Janet Grillo and I are both believers in the sisterhood. There are actually a great number of women in Hollywood who have each other’s backs, but you would be hard-pressed to see evidence of this in the media. We are bombarded with images of women behaving badly toward one another: the “housewives” hurling daggers, “mean girls” going for the jugular, Chelsea Handler attacking… everyone. Some of us, in fact I would venture to say, most of us, are hard-working professionals who know how tough it is out there, especially for women of a certain age.
When one of us goes out on a limb with a project to which she is dedicated, we pony up if we can, we talk it up as we should… and by God, we show up when we are asked. That is the principle, anyway. We also have families, jobs, or lack thereof and a host of other struggles that can make it hard for even a true believer to live up to this standard.
When Janet first approached me about playing Jeanne in Fly Away, I knew I could not think about it for very long. Taking the lead role in a low low budget film is a huge commitment of one’s time, energy and resources. There is a ton of give and very little take in the true indie world. This is not the glossy world of a movie like The Kids Are All Right with major movie stars and a small but comfortable budget.
Think separate trailers, decent wardrobe allowance, assistants to run errands and fetch the stars to set asking “Do you need anything? Can I bring you anything… anything at all?”
No, this is the gritty indie world of “Can we use your clothes? Can you change in a tent?” Do you mind going pee in a Porta-Potty? I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, of course I will do it,” because the story needed to be told, because I trusted Janet to tell it, because it is what a sister says. I got myself to the set.
Janet and her “dream team” of Pavlina and Sandra and the other bright talented women who took up the lead positions behind the camera, and my beautiful movie-daughter Ashley and I in front constituted a real sisterhood. We were all moved by the story of a single mom struggling to raise a daughter who is on the autism spectrum. There were no divas, no raised voices — the only drama involved ended up on the screen. We gave every inch of ourselves in trying to be true to it. If you have seen it, I hope you can sense our bond. If you have not seen it I hope you will, because this one is straight from our hearts.
There was another woman behind the scenes with us who is a part of the larger sisterhood and also my blood. Laura Broderick was our autism consultant and she was a great asset to the film. She is also my greatest supporter, my biggest defender and my best friend.
Laura is the executive director of two programs offering supported living services to persons with autism spectrum disorder. She has worked with this population for nearly twenty-five years. She has over a hundred employees and the clients she serves have some of the most challenging behaviors imaginable. Nearly eighty percent of the clients receiving support services from Diverse Journeys and Get a Life have been liberated from institutions. Many were locked away for most of their lives. Laura and her partners are undaunted by even the most extreme cases. When the state approached her about Larry (not his real name) a man in his mid-thirties, long hospitalized — who had poked his own eyes out in a fit of rage, Laura did not bat hers. “No problem,” she replied. “We will get him a baseball hat and get on with his life”.
Laura and I share a bond that goes beyond sisterhood. Though she is six years my junior, ours more closely resembles the relationship that many twins share. We finish each other’s sentences, read each other’s thoughts and are keenly aware of each other’s mood. What is remarkable about this is that we are not at all alike.
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