When Paul Bettany was approached for the title role in Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank, he was perhaps as skeptical as he was excited. “I’m a big Alan Ball fan, but also sort of a ‘glass is half empty’ type of fellow, so I went, ‘I’m going to get the one sh*t Alan Ball script,’” the actor joked. “I read it and it wasn’t, of course. But then I had lots of questions about whether I could and should play the part.”
The film written, directed and produced by Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) centers on college professor Frank Bledsoe, who takes his niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) to the South Carolina funeral of family patriarch Daddy Mac (Stephen Root). While visiting family, Frank wrestles with the sexual identity he’s long tried to hide from them, also coming to grips with a traumatic incident from his past.
During a panel with Ball as part of Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees awards-season event, Bettany explained that he agreed to board the project after hopping on “a really long phone call” with the director, which led him to believe he could be of service to his story.
“You know, Alan and I have weirdly similar experiences, in terms of loss and damage,” Bettany deadpanned. “So, that kind of dovetailed really neatly for the story.”
While the project was a very personal one to Ball, who had mulled it over for 25 years prior to getting the green light at Amazon, he only had a weekend to rehearse with his leads including Bettany, Lillis and Peter Macdissi, who plays Frank’s partner, Wally.
“We had no money and no time. It really was guerrilla filmmaking in a lot of ways,” the Oscar winner says of the challenges in bringing his latest film to life. “But everybody just believed in it. Everybody from the top down really seemed to be excited to be a part of this project.”
Uncle Frank had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of last year, debuting on Amazon in November. The pic was produced by Ball, Macdissi, Bill Block, Jan Van Hoy and Michael Costigan, with Isaac Ericson, Andrew Golov, Bob Osher, Josh Peters and Christopher Tricarico exec producing. The drama’s ensemble also includes Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale, Lois Smith and more.
Ball’s film received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Television Movie. Meanwhile, Bettany notched his first nom for his starring role as Vision in Disney+’s Marvel series WandaVision.
Check out the panel video above.