Actress Haley Lu Richardson was tickled to see an old friend a few days ago — a buddy that she joyfully recalled in more than one major media interview the past few months to promote the new “Columbus” film.
Miles, the adorable bichon frise serving as the mascot of Columbus’ downtown Hotel Indigo, stole a bit of her heart a year ago. 22-year-old Richardson, the movie’s female lead (as Casey) dreaming of perhaps following her passion for architecture, saw a different beauty in the humorous pooch known for sometimes racing across the lobby with his toys.
The movie cast and crew stayed at the hotel for its three-week shoot July 31 to Aug. 20 last year.
“That dog’s really so cute,” she said with a laugh. “I got a picture with him.”
Richardson allowed herself to be playful during a brief chat at the Inn at Irwin Gardens on Fifth Street minutes before Friday’s red-carpet premiere celebration. That was a marked contrast to her first few minutes onstage during a question-and-answer session at YES Cinema after a special screening of the film Wednesday.
She told the local audience that also included dignitaries such as Gov. Eric Holcomb that she was very nervous, unlike her similar sessions before audiences in places such as Los Angeles.
“I don’t know if you could easily see it, but I was twitching (at YES),” she said.
The Phoenix native, who began her acting career only six years ago with no formal training since high school theater, was terrified that area residents who know the city and its buildings all too well might view the film, or her performance, with disdain. She battled this feeling even after working successfully with such well-known directors as M. Night Shyamalan (in “Split”) and such rising director/screenwriters as Kelly Fremon Craig (in “The Edge of Seventeen,” through which she earned raves from publications such as Entertainment Weekly).
When told that almost any of the locals who interacted with her in Columbus already loved her and her never-met-a-stranger exuberance, she froze.
Then her eyes opened wide, as if the concept were an honest-to-goodness, mind-blowing revelation.
“Really?” she asked. “They did?”
Sara Green, a housekeeper at the local inn, thought the world of Richardson last year. And Green, an extra in a couple of the movie’s scenes, loved seeing her again.
“She is a such a sweet girl,” Green said. “Oh, such a sweet girl. I told her, ‘Honey — you could be my daughter.’”
Richardson said she loved the idea of returning to town to properly give a Hoosier launch to a movie that marks by far her largest and most challenging role. She acknowledged that she cried after shooting the final scene of “Columbus.”
A few weeks ago, she revisited those emotions on her Facebook page.
“Columbus movie, what can I say about you?” she wrote. “You are by far the most beautiful thing I have ever been a part of. You introduced me to people and places I will know and respect as long as I live.
“You allowed my heart to feel what it’s like to tell a story through art. You will never be a job to me. You are so much more than that, and so much more than I ever thought I could experience.”
Making an equally deep impression on her this return trip included bringing along her parents, Forrest and Valerie Richardson, from their home in Los Angeles, which also separately serves as the actress’ home base. Friday morning, she took them to the Miller House, which serves as a huge and artistic backdrop in the film.
“It was special to be able share that with them,” she said.
Plus, her father insisted on getting pictures of her at most of the movie sites.
Her favorite structure here is the same as Casey’s — architect Deborah Berke’s First Financial Bank building, thanks to the designer’s lit glass roof panels, at 707 Creekview Drive off Tenth Street. She met Berke, also dean of the Yale School of Architecture, last month at the New York opening of the film.
“I was really starstruck,” Richardson said, unaware of Berke’s added local work also via the Hope Branch Library. “That light box (on that bank building) — it’s almost like it gives you hope. It’s like a bright idea.”
As a natural progression since the movie shoot, she has become an unofficial ambassador of the town. In a playful film clip posted Wednesday on the Facebook page for the “Columbus” movie, she wears a “Columbus Indiana: Unexpected, Unforgettable” souvenir ball cap. She said she wears it every so often, even though there was precious little time for her to enjoy her surroundings as a tourist locally.
“But, the cool part was, during our shooting, we got to experience the town,” she said. “One of the points of the movie was that John (Cho) and I were exploring Columbus.
“The character of Casey got to appreciate all that. So I feel like I also got to appreciate all that.”
The woman creative enough to crochet her own line of clothing, Hooked By Haley Lu, loves director Kogonada’s creativity throughout “Columbus.”
“It is the most artistic thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said.