In the 1973-set drama Uncle Frank, Paul Bettany plays the titular character who takes a road trip with his partner Wally (Peter Macdissi) and his 18-year-old niece Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina where they attend the funeral of family patriarch Mac (Stephen Root).
Writer and director by Alan Ball was joined in the Deadline studio at Sundance by Bettany, Macdissi and Lillis to talk about the film which was not only a very personal story for Ball, but for Bettany as well.
Ball shared a story about how when she came out to his mom, she told him a story about a relative who she thought was gay as well. “When he was a young man, there was a good friend of his who drowned,” said Ball. “He accompanied the body on a train back to Asheville, North Carolina. This was in the 30s and there was something so poignant about that story. I think over the years, those two different elements just sort of fermented in my head. I’m a playwright, I’m from the South, so I definitely have an inner Tennessee Williams. It just eventually became what is now Uncle Frank.”
For Bettany, Ball’s film hit very close to home. “My brother died when I was eight years old [and it] destroyed my family,” he explained. Fast forward 63 years old, my dad came out to me as a relief for everybody. He then had a 15-year marriage with a man — said man died.”
He continued, “My father, getting towards the end of his life and feeling his mortality and desperate to get into heaven to see my brother, went back in the closet and died with shame and sadness and for me that was a real tragedy. I was trying to give a performance for my father who never quite got to the place that Uncle Frank manages to [get to] through the guidance of his young niece.”
Watch the video above.
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