Friday, February 27, 2009

Interview: Rosie O'Donnell Saves America, Part 2

Former daytime queen Rosie O’Donnell’s most recent project is the Lifetime Original Movie called America, which premieres on Lifetime Television on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In it, she plays Dr. Maureen Brennan, but Rosie also is an executive producer and co-writer on the movie. Based on E.R. Frank’s book of the same name, America follows the touching journey of 17-year-old America as he traverses the foster-care system.

Rosie explains how she assembled such a stellar cast, which includes Academy Award-nominee Ruby Dee (American Gangster): “When I read the book, I knew that was Ruby Dee’s role right from the beginning. For six years, that had been the vision in my mind. I’m friends with Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X, and she is like family with Ruby. I was telling Attallah for years about this movie. So when we got the green light, I called her up and said, ‘Attallah, will you tell your aunt?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So, we got her that way.

“It was the biggest thrill to be in Detroit on Election Day with Ruby Dee, talking all about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and (her late husband) Ossie Davis giving the eulogy (at the latter’s funeral). It was pretty astounding to hear her talk about her life, and just the reality of being there with her on that day was fairly overwhelming.”

There are also a number of new faces, including star Philip Johnson, to help round out the cast of young characters. “We purposely tried to get young actors who you didn’t know, so it wouldn’t take the viewer out of the movie.

“For instance, I’ll be watching a movie with my kids, and they’ll be like, ‘Isn’t that the guy from The Wizards of Waverly Place?’ It takes you right out of the film.

“So we found all new actors. The young girl who plays Liza (Raquel Castro) is from a town right close to where I grew up. And the young boy who plays Marshall (Logan Huffman), I think he is fantastically talented and absurdly handsome. He reminded me of all the boys I used to pin up on my bedroom wall as a kid from Teen magazine, the kind of boy you would have loved when you were 14.”

To top off the stellar cast, Rosie found an even-more-stellar director for the project. “The director, Yves Simoneau, is unbelievably gifted. He is a true artist. Working with him was the most fulfilling experience on a movie, because he was so open to new ideas and so full of life. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and how he wanted it to look. I think that visually it is absolutely captivating.”

At the end of the day, though, this movie is about the forgotten children who are shuffled through the U.S. foster-care system. Rosie hopes that her film enlightens the audience and provokes them to take action.

Rosie explains: “I hope people get an understanding of these kids. With our nation becoming more and more economically depressed, the numbers are going to grow in foster care. We need to do something right away. It is an emergency; it is an epidemic in some capacity. If we were losing that many kids a year to a disease, there would be fundraisers and telethons. But these kids are invisible, and will remain so until we give them a voice.”