Bobby Cannavale hooked on personal story behind ‘Ezra’

Inspired by the screenwriter’s life as a father raising an autistic son, “Ezra” stars Bobby Cannavale as a troubled standup who lives with his father (Robert De Niro) and shares custody with his ex (Rose Byrne) of their autistic son (introducing William Fitzgerald).

“I loved that it was such a personal story,” Cannavale, 54, said in a Zoom interview.  “But the truth is I wanted to work with Tony Goldwyn” – best known for “Scandal” and currently in “Law & Order” – “who is a good friend. We’ve been trying to find something to work on together for many years.

“He brought me the script and told me about his relationship with Tony Spiridakis: They’ve been friends for 40 years and Tony Goldwyn is godfather to Tony’s son Dimitri who’s on the autism spectrum.

“As a personal story I was interested already. Then I read the script and just thought it was very authentic. That was really the jumping-off point. Then as I got into it, I just loved that this guy Max was his own worst enemy.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’ll be interesting to dig into and see how I could make this guy somehow empathetic.’ While he makes — I don’t want to say mistakes — but the questionable choices he makes throughout the entire movie. His heart is in the right place. I thought that could be an interesting thing to dig into.”

Goldwyn directs and also plays his ex’s new partner, a lawyer who helps with custody issues over Ezra. Cannavale never felt distracted by the set-up.

“Tony is a great example of an actor who knows how to talk to other actors,” Cannavale discovered.  “He’s a really compassionate guy. And for a guy like De Niro to sign on to make a movie with Tony directing — it’s a pretty good sign we’re going to be in good hands.”

Also, in very good hands was the production — once they found their Ezra.

“We looked for a long time for this little boy. We saw over 100 kids on the autism spectrum. Some wonderful, very talented kids. They just weren’t finding the one. It wasn’t clicking.

“We’re about a month away from shooting and this tape came in from this little boy, William Fitzgerald.

“As William has said, the only reason he thought about doing it was because he thought he could maybe get enough attention and finally have his own YouTube channel. He wasn’t really looking to have a career as an actor.

“His parents were like, ‘Why don’t you just give it a shot? If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it.’ I think that’s the right approach.”

“Ezra” is in theaters

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