They came to Christopher Reeve’s living room last May for what they thought would be a standard meet and greet. Producers Fred Zollo and Bonnie Timmermann, scriptwriter Will Scheffer, and executives of HBO NYC Productions had assembled on Reeve’s home turf to confirm his commitment to turn director for the first time with In the Gloaming, a made-for-cable drama about a young man with AIDS who returns to his parents’ home to die. Then Reeve began to speak, and things got awkward.
”I said, ‘I’m gonna open with a couple of comments that may get me fired here,”’ recalls Reeve. ”I told them [the script] had potential, but it also had problems. It read like a play … [so] I said: ‘Basic changes need to be made. If you think it’s too much, by all means get somebody else. I’d be wrong for the movie.”’
Reeve knew it was a brash opening gambit for any director, let alone a 44-year-old neophyte. But fortunately, the Gloaming team proved remarkably receptive to Reeve’s ideas — and committed to helping him forge a new career path.
As the world knows by now, the performer was grounded by the May 1995 equestrian accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Connected to a respirator and unable to continue acting except in special situations (such as this week’s TV movie A Step Toward Tomorrow, in which he has a cameo, or as the voice of King Arthur in a 1997 Warner Bros. cartoon feature), Reeve has rechanneled his sportsman’s sense of competition into campaigning for spinal-injury research funding. Now he’s bringing the same can-do tenacity to direction.
”I was in the middle of a 12-week shoot in Australia when Chris faxed me,” says Glenn Close, who plays Gloaming‘s reserved but empathetic mother. ”The last thing I was thinking of was to work again. It helped that Gloaming was filming eight minutes from where I live.” (Reeve and Close are suburban New York neighbors, just a few miles from the Pound Ridge house rented out as the Gloaming set.) Besides, says Close, she’s known Reeve a decade and a half and ”really wanted to be with him in his first directing attempt.”
Robert Sean Leonard, who plays the son, wasn’t as sure about signing on. ”Chris was nervous he couldn’t do it, and I was too,” says Leonard, most famous for his work in Dead Poets Society. ”I’m always skeptical of first-time directors, because the job’s much harder than people think. But as Chris will be the first to admit, he commanded a respect few first-time directors have.”
As the photos on these pages show, Reeve has found his rhythm with the help of an extraordinarily supportive production team. In turn, he is a demonstrative directtor, extraordinarily attuned to the tiniest modulations in his actors’ line readings. He wrapped shooting several weeks ago and now begins postproduction work geared to a spring debut. ”I get a gut feeling, and that’s all I’m going on at the moment,” he says. The metronomic tsss of his respirator marks another forcible exhalation, and Reeve waits to finish his thought. ”I’m just beginning … and I think trusting your instincts is a … a good place to start.”