Fans probably best remember actor Christopher Atkins as a curly-locked boy, running around the beach with a teenage Brooke Shields in the 1980 film “The Blue Lagoon.” Or perhaps soap fans remember him in the original run of series “Dallas” as Peter, a college student and camp counselor who has an affair with a much-older Sue Ellen Ewing.
With those images in mind, fans will no doubt have no idea they are looking at that blonde, blue-eyed actor in a loin cloth when they see the character of Walter, an elderly man suffering from the ravages of his time in the Korean War, in Atkins’ new film “The Storyteller.”
The 52-year-old actor sat down with Riverside Soaps on May 28 to talk about the making of this emotional new film.
Atkins plays Walter, a once-revered children’s book writer who regresses to the world of a child after the ravages of the Korean war, and the loss of his wife and youngest daughter to a car accident, leave him reeling from grief and agony. Walter’s remaining daughter, Susan, in a poignant performance by Gabrielle Carteris, is a bitter and lost soul, left to care for her shell-shocked father, now in his 70’s. With hope fading for ever reaching her father, Susan makes the decision to put him in a home; however, she is forced through tragedy to experience a miracle that will change her life forever.
Not only does Atkins pull off a convincing turn as a man in his 70’s, thanks to the magic of Hollywood makeup, but he also directed and wrote this incredible story of hope, love and courage in the face of emotional trauma.
Atkins hopes to raise $12,000 on crowd-funding site Indiegogo to complete the film and submit it to film festivals around the world.
The actor spoke candidly about the experiences that led him to write this emotional story and his own personal message for our service men and women for Memorial Day.
Riverside Soaps: Tell us about what prompted you to write “The Storyteller.”
Christopher Atkins: “‘The Storyteller’ was the very first script I wrote. It was optioned many times and actually went all the way to Dustin Hoffman. Unfortunately, it was too close to his film ‘Rainman.’ It was an original story derived from experiences from when I was a kid. There was a man who used to come to our baseball games and rode a bicycle with a big orange flag. I later found out he was shell shocked during the Korean War. There was also a woman on our block who gave us candy every day after school before we would play football in the street. I combined these memories and created the story.”
RS: Gabrielle Carteris, probably best known for playing Andrea on “Beverly Hills 90210,” stars as Walter’s daughter, Susan. Just in the clips alone, it is clear she turns in a heart-wrenching performance. What made you choose Gabrielle for this important role?
CA: “I wanted and hoped an actress who wanted to stretch and portray a different and difficult role would be interested in playing Susan. Gabrielle took that shot, and instantly I was excited.”
RS: “It’s hard to believe that’s you in the trailer on Indiegogo as Walter. Tell us a bit about getting into the extensive makeup and prosthetics, as well as preparing to play someone elderly and suffering from PTSD.”
CA: “I did not intend to play the part, actually. I wanted to direct the film, but when it came to casting, I just could not find the right 70-year-old actor, especially for my budget <laughs>. So my producer, Mark Grove, convinced me I knew the character better than anyone, and I should play the part. Mark Viniello is one of the top special effects makeup artists on the planet and a good friend, and he came to the rescue with the prosthetics. Mark applied the makeup every morning four hours before shooting. I had to direct and play the role and hopefully do it justice. I wanted Walter to be loved by children but misunderstood by adults, even his daughter Susan. This created the back story of a girl who has never had a dad like other kids and now, as an adult ,has come to the end of hope that Walter will ever come out of it.”
RS: The scenes of the Korean War are incredibly realistic. Can you tell us a bit about how those scenes were shot and any preparation you did for authenticity of the scenes?
CA: “Mark Grove took the reins of the action scenes, and his stunt team rehearsed and practiced at length. The script called for a trench, and Mark implemented the action around it and in it. His team was stunning, including an unbelievable scene of a soldier running down the trench completely on fire. The war scenes needed to be dramatic and intense in order for us to feel Walter’s pain. I believe Mark hit it right.”
RS: Clearly, our service men and women, and the important subject of PTSD, are huge factors in this film. Why was getting information out there on the effects of war on our military so important to you?
CA: “My film is a small representation of PTSD, but it’s a representation all the same. It captures the dramatic horrors that can alter a person’s life forever and cause those around them to struggle also. I feel we need to be reminded of these traumas and highlight those families and friends that inevitably suffer along. The film does not dive into the aspects and diagnosis of PTSD but more of a father-daughter relationship and that daughter’s inner struggles with living with, caring for and understanding a person suffering from this kind of trauma. I also respect and honor those who put themselves on the line for me and my family every day.”
RS: What will the funds be used for that are being raised on Indiegogo for “The Storyteller?”
CA: The film needs color correction, sound mixing and promotional items, along with entering the film in festivals all over the world.
RS: “Do you have any special message for our service men and women on this Memorial Day weekend?”
CA: “You are a special kind of person to do what you do, and I thank you, my family thanks you, and we wish you safety and God bless.”
Learn more about “The Storyteller,” along with a trailer and how you can donate at Indiegogo.com. You can also follow Christopher at his Facebook Fan Club, Twitter and his official website.
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