A GoPride Interview

Travis Fine

One Fine Day: an interview with Travis Fine, director of Any Day Now

Fri. December 28, 2012  by Gregg Shapiro

Travis Fine

travis fine

photo credit // music box films
With films such as Ira Sachs' Keep the Lights On and David France's How To Survive a Plague still drawing in audiences, 2012 has turned out to be another banner year for LGBT films. The year ends on an especially high note with Any Day Now (Music Box Films), starring out actor Alan Cumming as Rudy, a gay West Hollywood man who must deal with a prejudicial and antiquated court system as he attempts to adopt a boy with Down syndrome in 1979. Cumming gives the performance of his career and even has the opportunity to sing a couple of numbers in the movie. Written and directed by straight filmmaker Travis Fine, Any Day Now, which has won several awards at film festivals, has crossover appeal and the potential to be remembered fondly at Oscar time. I spoke with Fine in November 2012. (Any Day Now opens on Jan. 4 at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. ENTER TO WIN tickets)

GS: (Gregg Shapiro) What drew you to George Arthur Bloom's original screenplay concept, from which you adapted your screenplay for Any Day Now?

TF: (Travis Fine) I respond to characters and situations. There was something that drew me to this notion of this outsider trying to raise this child, trying to save this child - the Rudy character and the young boy being outsiders. The Paul character (Rudy's lover, played by Garret Dillahunt) was not in George's original script, that storyline didn't really exist. But I was immediately drawn to the characters. There was also something in the situation that moved me as a parent. I wasn't exactly quite sure why it spoke to me, but it did in a deep profound way.

GS: Being in the entertainment industry and living in California, do you personally know same-sex couples who have adopted or given birth to their own children?

TF: Absolutely. It's a cliché to say some of my best friends are gay, but I have some very close, dear friends in the LGB T community. Some of whom are married, in partnerships, have children. I've witnessed that firsthand.

GS: The film is set in 1979 West Hollywood, but could just as easily taken place in 1989 or 1999. Why did you choose to keep it in that time period?

TF: First of all, George's script was inspired by a real person who lived in Brooklyn in the late 1970s. George knew this guy and knew this kid. I felt that to honor this person and this story, it made the most sense. Also, I'm a huge fan of ‘70s cinema, the gritty, character driven dramas of the ‘70s. I wanted to explore that as a filmmaker, visually and stylistically. From a political point of view, the story would be different, certainly in Los Angeles in 2009 or 2012. But as we all know, there are still certain places, even within this country, where the story wouldn't be that much different. There would be some of the same challenges and hurdles and obstacles.

GS: How important was it for you to have gay actors, such as Alan Cumming, Douglas Spearman and Randy Roberts, in the movie?

TF: Personally, particularly with the Rudy character, with Alan, I thought it was very important. As a straight filmmaker who had the honor of telling an important, profound and moving story about a chapter in the late ‘70s of the LGBT movement, it was incredibly important to have Alan take on that role. Not only is Alan a sensational actor, an incredible talent and a wonderful human being, but he's an OBE, an Order of the British Empire, knighted by the Queen for his work on LGBT rights and equality. He is not just giving lip service to equality. He has fought that fight and been a vocal champion and proponent of equality and LGB T rights. Could the film work with a straight actor? Of course it could. Just as a gay actor can play a straight character. The acting, the mechanics of playing the part -- at times, I would turn to Alan and ask him what his thoughts were and he brought a certain part of his own personal experience to the role that I think is essential.

GS: Alan's character Rudy sings in Any Day Now. Is that something from the original screenplay or was it added when Cumming was cast as Rudy?

TF: It was actually in between the two. It was not in the original screenplay. Rudy was an unemployed hairdresser. When I updated George's script, there were a number of elements that I changed significantly. To George's credit, he allowed me free reign to do that. Some of the stuff was structural and had to do with the emotional rooting of the film. Adding the Paul character and developing the love story between Rudy and Paul, which I found to be essential for telling the story, expanding some of the legal issues. The element of singing came out of my desire as a filmmaker to explore it visually. It was a visual thing. I was watching The French Connection, and there's that great scene in the bar where a woman is singing this song and Popeye Doyle and his partner are looking across the bar at the two bad guys. Those images in those movies stayed with me. I wanted to explore a different career for Rudy and I thought it would be interesting if Rudy was a singer. We played with the idea of there being an arc to his singing, where he started off and where he finished, which I think gave him another element. I'm personally pretty fond of that arc.

GS: What was involved in the process of casting the character of Marco, played by Isaac Leyva?

TF: We put out a nationwide search for the kid, both through traditional agents and managers and casting directors around the country and also through the Down Syndrome Associations all around the country. We saw people as young as 12 and 13 and some that were as old as their mid-20s. Isaac, from his very first reading which I saw on my computer, his first audition tape, there was something so charming, so sweet and honest about his performance. It didn't feel like acting. He was clearly listening to what the other person was saying and responding. I recognized his talent right away. At the end of his first scene, he smiled that really big smile where his whole face just lights up and I thought, I've got to meet this kid. He was not able to do some of the darker elements that I had written for the character, that I had originally conceived. Part of my education as a writer and as a filmmaker was my notion that what this kid would and should be and what in reality he would be like were two different things. I got a bit of an education, which was wonderful for me and informed a lot of things in the script. Ultimately I went back and rewrote the character to fit Isaac. I was figured I would have to shape the character in some sense around whoever I cast, depending on age, personality and skills. After the audition, where he was absolutely brilliant, I asked him if he wanted to do the film. He smiled and said, yes. I turned around to talk to somebody else and he started sobbing. Through his tears, which I came to learn were tears of joy, he said, "the dream of my life just came true." It was a powerful moment and one I will never forget.

GS: I also want to extend my congratulations to you because Any Day Now won the Audience Choice Award at the mainstream Chicago International Film Festival.

TF: (They told me that) I shared the honor with another film. At first, I went, "what do you mean we have to share the award? We didn't win it outright?" They said we received the exact same percentage as another film. I asked, "who's the other filmmaker?" They said, "Dustin Hoffman." I said, "I'll take it" [laughs]! My boy D and I, we shared the award.

GS: Has Any Day Now played at both LGBT and mainstream film fests?

TF: We had our premier at OutFest, which I think is actually the largest LGBT film festival in the world. If not in size, then in prominence. We wanted to have our LA premiere at OutFest. It was very high on our list of what we wanted to play. The response was thunderous and through the roof. One of the interesting things about this film winning the Audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival in April (2012), as we progressed through Tribeca, Provincetown, OutFest, Seattle, Chicago, Woodstock – all these festivals where we won the Audience awards, the thing that has struck me is that the film has resonated and has played and has been well-received by gay audiences, straight audiences, white, black, young, old, rich, urban, hip, New Yorkers, crunchy granola folks up in Woodstock. It has played across the spectrum and in a number of different and diverse markets and yet the film has received the Audience award from all of those audiences. What that tells me is that not only will the film hopefully be well-received and well respected within the LGB T community but also that will have crossover to audiences across the spectrum.

GS: You're going to see that firsthand when the film opens in theaters in December.

TF: I think the film will speak to audiences. I hope the audiences find it. While it can be challenging to sit through at times, and it certainly covers some heavy political and emotional and personal issues, it is ultimately a crowd pleaser.

GS: And you have the Audience awards to show for it. What is next for you, Travis?

TF: We're starting preproduction on a film called The Chix, which is best described as a middle-aged rock 'n roll movie.

Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.