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In his latest film Any Day Now, movie star turned airplane pilot, turned filmmaker Travis Fine reinvents the concept of family and in the process, gives his audiences a film so beautiful and entertaining that it deservedly won the coveted Heineken Audience Award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The award that is possibly the best indicator of how a film will do in real theaters, with real audiences. You know, the kind where no stuffy, over-opinionated critics need apply?!
The cinematic question Fine asks in Any Day Now is whether blood relations should be regarded as more important than families formed out of sheer love, only because the former conform to institutions ruled "normal" long ago. It was a chord that resonated strongly with me, the product of a broken home, brought up by the kind of woman who Edith Clarke referred to, in her 1967 book, as My Mother Who Fathered Me.
Any Day Now features a gorgeous, heartwarming performance by Alan Cumming as Rudy, a touching portrayal of a closeted gay man by Garret Dillahunt and the breakout performance of the year by Isaac Leyva as Marco, a teenager with Down Syndrome.
I sat down with Fine to ask him when he felt the first gut connection to this project, how he came to cast Leyva as Marco and even got the filmmaker to sing a short blues song that best describes his own life.
Was there a very specific moment when you decided you had to make the film and the story clicked with you?
Yes. I asked my wife Kristine, who is my producing partner, questions about my 17 year-old daughter. Had a real tough time, as a lot of people in the world do with two separate mothers, fathers, divorce... At a certain point I asked, "What right does she have to take my child away from me?" speaking about my ex-wife and this hurtful situation. I was so emotional that I understood, at a gut level, what it felt to have somebody that you love literally ripped from you and that relationship altered forever. That's when I knew that I could connect to this story and I could infuse it with my own. Up until a few years ago I didn't understand clinical terms like "parental alienation." I think we have to be careful when we're dealing with children, very careful about what's said and what is not said and what's portrayed as truth. It can do some real damage.
The film takes place in the 1970s, which is when the original script was written. Did you ever think of setting it in contemporary times?
The original script was by George Arthur Bloom, who lived in Brooklyn in the 1970s and knew this guy named Rudy, flamboyant, larger than life. Rudy existed and there was a young kid who lived in the building as well. I toyed around in the writing process with the idea of resetting it today and some of that becomes about filmmaker logistics, because it's easier to tell a story set today, I could go out and shoot on the street... But the notion of someone working in the DA's office today as an openly gay man, probably would not be an issue in the larger cities. Yet the few times I played with the idea, I kept coming back to the '70s. By setting it when Rudy was around, some 40 years ago, I wanted to say this was the climate then, and while things certainly have changed, there is still a certain relevance. I've worked extensively with the Family Equality Council, they read an early draft of the script and have been huge proponents of the film -- they are LGBT adoption and family advocates. They started telling me some of the laws that are still on the books today, in some of the states and I thought they were kidding. I had to do some research myself and realized that there was a political side to the story. Obviously there's the emotional connection which goes beyond LGBT, it's human, the loss of a child. And then there's the political side, so once I realized that it should be part of the story as well, then I had to set it back then.
How did you cast the actor who plays Marco?
The very first actor cast in the project was Alan [Cumming]. Isaac was the next star that was cast and Marco was written to have a really fowl mouth, he talked like his mom, he was nasty and belligerent. Between Marco and Rudy it was a much more conflicted relationship. Yet I always knew that whoever I ended up casting as Marco, I would have to shape the character around who that person is. I met with Isaac and I think he's incapable of being angry or upset. He's a wonderful, sweet guy. He has an acting coach and we were trying to push him to this place of anger and he couldn't go there. He started shaking, got scared, so I stopped. I walked outside and thought, I guess this is not the right actor... Then my wife Kristine was smart enough to say, "You remember the Blind Side? Remember the silence that character had and how powerful, so that when he finally did speak you were sitting forward waiting to hear what was inside this guy?" So I went home and stayed up until four in the morning and just rewrote it with the Isaac I had come to know. We went back in and I had him read the scenes and he was so beautiful and so perfect. The great thing about Isaac is I asked him to be in the movie and he said "OK." I turned around and I heard this sobbing. I turned back around and he was crying on his acting coach's shoulder. And through his tears he said "The dream of my life just came true!"
As Alan's character Rudy sings in the film, what would be the Blues song of your life?
I used to be a movie star, then I was flying planes, I've had lots of love and I've lost a lot too...
Once I saw a sticker, when I was still flying, that said "It's never too late to be who you were supposed to be."
Photo of Travis Fine by Michael Rababy, all courtesy of Image.net, used with permission