Jane Fonda, the famous daughter of a famous father, signed on before she knew the working title of the movie now being shot in Pittsburgh.
She plays the literary agent of Russell Crowe's character, author Jake Davis, in the drama "Fathers & Daughters." On Sunday, she was clad in a dark wig and embellished gown for a Pulitzer Prize banquet scene set in the past.
The cinematic ceremony, which coincidentally took place a day before the real honors were announced, was staged at the Omni William Penn, Downtown. The action capped a day that started at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville and moved to a bedroom suite elsewhere in the hotel.
The grand ballroom, crowned by antique crystal chandeliers, was dressed for the occasion with Pulitzer banners, round tables covered with gold-hued linens, china and floral centerpieces popping with stargazer lilies and guests in formal finery.
The two-time Oscar winner, who has written a dozen books and is still as slender as an exercise guru, is no newcomer to the publishing world. But she benefited from what she called "something really beautiful that has never happened before."
Seated next to actress Diane Kruger in a room a few turns from the set, Ms. Fonda said, "It's hard, the film's been shooting with Amanda [Seyfried] for a month, I guess, and today is Diane's last day and today was my first day.
"So, I come in, I shoot four or five small scenes and then I leave. Gabriele, the director, sent me the most fabulous email three days ago, giving me the whole backstory of my relationship with the writer that Russell Crowe plays. It was beautiful ... very, very profound and touching and generous. I'd never had a director give me that."
It had been the leading man who drew her to the project in which Pittsburgh stands in for New York, including Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope.
"I really wanted to work with him. My niece has worked with him, and my brother has worked with him," Ms. Fonda said of the "Noah" and "Gladiator" star who appeared in "Rough Magic" with Bridget Fonda and "3:10 to Yuma" with Peter Fonda.
Another lure was the director, Italian-born Gabriele Muccino, who made "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds" with Will Smith. He directs the serious drama about the prize-winning novelist who finds himself fighting against the world after an accident leaves him to raise his young daughter, Katie, on his own.
Shooting here until May 10
The story toggles between the late 1980s and present day, with Katie at ages 7 and 8 played by blue-eyed blond Kylie Rogers, 10, of Los Angeles by way of Texas and, as an adult, Ms. Seyfried.
The movie will be filming until May 10 and its title is derived, in part, from a phenomenally popular book the literary lion writes. The cast also includes Aaron Paul, Bruce Greenwood, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer ("The Help") and Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild").
The adult Katie is working toward her doctorate so she can become a psychologist, Ms. Spencer is her boss and Quvenzhane plays a patient reminiscent of her younger self.
Ms. Kruger, who portrays the aunt to Katie and sister to Jake's late wife, appears in both halves of the film. That means the 37-year-old must age 25 years for part of the movie -- some droopiness here, some additional weight there -- and those are hard years because her character is an alcoholic.
"I've never looked worse coming out of a makeup trailer," she said with a laugh. "I am not, like, a hot 60-year-old."
Looking at the story through those eyes, she said, "I think my sister and I were having a lot of difficulties communicating, and I think she died without me ever having the chance to make up for lost times and so I hold him responsible for her death because she died in a car accident.
"And I think my character's very unhappy in her life, by her own doing, but also by choices she's made and then also by the lack of love she gets from her husband," played by Mr. Greenwood.
"It's a very complicated relationship that I have with Russell's character and then with young Katie and older Katie, it's very sad." It's a father-daughter love story but a coming-of-age tale, too.
"At the end of the day, it is very much about women. You find this very strong female character in this movie, and the story is about how we, as girls, grow up to be women and what makes us full-fledged women or not."
When she turned to Ms. Fonda for her assessment, the show business veteran added there is collateral damage of mental illness and the drama shows how that plays out with the adult Katie. "I think there's a lot of universality in it. It's very intense."
Brad Desch, a father of three, a Bucks County native and a Penn State University graduate now living in Manhattan, wrote the screenplay with its interwoven strands.
He initially envisioned it as the story of a father who is part of the literary elite. Mr. Desch put the script away for a while and when he revisited it, decided to also explore what happens to the daughter who grows into a bright, beautiful but troubled woman.
"There's a sort of mystery element to it. You start to piece together what must have happened because of what's going on in the present. So a lot of times we find out things in the present before we find them out in the past."
Mr. Crowe is no stranger to Pittsburgh, thanks to "The Next Three Days," and neither is his on-screen literary agent.
'I really, really like it here'
A friend of Teresa Heinz Kerry, Ms. Fonda shivered through Pirates-Braves playoff games when married to Ted Turner -- "we froze our butts off, I can tell you that, that's the main thing I remember besides that the Pirates won" -- and earlier came during protests against the Vietnam War.
Ms. Kruger, a German-born actress who portrayed a movie star and Allied spy in "Inglourious Basterds," Marie Antoinette in "Farewell, My Queen," Helen in "Troy" and is on FX as a detective in "The Bridge," was a newcomer to the city but said, "I really, really like it here."
That is a sentiment shared by the producers, some of whom arrived for preproduction in January and found the cold "a little challenging" according to one self-described beach baby.
Still, as extras dressed as mourners walked toward the realistic looking grave with chairs, a coffin covered with a spray of white flowers and an artificial grass mat at the cemetery, Sherryl Clark of Busted Shark Productions said, "Couldn't have hoped for a better city to shoot in, better crews.
"Everyone in Pittsburgh has been so nice it's slightly disconcerting how nice and polite everyone is," the producer quipped. But she was grateful when a police officer overheard her on the phone Saturday when the MS Walk had blocked and befuddled her as she tried to reach her hotel and he moved a barricade to help her.
"It was lovely and I feel very welcomed here."
As for the compressed, crazy seasons -- gusty winds and 82 degrees one day, freezing temps and snow the next -- Ms. Clark said, "Props blow and actors' hair blows in their faces and wardrobe doesn't look as it should. Those are little superficial things. Sometimes I think windy, rainy, snowy adds production value; it feels real."
Found it all in Pittsburgh
The movie has been Downtown, at the University of Pittsburgh, in Fox Chapel, Shadyside, the South Side and the Mexican War Streets so far.
Producers considered such cities as New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland before deciding on a location.
"We felt like we could get everything we needed in Pittsburgh -- an urban look but also some sprawl, the beautiful houses that look kind of like a Scarsdale or in Westchester or Long Island," Ms. Clark said, along with the tax credit considered essential these days.
"When you're making an independent film," she said, "you need everything you can get, to put all the money on screen and make the best movie that you can make."
Craig Flores, producing the film for Voltage Pictures with Nicolas Chartier, had a beautiful day in his temporary neighborhood on Sunday.
"I got up in my apartment, I walked along the river and I was just thinking, 'I love Pittsburgh. I really, really am happy here.' "
Voltage, which produced and financed or co-financed "The Hurt Locker" and "Dallas Buyers Club," typically does movies budgeted under $30 million.
"We like to make good films with great performances with high-level talent and great directors," Mr. Flores said.
He has filmed in New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, New Mexico, Vancouver and Bucharest, Romania, and has been so impressed during "Fathers & Daughters" that he says, "This experience has made me refocus on keeping production in the United States." And, if possible, Pittsburgh.
Executive and line producer Richard Middleton said, "There may be people who, when they see this movie, will say, 'Oh, they didn't shoot that in New York' and they'll be right. But there will be a lot of other people that I think, when they see this movie, will say, 'Where did they shoot that? It looks amazing.' "
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.