“Ezra”: A New Film In Which a Disabled Actor Plays a Disabled Character

Blog: Ezra

We always celebrate when the entertainment industry casts disabled actors as disabled characters. The latest example of authentic casting is the new feature film “Ezra,” which opened in movie theaters across the country on May 31. The film stars Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg and newcomer William A. Fitzgerald.

Based loosely on screenwriter Tony Siridakis’ personal experience of raising a son with autism, “Ezra” tells the story of Max (Bobby Cannavale) and Jenna (Rose Byrne), a separated couple struggling to parent their 11-year-old autistic son Ezra (William Fitzgerald). Like his character, William Fitzgerald lives with autism.

As the film opens, Ezra is experiencing severe behavioral challenges and his parents disagree on how to handle them. Jenna wants Ezra to transfer to a school for children with autism while Max wants him mainstreamed. Jenna wants Ezra to try medication while Max is vehemently opposed to drug therapy. In a misguided attempt to rescue his son from the treatment plans he opposes, Max takes Ezra on a cross-country trip without his mother’s permission.

From the film’s inception, screenwriter Tony Spiridakis and director Tony Goldwyn were determined to cast an autistic actor in the film’s title role. They auditioned 100 child actors before finding William, a first time actor from New Jersey. “You just know when you see it sometimes,” said Goldwyn in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment.

Spiridakis was inspired to write the screenplay for “Ezra” to show audiences how even well-meaning parents can make poor parenting decisions.

“I made so many mistakes as a father, I wanted to show warts and all — the mistakes of being a father of an autistic child because I held on tight, I loved my son, and my son showed me with his wonderful spirit a way out of it, and that was a beautiful thing,” Spiridakis told Variety. “So, I thought it would make a good movie to see a father be that wrong.”

Robert De Niro, who plays Max’s father, was drawn to the film because he also has a child on the spectrum.

“I had certain things about it that I thought should be addressed,” he told Variety. “Everybody is well-intentioned, coming from a real place,” De Niro says. “It was done with a lot of love and a lot of hard work.”

It was important to the filmmakers that the film’s portrayal of autism was authentic. While making the film, Goldwyn and Plank screened it for people in the disability community to obtain feedback and ensure its authenticity. The film’s end credits were created by students at Exceptional Minds, a Los Angeles-based program that teaches young adults the digital arts.

“We wanted to involve the autism community in the telling of this story,” Goldwyn said in the Yahoo interview. “One of our producers is autistic himself, and he was on set every day helping us. We had consultants, we had people on our crew who were neurodivergent and other actors in the cast who you wouldn’t necessarily be aware that they were neurodivergent, but they were.”

This film is rated R and is not for children.