‘A Little Prayer’ Director Angus MacLachlan Discusses Struggles of ‘Writing About Parenting Adult Children’

Sundance 2023: “You still want to protect them and tell them what to do, and you can’t,” MacLachlan told TheWrap

Angus MacLachlan burst onto the Sundance scene as the screenwriter behind the Phil Morrison-directed “Junebug” in 2005. That drama is best known for what became a star-making performance from then-unknown Amy Adams and since then MacLachlan graduated to directing self-written features like “Goodbye to All That” and “Abundant Acreage Available.”

His latest feature, “A Little Prayer,” concerns a close-knit family that threatens to collapse when a father (David Strathairn) discovers that his adult son (Will Pullen) may be having an affair.

MacLachlan was joined by Pullen and fellow cast members Jane Levy and Celia Weston, at TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge for a conversation with Executive Awards Editor Steve Pond.

When asked why he chose to make another family drama set in North Carolina, MacLachlan noted it was the region in which he grew up.

“I started [this film] when my daughter was 15. She’s now 21. I realized in retrospect, that I was really writing about parenting adult children, where you still want to protect them and tell them what to do, and you can’t.”

While he argued he wasn’t explicitly drawing from his own family experience, he was indeed drawing from them. He explained that while audiences often ask him how often his on-screen characters match up to his offscreen life, the only clear example was “Junebug.”

“When I made ‘Junebug,’ the character played by Adam Adams was based on my sister-in-law. And she knows it.”

Jane Levy stated she made the film because she was “so moved” upon reading the script. “It’s not a movie with cheap thrills,” argued Levy. “It’s just true to life.”

Will Pullen, who [no spoilers] may or may not be cheating on his wife, recognized the story’s Southern male characters, specifically “their inability to communicate with each other or be vulnerable.”

“So, for me,” Pullen said, “having that vulnerability exist and having to keep a lid on it all the time was a really difficult tightrope to walk. Angus was super helpful just to gently nudge me along that process.”

When asked if Celia Watson had met David Strathairn before she answered she had not and credited the screenplay for creating a couple that feels like they’ve known each other for decades.

“They have been on a long journey together and have had ups ups and downs, but they are partners, and they love each other and not without its strife and trials and disappointments,” she said.

“We were discussing scenes that we liked,” Watson continued. “[There is] a simple one when David and I are in the kitchen, and I’m in my night gown, and we’re about to go to bed. I want to tell him what I’ve just discovered [about] our older daughter’s husband producing drugs in their home. It’s such a simple and it’s a quiet, intimate scene. We need to decide where the salvation lies for, for our family.”

MacLachlan then interjected, assuring potential audiences that it wasn’t a dour film. “One of the things I loved about the character of Celia is that she could be emotionally truthful and funny in the same scene.”

“[“A Little Prayer” deals] with PTSD, a woman’s right to choose, and the huge influx in Winston Salem of the Hispanic population, drugs and infidelity. When political issues come to roost in a family or a circle of friends, they become completely different than when they’re debated on the Senate floor.”

For the full conversation about “A Little Prayer,” click on the video above.

TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE