Q: What do you think makes this story so compelling?
A: It's a compelling story because it's about a simple man with cerebral palsy. He is unheroic in his deeds. But when you look at the totality of his life, he's an amazing hero because of the daily obstacles he faces and the odds he's overcome. Bill Porter represents a kind of work ethic that's long gone -- a guy who trudges through neighborhoods day after day after day, just connecting with people. As we get more Internet and technologically oriented, we lose that personal connection. How long has it been since the milkman came to the door? It used to be that you could go down to your little grocery store and they knew you. I just started ordering groceries over the Internet, which is convenient but distancing. Our society is moving more and more away from people. Here was a guy who touched people and connected with people despite his disability. That's what we tried to show in the piece.
Q: What about people who ridiculed him?
A: There are not a lot of people in this movie who ridicule him. Surely there are some, but I think that's his cross to bear, and that's what's so brilliant about Bill Porter -- he just keeps marching on and doesn't let it phase him. His mother was a big force in that. There's a scene, for example, where some kids try to tease him but then his mother makes fun of the kids in a very smart kind of way.
Q: How true did you stay to his life story?
A: We took the major arc of his life and put the story into that frame, but his customers were fictionalized. We needed to bring little dramas into the story or else it would just be like watching a mailman on his mail route.
Q: He is quite a salesman, isn't he?
A: Bill Porter is the consummate salesman, and that was one of the things that we tried to convey. We always have him selling, and that actually takes away from a lot of the maudlin qualities of the storyline, because he's good at it and it's what he loves to do. He's indomitable. There's a character in the film we call the "go-away guy." But Bill just keeps knocking on his door for years and never takes no for an answer.
Q: What was it like to meet with the real Bill Porter?
A: He has an enormous sense of spirit and will to win. He's also a true gentleman. That's why people would let him into their homes. He's so positive and delightful. He has this laugh and smile that warms you.
Q: Was he hesitant about this movie being made?
A: He certainly didn't want to have the newspaper story written about him. But I think he got over that because he does motivational speeches sometimes. He's become a little more comfortable with his celebrity status. I think he finds it all very amusing. He doesn't know why people are so interested in him.
Q: Was this a hard film to shoot?
A: This was one of the hardest physical productions I've ever directed, in part because it spans 40 years. So we had to keep going back to locations, and each time the location's appearance had to change. The actors had to age. Normally when you shoot a film, you can shoot everything in one house at the same time, but we couldn't do that. We had to redress the place, or build a tree, or have a tree grow, or repaint a house.
Q: How did you prepare with Bill Macy?
A: We wrote this script together, and we would read the scenes out as we wrote them, and Bill would do the voice. It brought the scene to life to have him speaking these lines as we were writing them. Somebody who read the script on their own might think it was kind of flat. But when you hear his voice and you realize how difficult it is for Bill Porter to speak, then you realize that, for him, just saying a sentence is a triumph. Bill and I have a great partnership. We go back to college, and we've been best friends for many years, as well as writing partners. We've done a number of these things, so it's comfortable. It's like working with family. When things are going a little haywire, there's always Bill, who's the center of calm. He'll make jokes. Out of all the actors in the acting pool, I can't think of anyone who could play this part but him. I mean they look alike! It's just one of those perfect blends of the right actor and the right part at the right time.
Q: How did you choose Kyra Sedgwick to play Shelly?
A: I immediately thought of Kyra because she has this kind of uniquely exuberant energy. And so does Shelly. Shelly Brady is a dynamo. She has six kids and she does all this stuff with Bill, including all these promotional tours.
What can you tell me about Bill's relationship with Shelly Brady?
A: Bill's relationship with Shelly was very complicated, I think. They became infused and entwined on many different levels -- she was his assistant but also his dear friend and more. The relationship evolved into a father-daughter relationship. It was very deep and has lasted for years and years.
Q: How was it to work with Helen Mirren?
A: Helen Mirren is a goddess to me. I'm so proud that she's in this movie. She loved the script, which meant a lot to Bill Macy and me.