Love in the face of prejudice

Travis Fine on bringing Any Day Now to the screen.

by Amber Wilkinson

Garret Dillahunt as Paul, Isaac Leyva as Marco and Alan Cumming as Rudy in Travis Fine's Any Day Now
Garret Dillahunt as Paul, Isaac Leyva as Marco and Alan Cumming as Rudy in Travis Fine's Any Day Now
Travis Fine's touching and heartfelt drama Any Day Now reaches UK cinemas on September 6. The film, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last year, stars Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt as a newly established gay couple who try to give disadvantaged Down's syndrome teenager Marco (Isaac Leyva) the loving family that he has never had. In doing so, they face a situation fraught with prejudice and injustice. The film is by turns funny and poignant, giving a satisfying emotional pay-off without being manipulative, and is fully deserving of the fistful of festival awards it has won. We caught up with Fine ahead of the UK release to talk about the stories behind the film and the reception it has received.

I gather the screenplay for the film was originally from the Seventies?

The original screenplay was written in the late 70s. George Arthur Bloom, who was the writer of the original screenplay, lived in Brooklyn, New York at the time. He knew this character, Rudy, and the young boy that he looked after and he was obviously very touched by their connection and started to write a script. He ultimately realised that the story needed a three-act structure and the natural progression in his mind was to ask the question, what if Rudy tried to get legal custody? What would happen.

So he wrote a story about Rudy and Rudy trying to get custody of this boy. The film never got made. It almost got made a number of times with a number of well-known actors, the script was bandied about and talked about and, ultimately, made its way to me after sitting in various desks for about 20 years.

Alan Cumming as drag queen Rudy in Any Day Now
Alan Cumming as drag queen Rudy in Any Day Now
I read it and immediately connected with the characters but I had a notion that I wanted to alter it and add the Paul character, add a love story and make a number of modifications to what he had written. He was gracious enough to let me. As a filmmaker, you have to have a personal connection and I added elements that, for me, were very personally relevant. As a straight man I wanted to make sure there would be elements that I would be connected to, not just the notion of a gay adoption.

Watching the film it feels like a true story, although it doesn't say so in the credits, but listening to you talk about it, obviously elements of the film are rooted in reality even though it's a fiction.

It's a weird tricky line. I have some pictures of Rudy, of the real guy - he passed away in the late Eighties of HIV - and we almost did a dedication at the very end to tag it and say this was inspired by a true story. But then, lawyers get involved and the legality of it - you can't say it's 'based on' or 'inspired by'. So there's a tricky little line you have to walk because clearly George was moved by a real person but ultimately it was a fictional story - there was no adoption case.

But, in an interesting parallel, two of our executive producers and one of our co-producers were part of a landmark case in Florida that almost directly paralleled this case. Two men, they already fostered 33 special needs kids over the course of their 20-year relationship. They wanted to adopt one of the children whom they had fostered and the state of Florida said no. And they literally lost the first case and went up to the higher court and ultimately won the case. And so, it is in a sense, a work of fiction because Rudy never fought this fight but there are lots and lots of people who have had this exact same fight.

The portrayal of gay men is very interesting and quite unusual in the film, in that it's not about men coming out, they are just gay men in this situation and forging a relationship. That's quite unusual, even in gay cinema, where the characters are often very young or we meet them at the end of their lives. Was that in your mind, to explore the romantic period, if you like?

Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming as Rudy and Paul
Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming as Rudy and Paul
Maybe I come at it with either the benefit or the handicap, depending on whose opinion you take, of not being extremely well-versed in gay cinema. When I first wrote the script, my sales agent, who is a gay man, said this feels very fresh and different to the other gay cinema that's out there. I said, I didn't know. I didn't set out to write necessarily a gay story, although clearly it is about equality, it is about two men who are in love. I wanted to tell a love story. The sexual orientation of people, while it's relevant and it's obviously important and it mattered to the story and it means something to me and my political beliefs, I wanted it to be a story that resonates whether you were gay, lesbian, bisexual - no matter what your private personal orientation is.

A lot of films can be quite manipulative about emotion but your film isn't. It has emotional points in it but you build to those emotional moments and don't 'cheat' with the audience. I wondered if having a Down's syndrome actor on that set helped you to create those emotional moments. I'm thinking particularly of the moment when Marco walks in the room with the toys in it, and it's the first time he has really had a room of his own. It's an incredibly powerful moment.

