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Embracing Neurodiversity: A Conversation with Alex Plank on the Film "Ezra"

A few weeks ago my partner Chris and I were invited to attend the premiere of the movie Ezra

And I’m still pinching myself. 

Ezra is the story about a stand-up comedian named Max who is struggling to co-parent his Autistic son Ezra with his ex-wife, Jenna. When faced with difficult decisions about their son’s future, Max and Ezra set out on a cross-country road trip.

The movie was absolutely amazing. And what makes this movie truly fantastic is that Ezra is played by an autistic actor. 

On a whim I reached out to the associate producer of the movie, Alex Plank for an interview. 

Alex is not only a creative force behind popular shows like The Good Doctor and The Bridge, but he is also a beloved figure in the autistic community as the founder of Wrong Planet, an online hub for autistic individuals to connect and explore their identities.

Check out our interview with Alex Plank below: 

Getting Involved with Ezra

Jessie: I’d love to know how you got involved with this project.

Alex: It all started with an email from Tony Goldwyn, the director. He asked if I’d be willing to talk to him. Due to my executive functioning challenges, I didn't respond immediately. He followed up, and I finally responded. Tony really valued my perspective and wanted to ensure the film was inclusive, which aligns with my priorities, including having an autistic actor play the autistic character.

Pre-Production and Authentic Casting

Jessie: What did your involvement look like from the beginning stages?

Alex: From pre-production, I helped Tony with casting, watching auditions from over a hundred kids. I provided input on what to expect on set and worked closely with the crew to ensure everything was accommodating for the autistic actors.

Jessie: Did the education you provided help the actors, such as William, be more authentic in their roles?

Alex: Absolutely. Creating a supportive environment where William felt empowered to be himself was crucial. I emphasized that people should speak to him as a competent actor, not differently because of his autism. This made a significant difference.

Authentic Representation

Jessie: Why is it so significant to have an autistic actor playing an autistic role?

Alex: It's incredibly significant. The norm has been not to cast disabled actors in disabled roles, which is unfortunate. Having an autistic actor, along with someone like me behind the scenes to advocate for authentic representation, is groundbreaking.

Jessie: What made you realize William was the right fit for the role?

Alex: I knew he was the one during his chemistry read with Bobby. His talent was evident from the first few minutes.

The Importance of Authentic Storytelling

Jessie: How rare is it to find someone from the conception of the film insisting on authentic casting?

Alex: It's still not as common as it should be, though it's becoming more so. Authentic casting should be the norm. Having meetings where filmmakers don't understand the need for authentic casting is unfortunate.

Jessie: The story seems to come from a very authentic place. Can you elaborate on that?

Alex: The story is written by a parent, giving it a genuine perspective. My goal was to also showcase the autistic point of view, creating a film that touches on universal themes like acceptance, Coming of Age, and family dynamics.

Final Thoughts

Jessie: How do you hope this film will change the narrative around autism?

Alex: Our movie is set to release in 1,300 theaters in the US on May 31st. I hope people will see it and that it will change the narrative. Media shapes our values and attitudes significantly. A film like Ezra can have a positive impact by promoting understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity.

Special thanks to Alex for taking the time to sit down with us and share his insights on this important film.

Ezra is in theaters now!!

If you want to watch our interview with Alex, check out our weekly liveshow Making the Shift on YouTube. 

>> Making the Shift, Episode 67, Autistic Representation on the Big Screen ft. Ezra Associate Producer Alex Plank