Philippa Northeast and RJ Mitte in ‘Standing up for Sunny’.
Best known as the son of Bryan Cranston’s malevolent Walter White in Breaking Bad, RJ Mitte is playing the lead in writer-director Steven Vidler’s romantic comedy Standing up for Sunny.
The American actor plays Travis, a young man who has low-grade cerebral palsy and discovers he has a gift for stand-up comedy.
This happens after Travis comes to the aid of Serena (Philippa Northeast), a free-spirited barmaid and aspiring comedian who is heckled in the local pub.
Sam Reid, who appeared alongside Helen Mirren in the BBC drama Prime Suspect 1973, which screened here on the ABC, plays Serena’s boyfriend, celebrity radio DJ Mikey.
The four-week shoot in Sydney started today, produced by Ticket to Ride’s Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin and Drew Bailey, with support from Headgear Films, Spectrum Films, Create NSW and VA Digital Hire.
Vidler had been a fan of Mitte’s since the first episode of Breaking Bad, in which his character had low-grade cerebral palsy, like the actor. After one week of rehearsals, Vidler tells IF: “RJ is an absolute delight. He has no ego; it’s all about the work and the story.”
Vidler said he cast Home and Away’s Northeast for her “vulnerable luminosity” and ability to rapidly shift into a dark emotional area.
Newcomer Italia Hunt plays Gordo, Travis’ visually impaired roommate with Ella Scott Lynch (Love Child, Doctor, Doctor, Brock) as Serena’s sister Felicity, who is Gordo’s love interest.
Mikey hires Travis to help Serena achieve her ambition in stand-up, offering to pay him enough so he can afford to kick Gordo out of his apartment. Soon Travis is hooked, both on comedy and on the girl.
Vidler searched for a visually-impaired actor for the role of Gordo but could not find anyone suitable. But he did cast visually-impaired singer/songwriter Rachael Leahcar as Eve, a singer who performs a couple of tunes.
This is just the second feature directed by Vidler, who made his debut with the thriller Blackrock, which won the AFI award for best film in 1997.
He wrote the first draft years ago as an ensemble piece for a play after friends who worked in stand-up comedy told him they saw their work as a form of therapy. Later he got a grant from the Australian Film Commission to develop a screenplay.
He changed the focus to the lead character who has low-grade cerebral palsy after attending the 2013 Aurora Screen NSW script workshop where he was mentored by Americans Meg Lefauve (who later co-wrote Disney’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur) and Paul Mezey (an executive producer of Beasts of the Southern Wild).
An attempt to make the film as a co-production with Canada went nowhere and the script sat in a drawer until earlier this year when he pitched Jamie Hilton. Mitte responded to the screenplay and signed on after a couple of Skype conversations with Vidler and the producers.
Vidler said: ”It’s been a wonderful experience developing the script with some amazing people. Now seeing it brought to life by our fantastic cast lead by RJ Mitte is a huge buzz.”
Mitte said: “Im really excited to be a part of this well-rounded movie with a great team of individuals.“
Shooting will wrap on December 8 and post-production will be completed at Spectrum Films. Ticket to Ride holds the global sales rights.