Laura San Giacomo On New Movie, Son With Cerebral Palsy

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Actress Laura San Giacomo stars as the wife of a man involved in an extramarital online relationship in Tall Hot Blonde, directed and produced by Courteney Cox. The Lifetime Original Movie premiering on Saturday at 8 p.m. is based on true events.

In a conference call, the Just Shoot Me! and Saving Grace star opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her upcoming dark film, her infamous line in Pretty Woman, and her inspirational story of raising her 16-year-old son Mason, who has cerebral palsy, and creating a groundbreaking fully inclusive school for children of all abilities.

What was it like having Courteney Cox as a director?

LSG: “I think that you could probably imagine what it’s like since so many of her fans have been watching her for so long. She has a really wonderful energy on the set, she was very well prepared. She’s a very smart director. She got a great team together, the DP, the crew, the wardrobe person, every one she picked very specifically, the music, everything.

And she was extremely well prepared with her shot list, which is drawings of where the characters are, where the camera is going to be. I was extremely impressed with how prepared she was, and she had great images for the story as well, so of metaphors and imagery of how to shoot it and how to tell the story.”

Tell us about your role as the betrayed wife in Tall Hot Blonde.

LSG: “I had to create this delicate balance of a marriage that has kind of become very routine and all about the children and not a person who is, let’s say, neglectful or aggressive or nagging or – like there’s nothing specific about her that makes this happen. It’s what’s inside his mind that makes it happen.

So it can’t look like a great marriage, it can’t look like a horrible marriage, it’s got to look like that place in between that so many people sit where it’s just routine and they’ve lost sight of the person that they fell in love with.

And also, yes, to be respectful that this is a person that is living and has chosen to stay far away from the entire story and the documentary — who could blame her, it was such a devastating thing that happened to her — but I felt like as long as we can have the boundaries of what this relationship was and be truthful to them, it can appeal to a lot of people in various moments of their life.

We’ve all had those moments where we take a person for granted, we’re not paying attention, we’re not being our best, we’re really tired and overwhelmed by all of the things of modern life: kids and swim meets and being really involved in their lives. And trying to, especially right now, everyone trying to make the payments and being overwhelmed by this financial pressure as well as trying to make – still make life really fun and vibrant.

And you can lose sight of who you are partnered with – you can take advantage of that, you can take it for granted. And so it was just about trying to find that balance of, ‘It’s not really her fault, but she’s also involved in the story.’ ”

We loved your line “Cinda-f-ing-rella” in Pretty Woman! Did you come up with that on your own?

LSG: “That was a little collaboration between Gary Marshall and I. He would sort of give me a note before we would start rolling and then he would just say, ‘Do whatever you want with it.’ And that I sort of – I sort of blurted that out.”

Tell us about your son Mason. He’s not a baby anymore!

LSG: “No he’s not, he’s taller than me. He’s 16.”

How is he doing?

LSG: “Great, great thank you.”

He has cerebral palsy. Do you talk about it publicly?

LSG: “Yes I do. We started a fully inclusive school about 11, maybe 12 years ago now, which is a public charter school that the focus is full inclusion, which means that everyone goes to school together all day long; kids who happen to have disabilities, typical kids and gifted kids sitting side by side in the classroom.

And it’s been a very successful elementary school and middle school. We started with 70 kids, now it’s over 700. And it has reached really good scores as well as been adopted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was given to him by his wife for his 60th birthday to be his flagship school, and it’s doing really well.”

Can you please speak on the importance of inclusion for children of all abilities to be together?

LSG: “Well there’s some really wonderful things that happen. First, kids realize that everyone is different and everyone is the same and everyone is to be valued. That’s something that, really, adults need to learn. Kids just automatically value each other.

So within the first 100 days of school an NPR radio show came to our school to do a piece on inclusion and the journalist who was setting up situations where she was trying to get the kids to describe each other by disability — and they really didn’t.

She would say, ‘Whose backpack is that?,’ knowing it was someone who was in a wheelchair or who maybe was deaf — we also had a deaf and hard of hearing program at that time — and the kids would say, ‘That’s Johnny’s, he got it for Christmas. It’s his Justice League backpack. He’s over there he’s in the red shorts.’

So they would describe him as they would any other child, not by disability but by color of hair or shorts or whose class they were in. And it was a beautiful lesson for all of us to learn that right from the get-go, disability can be completely normal. And that’s how most of us who founded the school live our lives, because most of the parents who had the energy and the drive to found the school were actually parents of kids who happen to have disabilities.

So it was really wonderful when all of the typical and gifted kids who go there got to be leaders — got to have friendships, got to help other kids, got to be inspired by other kids. Got to learn that we all give our friends a lot of leeway and those kids learned that right from the get-go. And that everyone was a valuable member of their class even if they happen to not be able to walk or talk.”

What are you most passionate about?

LSG: “Well I’m certainly most passionate about my son and education and literacy and opportunity for all kids. And that’s, you know, other than acting and mothering that’s what I’ve been most focused on in the last decade and a half in starting a school and keeping that up and running. And now with a new project on the horizon, a technology and literacy center.

So that’s kind of my ‘hobby’ and I really love to see kids learning and laughing together and struggling together. And you know, that’s really one of my passions.”

Please give us your best advice to parents who have kids with special needs.

