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‘Big Sky’ coming to the big screen Friday

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico film industry has seen plenty of big stars come to the Land of Enchantment.

But the state also hosts up-and-coming stars who are beginning to make an impact in the industry.

Aaron Tveit is one of those to watch.

He has cut his teeth with roles on TV shows “Ugly Betty,” “Body of Proof,” “The Good Wife” and “Gossip Girl” and films such as “Les Misèrables,” “Howl” and “Premium Rush.” He has also been a series regular on TV series “Graceland,” where he plays Mike Warren.

His latest big screen release is the upcoming independent film “Big Sky,” which he spent the latter part of 2013 filming in and around Albuquerque.

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François Arnaud, left, and Bella Thorne in a scene from the New Mexico-made film “Big Sky.” (Courtesy of Benaroya Pictures)

“When I was there, we were working six days a week,” he says. “So I saw plenty of the hotel and food that I would pick up on the way back. We were also there during the balloon festival. We would head into work as the balloons were lifting into the air. It was fantastic.”

Tveit was drawn to the independent film because of his character, Pru.

“Big Sky” opens in theaters Friday and will also be available through video-on-demand services the same day.

It’s the tale of Hazel, played by Disney Channel alum Bella Thorne, a teenage girl who suffers a mortal fear of open spaces, so she never leaves the bedroom of the home she shares with her mom, Dee, played by Kyra Sedgwick. The strain on the relationship is taking its toll on both mom and daughter.

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Bella Thorne stars in the film “Big Sky,” which follows her character, who is battling a fear of open spaces. (Courtesy of Benaroya Pictures)

In a last-ditch attempt to cure her daughter, Dee enrolls Hazel in a high-end treatment facility in the desert. She hopes Hazel will finally find the help she needs to move forward from the horrors of her past that triggered her illness.

They are headed to the center when the van they are in is attacked by two masked gunmen, Jesse and Pru, played by Frank Grillo and Tveit. Hazel and Dee are forced to fight for their survival in the harshest conditions, and Hazel must tackle her worst fears before they consume her.

“It’s interesting and a fascinating movie about the fractured mother-daughter relationship,” Tveit says. “Then, there’s the relationship between Frank and me. They are going through a similar thing.”

While Thorne’s character battles her fear of open spaces, we also learn that Tveit’s Pru has some psychological issues he’s dealing with.

Frank Grillo plays a corrupt sheriff in the film "Big Sky," which was shot on location in and around Albuquerque in October 2013. (Courtesy of Benaroya Pictures)

Frank Grillo plays a corrupt sheriff in the film “Big Sky,” which was shot on location in and around Albuquerque in October 2013. (Courtesy of Benaroya Pictures)

“Pru follows the lead of his brother, which makes him a bad guy,” Tveit says. “He’s just trying to do the right thing in the end. I’m drawn to characters that have a journey throughout the film or play. Pru has his struggles, and it makes him an interesting character.”

In preparing for his role as Pru, Tveit researched Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism. He looked at the characteristics and brought some of them into the character.

“It’s undefined what his troubles are,” he says. “We learn he was abused as a child, which led to the problems.”

According to the New Mexico Film Office, “Big Sky” employed 40 New Mexico crew members and 10 New Mexico actors and background talent.

Tveit credits the smooth 22-day shoot to the talented crew, most of whom are from New Mexico.

“We were out in some crazy conditions. We were out in the middle of nowhere at times, and it would get hot and cold,” he says. “Everyone remained professional, and we got a great movie done.”

While Tveit is promoting “Big Sky” at the moment, he will change hats when, later this fall, he begins working on the TV production of “Grease: Live,” which will air in 2016 on Fox.

He was cast as Danny Zuko, the role made famous by John Travolta in the 1978 classic film.

“There’s some pressure there,” he says with a laugh. “It’s an exciting time for me, and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Assistant Arts Editor Adrian Gomez can be reached at agomez@abqjournal.com.

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