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“Even though it’s about a young man with autism, we didn’t want to focus too much on that,” writer/director Alonso Mayo said over the phone from Los Angeles.
“It could have been anyone. He just happened to have autism. He was just a guy who had a lot of the same issues as young men. He wants to be independent. He wants a job, a girl and a life.”
The Story of Luke is Mayo’s first feature length film, a story inspired by his research documentary based on several trips he made to the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru, a school his mother founded for people with autism and other developmental disabilities in Lima, Peru.
Mayo spent his childhood travelling back and forth between the South American country and Lawrence, Kansas. His mother founded the school, which now has several locations across the country, so he grew up surrounded by the students, their parents and the professionals who worked there. Mayo said he was always fascinated with autistic students — so much so he felt compelled to write their story, albeit a fictional one, when he wrote the script for The Story of Luke.
“I didn’t want it to be documentary,” said Mayo. “I wanted it to be entertaining and that’s why I took a lot of creative licence when I wrote the story.”
The film was screened in Sault Ste. Marie earlier this year and has since been picked up by a distributer. Next is the international market.
Keansburg NJ native Lou Taylor Pucci stopped by to chat about his two new movies: Evil Dead, the number one movie of the week; and The Story Of Luke, which had just won “Best Film” at the Garden State Film Festival.
ERIC SPITZNAGEL: When I skimmed the plot for Story of Luke, and read about your character’s relationship with Luke and how he turns this troubled guy’s life around, blah, blah, blah, my first thought was, Oh, he’s going to be like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.
SETH GREEN: Right! This so easily could have gone to a really trite place. I mean, not that I’m saying Good Will Hunting is trite.
ES: But there could’ve been a lot more man-hugging in your movie.
SG: Exactly, yeah. A movie like this toes that line of tone. It usually works in one of two ways. It’s so sympathetic to the main character that it feels really saccharine and manipulative toward the audience. Or it goes in the opposite direction and it’s like, “Look how flip and hip we are by not hitting the nail on the head.” The thing [co-star] Lou [Taylor Pucci] and I both responded to was that the tone was very matter-of-fact. It’s just a story about a life in progress. You get to witness these characters come to very basic conclusions about simple life stuff.
It’s a tough world out there, and it’s even tougher when you have a mental handicap. This is The Story of Luke, which follows Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci), an autistic man, who finally goes out into the real world to find work and a girlfriend. He meets Zack (Seth Green), who is his supervisor in the IT department. Within the small company, he also befriends a girl at his job, who he is hoping to make his girlfriend. At the US premiere, Pucci and director/writer Alonso Mayo discussed the realness of the characters and commended each other on their great work.
Lou Taylor Pucci and Seth Green chatted with Leo Quiñones of CBS Radio KFWB NewsTalk 980’s Film Freak about the making of “The Story of Luke”:
Over the course of the interview, you’ll discover how these actors make their choices, how they prepared & they’ll tell you exactly what a director should & shouldn’t do on set.
CNN: “The Story of Luke” centers around a guy with autism who’s trying to get a job and get a girl. What’s been your connection to autism before this film?
Seth Green: I don’t know that I’ve had too much of a personal connection. I’ve met autistic people and I’ve seen the different ways Hollywood has portrayed them over the years. “The Story of Luke” is based on an amalgam of characters that (writer/director) Alonso Mayo met. He wanted to tell a story from the inside of a character who was unaware of something that’s different about them. Luke knows he’s special because he’s told he’s special but he doesn’t understand that there’s limitations to what he can aspire towards. My character is the opposite of that. He’s someone on the autistic spectrum who’s consistently been told that he’s only there to serve as guilt and empathy for anyone that’s neurologically typical. So he’s become bitter and isolated.
The film is a personal one for Mayo, who was inspired by the work of his mother, Lilian Mayo, who created Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru in Lima. The nonprofit helps those with special needs, including autism like the film’s character, Luke.
“I was always around the teachers and the professionals and the kids,” he said. “So to me, it was always normal.”
When he was a teenager he worked for Centro Ann Sullivan to make training videos about how some of the students were entering the workforce.
“Specifically, I had been around a lot of young adults to do real jobs,” he said. “That’s when I saw a lot of the challenges and I saw the cool things that happen when somebody you think has a disability, suddenly is working and they do a lot of different things.”
By the time he was older and living in Los Angeles as a filmmaker, Mayo said he always knew he wanted to do a project about his experience there.
“I always wanted to make it very light, not something very dark, dramatic movie,” he said. “Because my experiences had been like that — a lot of laughter, a lot of laughter, a lot of happiness. It’s very uplifting there. My experience is that it’s tough, but people get through it.”
Seth Green has been in the entertainment business for more than 30 years, but he’s never played a character quite like Zack, the brilliant IT specialist in the new coming-of-age indie comedy The Story of Luke.
