The dramatic comedy The Story of Luke shows us a character we rarely see in modern cinema: a young autistic man who wants to forge his own path through life, instead of being dependent on others. Lou Taylor Pucci stars as Luke, a 25 year old autistic man who has lived a sheltered life with his grandparents, after his mother abandoned him. When his grandmother dies, Luke decides he wants to get a job and fend for himself for the first time in his life.
I recently had the chance to speak with Lou Taylor Pucci and Seth Green, who plays Luke's socially inept boss Zack, over the phone about this fantastic indie, debuting in theaters April 5. Here's what they had to say.
Lou, can you talk about the things you did to bring this character to life? Did you speak with autistic people, or where there other elements of research you went into?
Lou Taylor Pucci: (Writer-director) Alonso (Mayo) set it up where I could go to four different people's houses. They all had one level of autism, somewhere on the spectrum. One of them had severe autism. He couldn't speak very much. He mostly used hand movements, and things like that. It was such a wide spectrum of people. One of them, was a lot like Luke. He was 25 years old, and that's where I kind of found the face that he has. He has this kind of freaked out look. You could tell that he was just freaked out by practically everything. At the beginning, I said I have to figure out a way to look, in order to do this thing, or it's just not going to be right. He worked with me for about a week, trying to morph what I learned into a character we were sort of creating from scratch. We really put a lot of time and effort into it.
Seth, Zack is a complex character himself. At first, you kind of want to hate this guy, but then you see how he really needs someone like Luke. Was that a tricky thing to pull off, to make this guy seem like a prick but still likable at the same time?
Seth Green: That's usually my favorite kind of character to play, somebody you wouldn't assume you'd have anything in common with. You get to demonstrate all the ways they are human and relatable. Zack is in a different place because he was educated completely different, about himself and his condition, whereas Luke was taught that he's special and that different from everyone, and he's not forced to make a contextual comparison about his whole place in that world. It's Luke's perspective that ultimately changes him. That was a fun thing to do.
In the film, Luke's family is surprised that he actually wants a job and wants to live on his own. Did you find that kind of mentality when you were talking to these autistic people?
Lou Taylor Pucci: I think there's a phase where kids, no matter if they have autism or not, want to be treated as an adult. They just want that next phase. They see other people with responsibilities, they trust them, and they're a man, and that's what Luke wants to be. I did kind of see that a little bit, at a certain age. That's what Alonso was trying to get at in this movie. He was fascinated by kids with autism that he grew up around, because his mother ran an institution in Peru. He grew up around hundreds of kids who had autism all over the spectrum, and he was fascinated by people going through that phase of time, when they're like 22 to 25, but honestly it could be any age because they develop at a different rate. That phase happens in a lot of people, and he wanted to capture that on film.
There's such a great cast around you guys, with Cary Elwes, Kristin Bauer van Straten, and Kenneth Welsh. It's sad we don't get to see as much of Kenneth Welsh, but it must have been a ton of fun to work alongside him. He was great.
I assume the shooting schedule was very tight then.
Lou Taylor Pucci: It was super tight. We lost days doing it. It was like, 'OK, we can only do this now because this thing happened.'
Seth Green: Yeah, this light, or this location, or this weather, or this person, any number of things. You only get one shot at it when you're making a movie this small, for this little of money. Everyone was in it for the right reasons.
Lou Taylor Pucci: And Alonso helped me do my homework hardcore so we could be ready for anything.
This is Alonso's first film, and obviously he has the background of this world. Aside from that, how would you describe his style and the way he works?
Lou Taylor Pucci: We just had this insane amount of trust. He could tell that I knew who Luke is, and he could tell when it was too put-on, or a little over the top. There was such a line we were trying not to cross, keeping it where people could laugh with Luke. It really is a comedy, and that is a really tricky line, because if we cross it the wrong way, it's going to look like I was making fun of it. I just had a super amount of trust in him. He was also into changing lines, and super open. He wasn't precious about his words at all.
I never really thought about that when I was watching it, but I can see how tricky that must have been, to walk that line.
Lou Taylor Pucci: Yeah, it was scary. I was honestly shitting my pants every single day, wondering if I was doing the worst possible thing ever. That's not how it came out, thank God.
Have either of you heard any feedback from the autistic community?
Seth Green: The responses I've gotten via social media have all been incredibly positive and supportive. They've come from either people who have family members or children or they work with autistic people. They just were happy. People said it was handled with the appropriate amount of gravity, and a little bit of humor. It portrays people as human, and not unable to participate in basic human things.
That's my time. Thanks so much, guys. I really enjoyed the film.
Lou Taylor Pucci: Thank you.
Seth Green: Thank you.