Location, location, location: Yes, that was Woody Harrelson in Woodbury
Woody Harrelson is the star of "Wilson" but his co-stars include Como Park, Mancini's Char House, the St. Paul Farmers Market and Original Malt Shop in Roseville.
Filmed in the Twin Cities in summer 2015, "Wilson" showcases the Twin Cities at their sunniest and most verdant, with characters visiting Como Park/Como Town and Lake Minnetonka. The folks of "Wilson" also log a fair amount of time indoors, some of it eating ice cream at Original Malt Shop, whose red-and-white striped wallpaper is showcased in the film's trailer.
Mike Mueller, owner of Original Malt Shop, knows that awkward date scene quite well. He spent several hours watching it being filmed and making more than 50 strawberry sundaes for Harrelson's co-star Margo Martindale to dip into. As the old ones melted under the hot movie lights, Mueller needed to be ready with replacements for the scene, which shut down the restaurant from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. one day.
"The way they explained it to me is now, with Google Earth, they can literally see into spaces and look around, prior to even going there," says Mueller, who was contacted by the film's producers. They had used their computers to scout about 25 Twin Cities ice cream parlors before picking his newly remodeled "cool and retro" restaurant.
"When they told me who was in it and what it was about, I said, 'I'd love to be a part of that,'" says Mueller, who was the only one from the restaurant allowed to watch the filming. A half-dozen employees also were hired as extras in the scene, during which the title character (Wilson) goes on a first date (with Martindale's character) that doesn't go well.
That's not really a chocolate malt that Harrelson is pretending to eat, either. A raw-food vegan, Harrelson doesn't eat dairy. Instead, a non-dairy, unsweetened concoction was created to resemble a chocolate malt. Between scenes, movie staffers refreshed it with soy milk or trips to the freezer.
"When they would change the camera angle, that took about an hour and they did it three different times," Mueller recalls. "Every time, Woody would go out the back door and he would stop to chat with staff and take pictures with them. He was really cool. I was quite impressed with how approachable he was."
A quick search of the internet will reveal dozens of horror stories from home or business owners who rented out their places to film crews, but Mueller has nothing but good things to say about the "Wilson" people.
"I'm glad I did it. It was a very interesting experience, a really fun thing to be a part of," says Mueller, who adds that he can't wait to see the movie and find out what other Twin Cities sites pop up.
Attracted by the Minnesota Snowbate program, which refunded about $1 million of the $4 million "Wilson" spent here, producer Mary Jane Skalski said she also chose the Twin Cities because "you have everything we needed here," including locations, crews and actors. Here's a partial list of the 50 locations where scenes were shot:
• Como Park/Como Town — Wilson and his ex, Pippi (Laura Dern), have an outing here with the daughter they have recently met.
• Heart of the Beast Theatre — The Minneapolis puppet theater is glimpsed from the window of a bus that Wilson takes (apparently, the 21A). So is the Good Day Cafe.
• Lord Fletcher's — Wilson's ex, Pippi (Laura Dern), works at the Spring Park restaurant, on the shore of Lake Minnetonka.
• Mall of America — With an Orange Julius visible in the background, Wilson and Pippa meet with a young woman in the Nordstrom Court.
• Mancini's Char House — Wilson and his ex meet over a drink at the St. Paul landmark.
• Ramsey County Correctional Facility — Wilson has a stay there.
• St. Anthony Main — Wilson and Pippi take a walk there.
• St. Paul Farmers Market — Masquerading as a flea market, it's the site of a couple's argument.
• Woodbury — A couple of different locations were used near Parkers Drive, including one that stands in as the home of Wilson and Pippi's daughter.