Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro, a national speaker and best-selling author, recently interviewed Hollywood director John Asher, who has just finished filming his upcoming movie, Po. The story is about a recently widowed engineer struggling to raise his 10-year-old son. The film stars Christopher Gorham as the father, Julian Feder as his son Po, and Kaitlin Doubleday as a caring therapist.
Asher has been making movies his whole life. His father was the director of I Love Lucy and Bewitched He started acting when he was two-years-old and has been directing for over 20 years, having directed such stars as Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Hillary Swank. Of all of the films that he’s done, he’s never found more joy making a movie than he has with Po.
Kerry Magro: Tell us a little bit more about your project.
John Asher: I was approached with the script eight years ago by my close friend Darby Parker and immediately fell in love with it. My son Evan was five at the time and we had been living with autism for just over two years. I really wanted to make a movie about the difficulties of raising a child with autism. The script was so heartfelt and so authentic that I desperately wanted to make the movie right then, but like many projects in Hollywood, it took a long time to secure the funding and find the right talent - especially a child actor who could realistically portray a child with autism.
Kerry: How did you go about casting the character of Po, a 10-year-old with autism?
John: I met Julian in a happenstance manner two years ago. I was guest teaching an acting class and Julian walked in with 12 pages of dialog that he’d just received. I was dumbstruck that this 9-year-old could memorize so much material so quickly and that he could truly empathize with the emotional qualities of the character he had to play. After the class I approached his mother and said, “I want your son to star in my movie.” It took two more years to get the movie launched and we auditioned 50 kids, but I always knew Julian would be Po.
Kerry: We heard that you got Burt Bacharach and Billy Idol to contribute some of their music to this film! Can you tell us how that came about?
John: I just happened to sit next to Burt Bacharach on a flight from NY and after hearing his story about his daughter and her struggles with autism, I told him about Po. Once he read the script, he offered to contribute some of his music to the movie. We also had a connection with Billy Idol who likewise agreed to allow us to use some of his music.
Many people and companies have also offered to contribute to the project which has allowed us to turn an otherwise low budget project into a picture with a full blown studio look. We’ve been offered amazing deals on cameras and post production services and the cast poured their heart and soul into a month of 72 hour workweeks.
Kerry: What is the overall message you hope audiences take away from the film?
John: For me, which is really for Evan, the main message of the film is that kids with autism just want to be treated like typical kids and this becomes easier with a better understanding of autism. I also hope that other families like ours will gain a new perspective on their own struggles and ways to cope.
Kerry: What is one of the most important things you learned about autism in the process of this film?
John: That I’m not alone. When I started on the journey to make Po, my goal was to use my personal experience with autism to make a completely authentic yet dramatically and visually amazing movie. What I realized along the way was there are a lot of other filmmakers, actors, crew and vendors who were just as passionate about making a movie about raising a child with autism as I was. What did surprise me though is that given the unfortunate prevalence of autism today, there aren’t other non-documentaries out there about the same topic.
Kerry: Anything else you'd like to share with our audience?
We hope that our movie will help raise awareness about autism within the broader population and bring a little joy to the millions families in America living with a child on the spectrum. The film will come out in late 2015 or early 2016.
The filmmakers and I are donating a portion of the profits of the movie to Autism Speaks.