Owen Teague had spent eight months in quarantine with his parents, sitting out the pandemic in Florida when the script arrived for “Montana Story.” The searing family drama was one of Teague’s first chances to anchor a film, and he leapt at the opportunity. Weeks later, Teague, who turned heads in adaptations of Stephen King’s “It” and “The Stand,” was in Bozeman, Mont., preparing to shoot the story of two estranged siblings who reconnect at their father’s death bed.
“The story was partially removed from what was happening in the world, but it felt somehow related,” Teague tells Variety on the eve of the film’s premiere last week at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It echoed things I’d been feeling in my own life and was really kind of a cathartic experience.”
And though “Montana Story” is rooted in real-world problems of abuse, neglect and remorse, the backdrop in which it was produced might have doubled for one of the apocalyptic settings of King’s novels. Teague and his fellow cast members (Haley Lu Richardson plays his sister, Erin) remained in a bubble while following strict COVID protocols. The remote shoot in the Montana hinterlands lent itself to social distancing, but the process took some adjustment.
“It was scary the whole way through,” says Teague. “We’re shooting on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. When I got up to Bozeman, I went shopping and got cereal, and I didn’t go shopping again for two weeks. You’re tested constantly. Everyone is wearing masks. You’re terrified of getting sick or making someone else sick. Somehow that fear fed into my performance.”
In the movie, Teague’s character Cal is dealing with the crippling sense of responsibility he feels over his failure to protect his sister from their abusive father, who grew so enraged with his daughter over a report she authored in her school newspaper about his shady law practice that he beat her nearly to death as Cal looked on. When Erin shows up to say goodbye to her father, Cal is forced to confront his own culpability. Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who previously oversaw “The Deep End,” direct.
“I’ve never had a character come this easy,” says Teague. “Usually your character will click halfway through the movie or sometimes you find it on day 20. From day one, I knew where this guy was coming from.”
The film, which is looking for distribution, scored with critics in Toronto. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney hailed Richardson and Teague for delivering “performances of heart-searing sensitivity,” while IndieWire’s Robert Daniels praised Teague’s “acutely measured” work. At the end of the shoot, Teague had to play a scene where his character has an emotional collapse, breaking down in a deluge of guilt and grief.
“It felt like a release,” says Teague. “I’d been sitting with this character for weeks and living with this psychological baggage and then it call came pouring out.”