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Originally published Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 9:29 AM

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Filmmaker Lynn Shelton widens her lens with ‘Touchy Feely’

An interview with Seattle-based filmmaker Lynn Shelton, whose most recent movie, “Touchy Feely,” opens in Seattle Sept. 13, 2103.

Special to The Seattle Times

Coming soon

‘Touchy Feely’

Opens in Seattle Sept. 13. Rated R for language, some drug use and brief sexuality. For a review, go Thursday afternoon to seattletimes.com/movies or pick up Friday’s MovieTimes.

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Seattle native Lynn Shelton’s movies (“Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) have always been Northwest-based. She may leave town to direct an episode of “Mad Men,” or shoot a pilot for a new network show, but she always returns to her home in Greenwood.

Her latest indie film, “Touchy Feely” (which played at SIFF this year and opens for a regular run Sept. 13) feels even more like a Seattle movie than her previous work. Partly that’s because it’s an ensemble piece that suggests the mood of the city on several levels, and partly it’s because it uses those levels to suggest that Northwest opposites can’t help attracting each other.

“Maybe it feels more like a Seattle movie because I made three movies in a row that were two or three characters essentially in one location, stories that took place over the course of a long weekend,” she said by phone from Greenwood.

“I like that, I like that formula of kind of turning the microscope on this very specific slice of time, but I really felt the urge, the deep urge, to break out of that, to do something a little more expansive.”

The indie dream cast includes Rosemarie DeWitt, the star of “My Sister’s Sister,” as a massage therapist who suddenly feels incapable of doing her job. Scoot McNairy is her frustrated boyfriend, Josh Pais is her repressed dentist-brother, Ellen Page is his daughter, and Ron Livingston and Allison Janney have key roles.

“I’ve had people tell me they (the characters) feel like Seattle people,” said Shelton. She thinks it may have something to do with an almost stereotypical, passive-aggressive Scandinavian inability to express strongly what they feel.

At the same time, she enjoys creating characters who are good at “bucking expectations,” like the dentist who suddenly develops a spiritual side, Janney’s MDMA-inspired guru and Livingston’s mystery man.

“I do enjoy seeing characters finding themselves in a situation they never could have imagined,” she said. “They really go on these journeys of self-discovery.” The way that happens for each of them “doesn’t support their images of themselves.”

The most extreme case is the dentist played by Pais, a veteran actor who has appeared in more than 85 movies and connects here with one of his biggest roles. Shelton cast him after seeing his boldly comic performance in “Year of the Dog”; he wanted to work with her after seeing “Humpday.”

“The two of us have been wanting to work with each other for a couple of years, and this gives him something he can sink his teeth into, something with a real arc,” she said.

The opportunities to work with Pais and the “Mad Men” ensemble clearly inspire her to accept more ambitious, nationally recognized writer-director jobs. The success of ”Humpday” is the reason she got “Mad Men.”

But she said she’s not leaving Seattle.

“I feel incredibly blessed,” she said. “I have a family and I have a house, and we are very, very happy here. It’s only two and a half hours to Los Angeles, and I’ve gone there and back in just a day. It’s not that far.”

After taking a helicopter trip over Seattle last week, she’s more than ever impressed with the beauty of the city.

“ My heart is here. I can always travel to work.”

Her latest shot-in-Seattle film, “Laggies,” a dark comedy starring Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell, will be released in 2014.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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