‘The Quest for Finding a Youth Whose Joy Comes from Acting’

Embarking on his debut performance, depicting a youngster with autism in the motion picture Ezra alongside Bobby Cannavale, William A. Fitzgerald maintained composure.

“The experience didn’t seem overly challenging,” remarked Fitzgerald, 15, who shares the autism spectrum diagnosis with his on-screen persona.

Their effectiveness stemmed from a strategy developed by him and Cannavale.

“Given that around 90% of my scenes are with Bobby, we operated under a little scripted scheme named ‘Be With Bobby,’ which kept me alert,” Fitzgerald shared with Yahoo Entertainment. “Essentially, it was a ‘Be Present with Your Acting Partner’ strategy.”

“There’s no mistake in being present with your partner,” Cannavale declared to Yahoo Entertainment. “At times, actors complicate what should be a straightforward task. If you’ve done the prep work, you ought to just be present and coexist within the environment. Achieving this is often more arduous than it appears, but this kid is a natural,” he praised.

Helmed by Tony Goldwyn, unveiling in cinemas on May 31, Ezra narrates the tale of how stand-up humorist Max (Cannavale) grapples with his challenges while fostering a son with autism (Fitzgerald), in the company of his former spouse (Rose Byrne) and progenitor (Robert De Niro).

For Goldwyn, who also portrays an individual in the cinematic piece, this narrative resonates personally. The screenplay is authored by his comrade, Tony Spiridakis, a parent to an autistic child — who is additionally Goldwyn’s godchild.

Therefore, casting needed to mirror the real world.

“At no instant did we contemplate the option of selecting a neurotypical thespian for the Ezra character,” Goldwyn stated to Yahoo Entertainment.

“Tony [Spiridakis] crafted the story, inspired by his liaison with his autistic offspring, thus ensuring authenticity was imperative,” he disclosed.

Following an exhaustive countrywide quest involving in excess of 100 kids aged 9 to 14, Fitzgerald emerged as their choice.

“Occasionally, you recognize the fit instantly,” expressed Goldwyn.

The director, who additionally takes on the role of Byrne’s partner in the narrative, emphasized the necessity of a child who finds ease in his genuine self on-screen and can withstand the rigors of a movie production, “Given that it’s quite an evolved setting.”

While accepting that all juvenile performances can be taxing, Goldwyn conceded that such environments could pose distinct hurdles for neurodivergent artists.

“Each individual with autism spectrum experiences their own sensitivities and variances in comfort and discomfort, akin to anyone, with greater accentuation when autistic,” Goldwyn acknowledged. “And we were committed to making necessary accommodations.”

An autism casting authority, Elaine Hall, was recruited for her expertise and it was she who discovered Fitzgerald.

“She articulated the need to locate a youth for whom acting is his sanctuary,” Goldwyn recollected. “That insight was spot on. And indeed, we found that in William.”

In their stance for neurodivergent representation, the production pushed boundaries further.

“It was of importance to involve the autism community in this story’s narrative,” Goldwyn conveyed. “One of the filmmakers is himself autistic and was present daily on the set lending assistance. We engaged consultants and team members who were neurodivergent, as well as other cast members whose neurodivergence might not be immediately recognizable, but it was indeed present.”

Cannavale drives as Fitzgerald sits in the back seat in the movie Ezra.Cannavale drives as Fitzgerald sits in the back seat in the movie Ezra.

Cannavale illustrates a father guiding his autistic offspring (Fitzgerald) on an interstate journey in Ezra. (Credit to Bleecker Street)

As for the celebrities portraying Fitzgerald’s guardians, Byrne and Cannavale, also partners and guardians in reality, didn’t alter their own method to performance amidst a neurodivergent juvenile artist.

“William, he’s endearingly affectionate, which made us feel fortunate,” Byrne confessed to Yahoo Entertainment. “And Bobby Cannavale, my spouse, he’s extremely tender-hearted. So our starting point was grounded there.”

“[William is] forthright, captivating, and possesses a vulnerability,” Cannavale commented. “He embodies all qualities sought in a commendable scene partner.”

Byrne remarked on the progressive shift in casting normativities within cinema.

“There’s a burgeoning discourse and terminologies around such topics now, which is encouraging, since the dialogue opens up a spectrum of understanding that previously had been shrouded with stigma,” observed Byrne. “A depiction with a neurodivergent artist in this manner was not conceivable years ago.”

Surrounded by lauded thespians, which included the double Academy Award laureate Robert De Niro, Fitzgerald felt quite unperturbed.

“The sole actor I was eager to collaborate with was Rainn Wilson because I had glimpsed through several episodes of The Office,” he mentioned about the actor who assumes the friend role of Max in the flick.

“There you have it, candid,” Cannavale quipped humorously.

Cannavale articulated the essence of groundwork in his craft and the importance of engaging genuinely with his fellow contributors in his endeavors.

“I am an staunch advocate that the preliminary work is done well in advance of the shoot. Once filming commences, all that’s required is to stay focused and perceptive, and if the preparation is solid, it will manifest. The efforts will shine through,” he expounded.

He proceeded, “With an attentive counterpart like I had in [William], the process becomes seamless.”

Ezra graces the silver screen on May 31.

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