Zack has autism, as does the protagonist of the film, Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci of Evil Dead, Thumbsucker). The Story of Luke, out in theaters and on demand this week, is timed to National Autism Awareness Month.
(…) Green, 39, was also cautious in bringing to life a character with autism, taking care not to exaggerate preconceived notions of the condition. “You don’t really want to be showy about any of the things you’re doing because people who have legitimate differences—it’s not as broad or as extreme as someone might interpret,” Green told The Daily Beast. “So that was really the thing that I tried to do, to make sure anything I was doing was subtle and more from an internal place than some kind of outward physical detail.”
Seth, Zack is a complex character himself. At first, you kind of want to hate this guy, but then you see how he really needs someone like Luke. Was that a tricky thing to pull off, to make this guy seem like a prick but still likable at the same time?
Seth Green: That’s usually my favorite kind of character to play, somebody you wouldn’t assume you’d have anything in common with. You get to demonstrate all the ways they are human and relatable. Zack is in a different place because he was educated completely different, about himself and his condition, whereas Luke was taught that he’s special and that different from everyone, and he’s not forced to make a contextual comparison about his whole place in that world. It’s Luke’s perspective that ultimately changes him. That was a fun thing to do.
In the film, Luke’s family is surprised that he actually wants a job and wants to live on his own. Did you find that kind of mentality when you were talking to these autistic people?
Lou Taylor Pucci: I think there’s a phase where kids, no matter if they have autism or not, want to be treated as an adult. They just want that next phase. They see other people with responsibilities, they trust them, and they’re a man, and that’s what Luke wants to be. I did kind of see that a little bit, at a certain age. That’s what Alonso was trying to get at in this movie. He was fascinated by kids with autism that he grew up around, because his mother ran an institution in Peru. He grew up around hundreds of kids who had autism all over the spectrum, and he was fascinated by people going through that phase of time, when they’re like 22 to 25, but honestly it could be any age because they develop at a different rate. That phase happens in a lot of people, and he wanted to capture that on film.
Alonso pursued film further, eventually graduating with an master’s degree in directing from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles (where he also received a Student Academy Award for a short film called “Wednesday Afternoon”). It was on a subsequent trip to Lima that he saw many of the kids he had worked with on the training videos who now were meeting the challenges of adulthood head on.
“They were falling in love, they wanted to be more independent, and they were asking some tough questions for their families,” he says. “Why can’t I do this or that? Why are my brothers getting married? Why can’t I live on my own? It was very interesting to see that change.”
NEW TIMES: How much of the character of Luke was developed by the actor, Lou Taylor Pucci, and how much was your direction and vision for the character?
MAYO: All movies are a collaboration between the performer and the director, and Lou Taylor Pucci was just amazing. He’s a great actor. I knew his work from before, so I was thrilled that he came to the project. He got in early, so it actually helped us get the other cast together because they respected him so much. They knew he would do the work, you know. And it was a lot of work. We had a lot of rehearsals. There was a lot of research he did. He met a lot of men and women on the spectrum. He really did his homework. I think about three weeks before we shot, we actually had a full week where we did some research together and rehearsed, and we kind of nailed it, you know. We nailed the right balance. He had to find a way to portray this character—first, to be authentic, you know, we didn’t want to make a cartoon. But we also needed to play it light enough. It was a balance. We were quite nervous for a long time until we finally found that.
Link to Full Article: The movies that matter | Cover Story | New Times San Luis Obispo, CA.
Alonso Mayo wants to make one thing a little harder for people to do after seeing his film.
The director of The Story of Luke hopes his feature-length directorial debut will encourage audiences to not be so quick deciding what another person can, and can’t, do.
“I think people are very easy to label other people,” he said in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles.
“When you see somebody, you see what they look like. You see what they act like. We’re human. We can’t some times help labelling them. We kind of put them in a stereotype that we have in our head. A lot of times that stereotype is just plain wrong. That’s what my experience was.”
It’s clear this film has a lot of personal meaning to you, being inspired by your surroundings growing up and being your first feature film, a film you’ve always seen yourself making. What do you want your audience to take away from Story of Luke? Why should people go see this film?
I want people to be entertained- that was our first big goal. I really do believe that if you don’t entertain people, then there’s nothing really to tell them. First, have fun.
The second thing is for people to understand that we’re all kind of different, whether it’s autism or something else. One of the big themes in the movie is “what is normal?”- who’s normal and who’s not. What we tried to do with The Story of Luke was to make people question that. Even though Luke is the only person in the movie that has a disability, I think a lot of people walk away thinking hes the most normal person in the film. SO, I really want people to look at that question “what is normal”.
And lastly, to just give people a chance; they might surprise you.