different era. I ended up at Cravath and started trying cases within three months. I was a lawyer for Time Inc., Westinghouse, four presidents, many cabinet ministers.”
In 2000, he continued, “There was a series of moments where I thought, ‘If I don’t get out now, I’m not gonna start making movies.'” Too old and wise for film school, he networked with key indie film producers like Jonathan Gray, Andrew Hurwitz and Mark Urman. Within three years, he’d written and directed “Nola,” starring Stephen Bauer, which became a Tribeca Film Festival darling. He followed up with “The Warrior Class” (2007) and “Reunion” (2009).
After writing the play of “Man on Her Mind,” he was invited to stage it in London and recruited local director Bruce Guthrie, who also co-directed the film version. The film was shot in a swift 14 days, in locations around New York City and Rye, New York, for under half a million. Other than nefariously hot weather, the shoot was a breeze, especially given the actors’ familiarity with the parts (all they had to change was their accents!)
“I do very few takes generally,” said Hruska. “One is usually enough for me.”
Hruska and Guthrie are slated to either shoot a film or direct a play of their next piece, “Ring Twice for Miranda,” in September 2015. Hruska described it as “sort of an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ in a post-apocalyptic world. There’s no actors attached yet, but there’s a group in London trying to put together a list.”