BIG STONE GAP — A number of Hollywood stars — including Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson and Jenna Elfman — returned Saturday to the small far Southwest Virginia town of Big Stone Gap, which rolled out the red carpet for the nationwide release of the film that bears its name.
The romantic comedy, based in 1970s-era Big Stone Gap and written by former resident Adriana Trigiani, was filmed in the town in 2013. On Friday, the movie hit the big screen. To celebrate the occasion, the town held several festivities, including a big old-fashioned parade, a quaint reception and a downtown block party.
Thousands of people from throughout far Southwest Virginia and beyond spent the day in town, many hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars and to celebrate the film’s opening.
Elfman, who portrays Iva Lou Wade in the film, said early Saturday that she was happy and excited to be “home” again. She said that arriving in downtown Big Stone Gap, she became overwhelmed with emotion because the town was decorated and people were enthusiastic.
Actor Paul Wilson, who plays Lyle Makin, said he was also thrilled to be in town because of his family’s ties to the community. Paul Wilson said that if he wasn’t offered one of the leading roles in the film, he would have been proud to just play an extra. His brother, Patrick Wilson, is also in “Big Stone Gap.”
“Paul and I, our family, our father’s side is from here for many generations,” said Patrick Wilson, who plays Jack MacChesney in the film. “It’s the most personal movie that I have ever done. There is no place for us like Big Stone Gap.”
Each of the stars said they felt a close connection to the town and its residents. Trigiani said she was thankful for the town’s warm welcoming.
Signs throughout the town of more than 5,000 residents welcomed back the crew and spotlighted the film.
Stacey Roberts, now of Johnson City, Tennessee, returned to her hometown on Saturday. Her mother was an extra in the film.
“Everybody’s excited,” she said. “I saw it over in Kingsport last night and I saw people I haven’t seen in years.”
Roberts arrived early Saturday and managed to snap a selfie with Elfman, who she described as very friendly. Like many people, she was checking out some of the spots that are also featured in the film, like Carmine’s Diner and Mutual’s Pharmacy.
A Norton resident, Linda Huff Wilson, also arrived early Saturday so she could save a spot with her friends and family along the parade route, which stretched along Wood Avenue through downtown.
“We’re so excited,” Linda Wilson said. “We’ve already seen the movie twice. I am so proud.”
Like many local residents, Linda Wilson had a chance to watch the production crew and actors when they were in Big Stone Gap in 2013.
“My friend and I had to stand around the corner and watch down the street to Mutual’s Pharmacy while they filmed,” Linda Wilson said. “I couldn’t believe it. All of the equipment from Hollywood was on the main street. It fulfilled all of my dreams.”
The parade route passed by Mutual’s Pharmacy and Carmine’s, two sites on Wood Avenue that are featured in the film and are being been restored for visitors. Thousands of people lined Wood Avenue to catch a glimpse of the stars, take photographs and even get an autograph or two. The parade stopped periodically so fans could approach the stars, who rode in classic cars and trucks, including vehicles featured in the film.
Fans also had a chance to meet the stars at a private meet and greet.
During an afternoon news conference, the actors praised Trigiani for her work as a writer and a director.
“Adriana’s gift is abundant, such a vivacious, effusive, prodigiously gifted woman with exquisite imagination,” said Judd, who portrays Ave Maria Mulligan.
The film revolves around self-proclaimed spinster Mulligan, who runs the town pharmacy and directs the Trail of the Lonesome Pine outdoor drama. Just as she has resigned herself to life as “old maid,” she is caught off-guard by a family secret, an unexpected marriage proposal and a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Big Stone Gap by movie legend Elizabeth Taylor.