The Day I Met Minnie Driver On The Set Of ABC’s Speechless #ABCTVEvent
Well, speaking of Los Angeles….While I was in Los Angeles earlier this month, I also had the fabulous opportunity to visit the set of ABC’s Speechless and hang out with the cast. Oh yeah, and Minnie Driver! YES, Minnie Driver! This is such an amazing cast, I hate to just focus on Minnie Driver, because there are so many names you will love in Speechless. If you haven’t had a chance to catch it on ABC yet, you’re in luck; it comes on tonight at 8:30/7:30c. This is such a fun series and they have totally grasped what it means to be the mother of a special needs child. The struggles and the humor that is necessary just to make it through the day each day is perfect!
Before we started our set visit and got to hang out with the super cool cast of Speechless; we had an interview with the creator and executive producer Scott Silveri. He was so amazing. His family dealt with many of these same issues while he was growing up and, you’ll see, he created and writes Speechless as a sort of love letter to his family <3 It really is the most amazing thing ever!
How did your family react knowing you were gonna write a show that’s based on your experience?
Scott Silveri: They were really incredibly supportive about it. I made it clear from the beginning to them, as I try to make clear to anybody else, this is not their story. This is not my story or my brother’s. What’s important to me is to capture a couple of elements about the time we had growing up. They were very, very supportive about that.
I feel like you can take whatever challenge is thrown your way and wallow in it or turn to something. Let it define you or have it make you a better person or more fun person or more interesting person. You can curse the heavens or you can band together and make it work. And that’s what my mom did. That’s what my dad did. And I wanted to celebrate that at every turn. I mean, this is like — this is meant to be — this is intended to be a love letter to my, to my mom and my dad.
I hope that, that comes across. They’re broadly drawn characters, and this is not a documentary about my childhood, but it really is meant to be a loving depiction of the choices that I celebrate. But the great thing about their response to it was when they first read it and I asked permission. I did not wanna get in trouble for this. This would make for a lot of bad Thanksgivings and Christmases.
I knew wading into these waters at all whether it was not about us per se, I needed their bind. But the great thing that I got back from them when I first showed them wasn’t flattery or vanity. Like, ‘oh, you know, there’s gonna be a famous actress playing a version of me’. It was just relief. ‘It’s gonna be a family like ours on TV’, and that’s fantastic, because so much of the experience of families like ours was just feeling invisible, not being heard.
I don’t think that’s unique to disability, but it’s certainly the experience of a family with somebody with disability. It’s like people either stare or ignore, and they found it refreshing to have a story like ours told.
Did you have to make any changes to make it more network ready, um, any specific changes from real life to TV family life?
Scott Silveri: No, you know, the network was pretty open to it. The network was actually supportive of what we wanted to do. There’s a difference between Micah’s character, JJ and my brother in real life. In real life my brother’s condition is a little — is more is significant. I wanted there to be a lot more back and forth. That was my choice. That wasn’t them laying the hammer down and saying, ‘you know, make it lighter or make it funnier or make it anything different’. I just thought in a world where you have six characters in a family, you want a lot more give and take between them. One challenge when I was thinking of doing a version that was closer to my own experience, I never wanted that character to seem like a prop. I wanted him to be active, and this made it easier to be active.
When I was thinking about the JJ character, the criterion that I kept coming back to is this a character that would exist on TV independent of a disability, independent of the wheelchair. That was the litmus test. Once he has an attitude and he has agents and he has things that he wants, that’s worth writing for. But if it was simply defined by a wheelchair, that’s telling a story I didn’t want to tell.
When did you know that Micah Fowler was the perfect actor for this?
Scott Silveri: The second I saw the tape. We did a wide search. We took tapes in from all over the country. And there was a funny thing that happened with the casting director, Susie Farris, who I worked with on a couple of shows over a bunch of years. Normally she knows to play the game, not just with me, with any producer. She doesn’t sell it too hard. When you wanna sell somebody something, you try to make it their idea.
With Micah she said this is the one. We’re done. I’m sending you a tape. You’re gonna like it or I’m gonna quit. And, you know, I saw him and he lights up the screen. I write words. So, he doesn’t have that to deal with. It’s a challenge for us thinking for the best way for him to express himself without them. It’s a challenge for him making this stuff work, being present in the scene without lines, but he did it from day 1.
It was the first time I wanted to do a show like this. I’ve been wanting to do a show like this for 20 years, as long as I’ve been doing this, but he was the one that allowed me to do it. It was pretty instant. It was pretty easy. He made it easy for us, which is great. Like in casting, you see so many people they’re the great ones, the ones you know right away and then there’re the ones that stink. Most of them are in the middle.
