Paolo Virzì came to the Toronto Film Festival having had a fantasy come true—with The Leisure Seeker, his English-language debut, playing to enthusiastic houses, the director came by the Deadline studio with the two stars he’d wanted from the get-go: Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, who both praised Sony Classics for committing to the film in advance of its recent premiere in Venice.
Adapted from the 2009 book by American author Michael Zadoorian, and described by Mirren, with Sutherland’s approval, as a story about “the pursuit of dignity,” it sees the pair playing a devoted married couple who sneak away from their family to make an emotional road trip down the East Coast. Sutherland’s John is an ex-professor suffering from dementia; Mirren is Ella, a homemaker who is trying to manage her own illness while determined to get them both to the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, as a last bucket-list item. “My dream was to have Helen and Donald play Ella and John,” beamed a clearly delighted Virzì, “but I thought it was impossible.”
Virzì explained that he was smitten with Zadoorian’s novel from the very beginning. “As soon as I read this little book,” he said, “there was something very appealing to me. This idea of the rebellion of an elderly couple—I was really taken with this idea. At the same time, I was afraid of [making] that kind of journey, because in the book it was from Detroit to Disneyland, through Route 66, in a tacky America, which could be risky for an Italian director, to be stock and clichéd. So we moved the journey from Massachusetts to the Hemingway house.”
See more in the video above.