By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Hollywood is back in Haverhill.
Francis McDormand, perhaps best known for her Academy Award-winning performance as Marge Gunderson in the 1996 movie “Fargo,’’ is the latest movie star to film in the city
McDormand was at the Merrivista elderly housing complex on Water Street on Friday to film scenes for HBO’s upcoming miniseries “Olive Kitteridge.”
The four-part series is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning series of short stories of the same name by Elizabeth Strout. Released in 2008, the story covers the life of Olive Kitteridge and the people in a small town on the coast of Maine.
“Olive Kitteridge tells the alternately poignantly sweet, acerbically funny, and devastatingly tragic story of a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told through the lens of Olive, whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and a staunch moral center,” according to a release by the Massachusetts Film Office announcing that HBO and Playtone will be filming on the North Shore this fall.
Mayor James Fiorentini said there were about 160 people in the production and film crew in Haverhill and that they patronized city restaurants and rented the Elks Lodge for a party for Merrivista residents while they were here.
As many as two dozen residents of the Merrivista complex were used as extras during filming, the mayor said. Filming on Friday took place in a parking lot between the apartment complex and the neighboring Central Plaza.
Hollywood stars aren’t new to Haverhill or Merrivista. Denzel Washington was in the city this past summer to film scenes for Columbia Picture’s upcoming movie “The Equalizer” at the former Lowe’s building off Route 97. In 2009, several scenes were shot at the Merrivista complex for the film “This Side of the Truth,” which starred Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe and Ricky Gervais.
Haverhill’s historical connection to the movie business goes back to the early 1900s, when Louis B. Mayer opened his first theater downtown. Mayer went on to own several other local theaters before moving on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest movie moguls.
After working in Haverhill, HBO will be shooting the “Olive Kitteridge’’ series on Cape Ann and around the North Shore through November, the state film office said.
Jane Anderson wrote the screenplay, Lisa Cholodenko is the director, and McDormand and Tom Hanks are among the executive producers.
Fiorentini said he’s not sure why HBO picked Haverhill, but that he tries to make it as easy as possible whenever a film company contacts his office for permission to shoot in the city.
“It’s exciting and it’s good for the local economy,” the mayor said of film crews visiting Haverhill. “They told us we are getting a reputation for being easy to deal with, and that’s what we want.”
Fiorentini said the film crew rented the Elks Lodge hall on Thursday night for Merrivista residents who were used as extras in the production. He said Merrivista and its residents used in filming were paid.
The mayor said the film crew also patronized several restaurants, including the A1 Deli downtown, while they were here.
The Massachusetts Film Office press release said the production hired workers locally, and is using Massachusetts-based businesses and services.
“Olive Kitteridge” is HBO’s second recent production in the Massachusetts. “Clear History” — with Larry David, Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes — filmed on the North Shore in 2012. The comedy debuted on HBO earlier this month.