Toronto: Three Questions With Tony Goldwyn, Director of Buzzy Sales Title ‘Ezra’ (Exclusive)

Tony Goldwyn is best known as an actor who has starred in films like Ghost (1990) and on TV programs including Scandal (2012-2018). But he has also quietly and consistently built an impressive résumé as a director, with A Walk on the Moon (1999), The Last Kiss (2006), Conviction (2010) and, most recently, Ezra. The dramedy just had its world premiere as a sales title at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it had audiences laughing and crying and has generated raves, especially for the performance of its lead actor, Bobby Cannavale.

Ezra centers on a single father, stand-up comedian Max (Cannavale), who is fiercely protective of his autistic son, Ezra (William Fitzgerald), and winds up taking him on the run rather than allowing him to be sent to a special school and medicated. The film also stars Rose Byrne as the boy’s mother; Goldwyn as her new boyfriend; Robert De Niro as the boy’s grandfather; and Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson and Vera Farmiga as friends of the father.

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On Thursday, Goldwyn, 63, shared with The Hollywood Reporter a bit about Ezra’s backstory, Cannavale’s performance and his hopes for the film’s future.

What led to your involvement with this film? It feels like a personal, passion project for you and perhaps others involved.

Tony Spiridakis [the film’s screenwriter] and I have been best friends for over 40 years. We met at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 1981 where I got my first professional job (I was still at Brandeis). Tony was the first person I laid eyes on as I stepped out of my ‘77 Chevy Nova on a beautiful Berkshire morning, and I knew instantly that we would be friends for life. We’ve been best men at our weddings and are godfathers to each other’s first child. The film is based on Tony’s relationship with his son Dimitri, who is autistic. (Tony has two neurodiverse sons, both of whom are exceptionally gifted. Nikos is now a film editor and Dimitri is an extraordinary painter.)

Having endured a similar ordeal to Max — minus the kidnapping — Tony was determined to write a film based on his experience and has been working on various drafts for over a decade. I’ve read every one but simply as a friend who lived through those difficult years with him. Two years ago, Tony called saying he’d reworked the script and wanted my thoughts. I was blown away with the progress he’d made and told him I wanted to direct it and that we should produce the film together. What better expression of our 40-year friendship, I thought, than to put Tony’s story on the screen?

In putting the film together, it was critical that we keep the autistic community central to the process. In addition to those on our producing team and cast with autistic children, we have multiple neurodiverse people in our cast and crew — chief among them is William A. Fitzgerald, the extraordinary young autistic actor who plays Ezra.

Can you share a few words about Bobby Cannavale and his performance?

Bobby Cannavale embodies everything we were looking for in Max. Bobby brings a kind of electric volatility and danger to everything he does. But always apparent in his work is the enormous heart pounding in his chest. Bobby is incredibly smart, sensitive and funny. As it turns out, he also has a long-time passion for the world of stand-up comedy. Finally, Bobby takes his greatest joy in life from being a father to his three sons. However destructive Max’s behavior becomes, in Bobby’s hands we never question Max’s undying devotion to his kid.

What is the ideal “home” for the film in terms of a distributor? And how would you describe the level of interest in the film that distributors have shown at the fest?

We had an incredible response at TIFF, with a standing ovation at the end of our premiere screening and a second one when I introduced William Fitzgerald to the audience. The critical response thus far has also been fantastic, so our sales team is in discussion with multiple interested buyers. That said, as a filmmaker, I just want a distributor who is passionate about the film and will truly get behind it. It’s an uncertain time in the industry right now, but with the right support, I am 100 percent certain that this film can break through to a wide audience the way CODA did.

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