He did what all really great actors do - he took what has been written and he made it even better. My concept was, he looks at his toys, he turns around, he says: "It's my home", Rudy and Paul say: "Yes, it's your home" and we cut and we're out into another scene. That was the way it was scripted and that was the way we first shot it. Isaac, the actor and Isaac the person, got very emotional because he understood the importance of this character having his first room. So when I said, "Cut", I think after take 2, he started crying. I said, "What's going on?" and his mum explained to me, "He's emotional because he knows what's going on with the character." So we decided to keep the camera's rolling and Alan instinctively walked in. And if you listen closely, Alan says in his distinctive Scottish brogue, "Are you okay." He's dropped character because he was comforting Isaac. But in editorial, we realised there was a moment there that made the scene even better, so we cut the scene to keep Isaac's back to them when he says, "This is my room" and it increased the power of that moment and gave us material in editorial that you want to make a scene even better than is written and shot - and Isaac certainly did that.

Did you always have Alan Cumming in mind for the role of Rudy?

It was an interesting thing. Whenever you're casting, you come up with an initial list and I was reaching out to an agent regarding Ricky Martin, as I had been reading articles about gay adoption and came across an article about Ricky and his two boys. I thought, that's interesting, he's a performer, he's obviously very well known, I know he's done some acting, so I called the agent to see if he was even around or available. And the agent said, "You know, he's booked till he's 65, he's booked forever. But what's the character?" And as I described the character, the guy said, "That sounds like Alan Cumming." And it was almost like a lightbulb, because Alan, at that point, was not on that initial list, and now I think back and think how can we not have included him because he's so perfect? I immediately said, yes, and happened to know his manager, who happened to be a fan of my work. She gave him the script and he quickly came onboard. He's so good in the role. He said to me one day, "You know, Sean Connery, he's the king of Scotland. But I'm the prince."

And you cast Garrett Dillahunt opposite him. It's a chance for him to show a softer side. He's such a versatile actor but he's been playing a lot of tough roles lately.

That was the hardest role to cast. The first or second offer we put out for every other role, we got who we wanted. To my lasting discredit, they were talking to me about Garrett from the very beginning and I kept saying, "I can't imagine him in the role." because I'd seen him in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, where he's so menacing, and in Deadwood... and recently I'd seen him in comedy Raising Hope. It's a big hit comedy over here and he plays a goofy, dumb, dimwitted hillbilly. I'm like, I can't cast him. They kept saying, "Trust me, he's a well-trained actor." We went to one actor after another. We were nine days out from production and the casting director finally said, "Look at this." They should me some [of Garrett's] stuff and I went, "Oh, I get it." Thankfully, he agreed, with a little bit of begging from me. Just as I couldn't imagine him in the role when I first thought of him, when I think about it now, I couldn't imagine anybody better.

How much of a challenge was it incorporating all the music?

Thankfully I've got a great music supervisor, he's a dear old friend from high school, PJ Bloom, and Joey Newman, whose the composer. Those two guys were really instrumental - we had the best session musicians in all of Hollywood who came and did this with Alan in the studio. It was challenging for Alan, I think because you're trying imagine where you're going to be in a scene, when you're in a recording studio two weeks before you shoot the scene. That was a real challenge and understandably so. Then having to replicate the emotion on set so that it matches the scene in the studio two weeks ago - that's tricky. My next film is a musical, it's about a band [the working title was The Chicks although it is now listed as Untitled on IMDB], so we're going to have a lot of singing and we learned a lot of things that worked really well and a few things where we thought, we're not going to do that again.

As far as the next film goes, are you quite a long way on with that?

Yes, we start shooting in November. We've got three of the six leads set. I can't talk about it right now but I'm exciting. We've got incredibly talented actresses, who are known worldwide and are also world-class singers.

Is it a totally different tone?

Totally different. My wife looked at me and said, "Can we please do a comedy? Can we stop breaking everybody's hearts." The new film is a lot lighter but it still retains a lot of heart and a lot of emotion. I try to make movies about real people in real situations and even in comedy, I try to ground it in reality.

Any Day Now is released in UK cinemas by Peccadillo Pictures on September 6. To find out about screenings near you, visit the official site.

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