Sean Lackey’s resolve was born on Nov. 7, 2010, the day his best friend died.
Lackey and Terry McChrystal met as freshmen at Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School, courtesy of the alphabet and a seating chart. Their friendship grew through four years as Wildcats, then four more as roomies at the University of Dayton. McChrystal went into banking; Lackey is an accountant.
If we’re lucky — and in the case of these two lads, it’s not a stretch to call it the luck of the Irish — we meet people we will love as long as we live.
Sometimes, even longer.
So it is for Lackey. A fatal heart attack at age 43 transformed Lackey’s golf buddy and lifelong pal into his inspiration. McChrystal’s death became the impetus for Lackey to complete an idea conceived after the 2004 wedding of another friend in Ireland.
The result is “The Yank,” another film project here in what’s quickly becoming Hollywood North, written, produced, directed and starring Lackey, with a $1.2 million budget. Thanks in large part to more than $330,000 from the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit, the picture is more than 60 percent funded, Lackey said.
“I’ve been going so hard for so long now, so I’m not going to stop till I get it done,” Lackey said in his elegant but atypical CPA’s office in Westlake (not many accountants decorate their workplaces with pictures of Chris Farley and U2).
“I think my friend dying really told me that,” he said. “Here’s a guy who was about to embark on a new career after being in banking his whole life. To be taken away from his family and what he wanted to do for the rest of his life . . . ”
Unlike people, dreams only die if you let them, and Lackey is determined to live his. Even if it is what some people may consider an odd one for a guy who deals in facts, figures and the IRS.
“I play an accountant in real life,” he joked, “but I’m really not.”
He’s right. Lackey is a veteran of Second City’s Cleveland troupe and is a driving force in “Flanagan’s Wake,” the improvisational musical about an Irish wake that will be resurrected — pardon the expression — for a three-month run at PlayhouseSquare this winter.
“The Yank” is a collaboration between Gavin Wilding’s Vancouver, Canada-based Rampage Entertainment and Post Industrial Productions, or PIP, a partnership involving Clevelanders Lackey, Allen Kellogg, Spencer J. Kim and Dave Thomas.
Faith ‘n’ begorrah, but Ireland and things Irish play a large role in Lackey’s life . . . and in his movie.
Lackey is the offspring of Irish immigrants. John and Eileen Lackey are rock-solid blue-collar people with a profound work ethic and a bent toward practicality they passed along to their son.
“I don’t know if I looked at the alphabet when I went to college and I saw the majors. The very first one was ‘accounting,’ and I said, ‘That’s for me.’ And acting is next.”
Lackey, who grew up making faces in the mirror, as wannabe actors are wont to do, said he always wanted to try the stage, “but I’ve always been practical and a realist. . . . you gotta make money to do this.”
Eating is a tough habit to break.
A story idea is born
on trip to Ireland Seven years ago, Lackey returned to the old country for the wedding of another Ohio friend, Paul Murray, and his bride, Mary Moore. What he found in Dublin was not the thatch roofs and donkey carts of lore, but a modern, bustling, urban city.
For a kid who grew up in Rocky River, especially a kid with a comedic edge, the idea was obvious. What if some guy from Cleveland, whose youth has been spent with Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day parties, green beer, corned-beef sandwiches and the pugilistic leprechaun from Notre Dame, actually came face to face with the real Ireland?
Even better, what if he came face to face with reality in a romantic comedy?
Wilding was taken with the idea . . . even if the first version he saw was a 140-page “Lord of the Rings” treatment.
“It hit me almost like a ‘Rocky’ story,” Wilding said. “And the Irish angle is going to be hilarious.”
Clevelander Fred Willard is on tap — but hasn’t been signed — to play Lackey’s gung-ho Irish father, who’s actually a fourth-generation Irish-American who has never even been to the Emerald Isle. He made the call after reading Lackey’s treatment.
“Willard’s agent got back to me in a day,” said Lackey, still clearly struck by the chance to work with the “Best of Show” star. “They said, ‘This is good.’ To me, that was the biggest vote of confidence in the world.”
In a nutshell, the story has Lackey’s character — Tom Murphy — headed to Ireland for a wedding (gee, where does he come up with these things?), and his parents think it’s a perfect time for him to meet the right girl: “Our own kind,” i.e., Irish.
Lackey’s Murphy is the best man, and it turns out that the maid of honor is the ex-security guard who tossed him out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum because she thought he was taking pictures of the U2 exhibit. Oh, and she happens to be Greek. Not Irish.
It’s pretty easy to guess where things go from there, but the fun is in the journey and the characters. Dublin-born Colm Meaney (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) is in negotiations to play Lackey’s sardonic Irish relative, and there’s hope that Christina Applegate (“Married With Children”) will portray the love interest.
The idea of Applegate kissing and falling in love with Lackey is an idea that amuses his wife of four years, Michelle.
“She laughs at it and says, ‘OK, honey. Like that will happen,’ ” Lackey said. But she gets the joke and understands that her husband has to follow his dream, as cliched as that sounds.
Chris Farley’s brother
likely to join cast The character to watch, though, most likely will be played by Kevin Farley, the brother of the late “Saturday Night Live” comedian Chris Farley.
“He’s just a naturally physical, fun guy, who’s a lot like his brother,” Lackey said. Farley’s Fred Finnegan is another Clevelander headed across the pond for the wedding. His goal, though, is to score as often as possible at Ireland’s multitudinous “discos,” and he’s convinced all he needs to do so are “Old Spice and a piano tie.”
None of the “name” actors has yet been signed, Lackey said. That won’t happen until the movie is fully funded.
“Once they’re signed, I’ve got to pay them,” even if the movie doesn’t get made, said Lackey, jokingly attributing that decision to “my accountant side.”
The movie will be shot in what Wilding called “Gonzo” style. There is a script with certain lines. But because of Lackey’s improvisational background — and the improvisational skills of the other actors — the bulk of the dialogue will be made up right on the spot.
Digital cinematography makes that not just possible, but economical, Lackey and Wilding said. Shoot it and like it? Keep it. Shoot it, don’t like it? Delete and shoot and again. This movie, were it on film in the “old-fashioned” way, would need a budget of $10 million, with most set aside for equipment and film.
Now, half of Lackey’s $1.2 million budget will go for actor salaries (Willard, Meaney, Farley and Applegate won’t come cheap). The rest will go for everything from craft services (that eating habit again) to equipment and travel; at least one portion of the movie will be shot in Ireland.
Lackey and Wilding hope to start filming this month or next — the West Side Irish pub the Harp and the Rock Hall will be two of the key locations. They will be hitting as many film festivals as possible, but Wilding said the big push will be for DVD sales and online. A mainstream theatrical release would be nice, but at this stage may be unrealistic, he said.
“It’ll find its own place when it’s settled. The basic hurdle is funding,” Wilding said. “You don’t have to do that well to do that well.” He’s predicting a worldwide take of $2.5 million to $4.5 million.
Which would be just fine with Lackey.
“This is not just one picture. I want to do a LOT of pictures in Cleveland. We have started a new company [PIP] that helps me become part of a new industry,” he said.
Somewhere in heaven, Terry McChrystal’s Irish eyes are smiling.