One of my favorite things about Speechless is the relationship between Kenneth and JJ. I love them so much together. Can you talk about how that relationship, behind the scenes, came to be?
Scott Silveri: They just, they just hit the ground running. Can I just say in the early iteration of the script, there was no Kenneth. He spoke through a computer. Then I met a woman who’s since become a consultant on the show. Her name’s Eva Sweeny. It’s far more common these days to use a device and iPad. The technology’s unbelievable in the way it enables communication. It’s staggering. When I was a kid, in the ‘70s, there would be a board on somebody’s wheelchair and it’s like I want milk. I want bathroom. And that’s it.
People have more profound things to say. I want milk and I want bathroom. And it’s incredible the way technology’s being used to empower these kids to speak. But, it’s a choice. There are a lot of different ways to do it. And this young woman I met, Eva, is the one who I first saw communicating this way, and it was through an aid, and it was this odd thing. She prefers it. She finds it to be warmer. She finds it to be more conversational, and there’s a flow to it. I liken it almost to vinyl versus an MP3. There’s just, there’s just a warmth to it. When I saw her communicating with her aid, it was a lot easier for me. It felt like more of a seamless conversation.
So, we cast Kenneth first. Cedric was the first one to sign up on the show. God bless him. I don’t know why he did. There was nobody else, and it was late in the process. We didn’t know that we’d find a family. But he signed up for the show and I had him meet Eva and watch, but he didn’t need it, because right from the beginning the two just had a fast friendship. They just clicked and they make each other laugh. And they sure make me laugh.
We took the photo above we had just met Micah Fowler who plays JJ DiMeo in Speechless. For those of you who haven’t yet seen Speechless, JJ has cerebral palsy. He has difficulty communicating on the show and in real life. I noticed that, in this photo, I look like I have a smirk on my face, but the reality is that I was crying LOL Yes, if you don’t know this about me, I have a HUGE soft spot for people with special needs and my heart was so happy with meeting Micah and seeing how absolutely thrilled he was that we were there to meet hime! It was one of the best moments in my life. I just love that they are using him for this part. He is perfect <3
Is it hard to mix the seriousness with the comedy in this show?
Scott Silveri: It’s not hard. I’m thrilled that we have people who care to see it as an audience. And in the network. That’s all I wanted to do. That tone going back and forth between unapologetically silly to un-apologetically sincere, it’s almost like you’re driving; you’re driving down the street and you make a turn and you’re completely lost. I enjoy writing that way.
You said you’ve been wanting to do this for like 20 years. What ended up making it now to where now is the right time? This way?
Scott Silveri: There are a couple things. I didn’t want it to be like the first thing I tried, because of the tone and because of the subject matter it felt like a little I don’t know. I didn’t feel like I was up to the challenge, because I didn’t think it was going to be easy, and it’s not easy. But, you know, part of it is like I’ve been doing this for a while and you don’t get to do it forever.
I thought “okay, if I do it and it goes wrong, okay”. You gotta take a shot. I feel like I’ve just gotten a little older and a little more mature, and I had a sense of more mortality and mortality in my career. If I don’t do it now, when am I gonna do it? Why shouldn’t I take the shot? And it’s a little scary to put yourself out there that way.
It’s not a cynical show, and I think it’s easier to be cynical. But I thought ‘what the hell?’ I’m just gonna try and put it out there. So, I’ve written my share of romantic comedies and stuff like that I faked that stuff for a long time. I met my wife when I was 18. I didn’t date anybody. I’ve been BS’n that for 20 years. So, I feel like maybe I’ll write something I actually care about.
The photo above is a few of us with Cedric Yarbrough who plays Kenneth Clements in Speechless. He is amazing and perfect for his role.
Below is a couple of us with John Ross Bowie who plays the dad, Jimmy DiMeo in Speechless. This is such a touching, brilliant, and funny series. Be sure to tune in to ABC on Wednesday nights at 8:30/7:30c! Guess what?! Tonight is Wednesday night, so go turn it on 😀
Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) is a mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband Jimmy, her kids Ray, Dylan, and JJ, her eldest son with cerebral palsy. As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his “voice.”
Speechless stars Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, John Ross Bowie as Jimmy DiMeo, Mason Cook as Ray DiMeo, Micah Fowler as JJ DiMeo, Kyla Kennedy as Dylan DiMeo and Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth.
Scott Silveri (Friends) writes and is executive producer of the show, along with Fresh Off the Boat’s Jake Kasdan and Melvin Mar. The series is from Twentieth Century Fox Television and ABC Studios.