LSF: “I think first of all there’s so much negativity around [disability]. Perhaps a really difficult birth, a really difficult childhood trauma, an extremely difficult diagnosis and there’s a lot of mourning that goes on and a lot of fear. And trying to adjust your mind around what you thought your parenting was going to be to what it’s now going to be.

And I wish that medical professionals would tell parents, ‘This is your chance to be the most incredible person, to be better than you ever thought you were going to be, to become smarter than you ever thought you were, to become more imaginative than you ever thought you could be. And this is your chance to really shine and step up to the plate for the biggest game of your life.’ There’s a lot of great power surrounding the community and I sort of want to inject with, you know, the green masters of jacket – of the golf world.

And I wish that doctors and medical professionals when they give the diagnosis would also put a green jacket on your shoulders and say, ‘Hey, this is your chance. You have been given this most incredible and amazing challenge and it is going to be the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, and it is going to be the thing that is going to be the most joyful thing in your life. You will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and you are going to be amazing and your child is going to be amazing.’

And they will play basketball, whether it is from a wheelchair or someone helping them, they will find all kinds of things that you do not know, because your mind is too closed to what a disability might be. They will find and they will show you what they are going to be excited and passionate and joyful about. And your job is to take a machete and carve the path in front of them. Find out what they love to do and carve it and let them experience all of the world.

And that’s a lot, and nobody is going to want to hear that. They just want to cry, but at the other side of the crying is going to be a full and rich life that is going to be tiring, but also extremely fulfilling and joyful.”

Did you have that positive outlook when you first got the diagnosis?

LSF: “No, I did not. The first thing that someone told me is, ‘Well he’ll never play basketball.’ And there he was five years later playing basketball. So it’s all old, really old projection. It’s all from an old school where kids were institutionalized. As near as the ’70s kids were not going home with their parents.

It’s ready, the world is different now and it also is part of our responsibility to keep changing the world and to keep setting an example that, ‘No, what you tell me when he’s a baby in my arms, and you’re telling me he’s not going to play basketball, that’s just not true. I could send you 80 pictures of him playing basketball throughout his elementary school career.’

Now it doesn’t look like a professional basketball player, but most of the world is not going to become a professional basketball player. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have joy that a kid is playing basketball on the playground. It’s going to happen in a different way, but that’s not something any parent needs to be told. But it’s an old view from an old medical paradigm that is just not happening any more.

And I wish the medical professionals had the time to go out and see what their patients are doing. To see what life is happening, to see inclusion at its most beautiful and finest. And then you don’t have to say dumb things like that to parents and make them cry in your office. It’s just not necessary.”

 

Filed under: Celebrity Interview,Exclusives,Laura San Giacomo

Photo credit: Lifetime

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  1. What beautiful truths!! What if the first thing the dr said to parents of a child newly diagnosed with CP was, “He will play basketball.” or “She will love Bocce ball!” What a life-changing way of hearing that news.My 14 yr old son Jackson has left hemiplegic CP and played Bocce Monday night and kickball yesterday. Today he went on hike! Does he need a little help? Yes! Is he going pro? No! For the most part, we are at the other side of the crying. Some moments still bring me to my knees, but they are few and far between now. Thanks, Laura San Giacomo for telling it like it really is!

    Coleen Burger

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  2. thank you Laura – I had no idea you had a son with CP. My 20 year old daughter with CP is right this minute in NYC (far, far away from home in Portland, OR) with a friend for 8 days, meeting people she’s known only online. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE what you wrote about what you wish the medical profession would say to us when they hand out a diagnosis – while my image has been about having a parade for us parents, I like your green jacket idea, and the words of encouragement that we all needed to hear. We just don’t need to listen to those old projections. I’m going to share this with the parents I know (and support through UCP in Oregon). Thank you – with tears of joy.

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  3. sharon morton

    i agree with you so much..As a mom of a 30 yr old with cp.I to was told that my son would never do anyhing for himself.Now 30 yrs later he can feed himself and talk like any other adult.Cant play baseball or any other sport but bowling..but this is his favorite thing to do.I think drs need to look at the parent as the frist teacher these kids have .Give us some credit moms love can go along way.I was told he wouldnt do anything and i have proven them wrong…so lets just keep showin them what the power of love can do

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  4. Laura I have thought about you so many times since “Nina Takes A Lover” and wondered how you were doing, and how your son has been doing. Well, I finally found this WONDERFUL interview with you about your new movie and your truly inspiring story of your son and the school you founded. Wow. i love how you have taken such a challenging life situation and found because of it, you had lots of insights to pass on to so many!

    i love your beauty inside. )

    Reply
  5. John Krans

    My 15-year-old Granddaughter Lauren Walier has Cerebral Palsy. On 10/18/13 she spoke at The American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, a global audience of doctors, researchers, clinicians, therapists, etc. in Milwaukee, WI. Please be patient as she is very emotional and nervous getting started.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox3yBHIANTQ&feature=youtu.be

    Please help Lauren by forwarding this to every email address you have. Lauren is a very courageously starting a crusade to help people less fortunate that she is by raising funds and awareness for cerebral palsy research and therapy. In May through August she rasied over $7000 for her cause. Please help us make Lauren’s foundation, Make Lemon Aide for Cerebral Palsy and Lauren a major fundraiser for CP. Every penny Lauren raises goes to her cause. Listen to her dreams and please support them to come true.

    SherryWalier@comcast.net

    770-891-9043

    Reply

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