Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview: Rosie O'Donnell Saves America

Rosie O’Donnell is best known to daytime audiences as the host of her popular talk show The Rosie O’Donnell Show (1996-2002), as well as a co-host on The View (2005-2007). But she is also known for her child-welfare advocacy. Rosie has teamed up with Lifetime Television to help bring to light some of the flaws in the U.S. foster-care system by writing, producing and starring in the movie America, which is based on the book of the same name by E.R. Frank.

America follows the touching journey of a 17-year-old boy, America, as he traverses the foster-care system. Rosie stars as a therapist who gives America the support he needs to deal with his troubled past and helps him find the courage to live.

Rosie explains how the project came about: “I read the book in 2002. I was going out to L.A. I needed a book for the plane, and an intern handed it to me. I read it on the plane to L.A., and I wrote the script for the movie before I got back.

“I am such a big fan of books, and a big reader, and so often you come across a book you really like but someone has already bought the rights to it. When I first read this book, I didn’t even ask — I just started to write. I could see the movie in my head; the book was just so well written. It just came to life in my head, so I wrote it anyway and just hoped that it wasn’t sold already.”

To Rosie’s relief, the rights to the book had not been sold yet. Rosie says: “I called the author, E.R. Frank, who was a young woman, a 35-year-old social worker. I met with her and told her it would be hard for me to make this, but I would do my best to get it made. So, it’s been seven years in the making.”

A key part in making this movie was getting the right actor to play the part of America. “We had seen about 500 kids for the role, and I knew that if you didn’t love that child and relate to him, the whole movie would fall flat. We had two actors that we were going to put on tape that day, and we had stopped at a restaurant to eat. There was a family sitting at another table; they were the only other people at the restaurant.

“I saw Philip (Johnson) sitting there and said, ‘That’s the kid who should play America.’ I kept trying to make eye contact with anyone at the table, and his uncle finally asked, ‘Are you Roseanne Barr?’ and I said, ‘Close enough,’ and I got up and walked over to them. I explained the movie I was doing and asked Philip if he had ever acted. I told the father it was a heavy subject — it’s about foster care and abused kids — but your son has the stillness and intensity that just drew me to him.”

Rosie admits that the movie can be hard to watch. “Most people who I’ve shown the movie to say, ‘I had no idea it was like this.’ Until I became a foster parent back in 1998, I didn’t know either. It was an education that I got.

“Did you know that 80 percent of prison inmates were at one time in foster care? That’ll tell you a little bit about how we do as a state raising children; it’s not really what we do best. The foster-care system was originally established for war orphans around the time of World War II. We need to reconfigure the system to accommodate the needs of today’s kids.”

Check back next week for part two of the interview, where Rosie talks about working with Ruby Dee, filming the movie and how we can get involved in helping foster children. America premieres on Lifetime Television on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.


jman72194 said...

My name is Johnathan Flynn and i thought that wasa great movie....i hav a myspace and im 15 but i would lik 2 know if there was a way i could contact philip johnson somehow because we look almost like twins(no lie) everythng about us is the same except for the eyes and i would just like to talk to him for a moment...we look so much alike that i could swear that we are related but just in case someone does read this then my number i 304-228-4267 and this is serious(great movie and hot girl haha)