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Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis on Tuesday said his directorial debut, Breathe, is an inspiring tale of struggling against adversity, not a dark take on disaster.
“We were elevating not just a story of survival, but creating a metaphor for our times, about the power of love,” Serkis said of his drama about British advocate for the disabled Robin Cavendish. The film, starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, follows Cavendish after he was paralyzed with polio at the age of 28 and given just three months to live.
Against all advice, his wife Diane brought him home from the hospital and inspired him to lead a long and fulfilled life. Serkis said Diane Cavendish’s staying with her husband when she had the option to leave was an act of love that lay at the foundation of Breathe.
“Nowadays it’s so easy to walk away. We live in a massive throwaway world. We are so alienated from one another now,” he told reporters at the TIFF press conference. “That’s why I found the power of this film so strong. It’s a reminder of what true love actually is,” Serkis added.
Breathe was produced by Robin Cavendish’s son, Jonathan Cavendish, through the Imaginarium Banner he founded with Serkis. The film is based on his parents’ lives.
Jonathan Cavendish recalled his mother allowing his father, who became paralyzed from the neck down, to regain some control of his life to the point that he could be productive. “My mother subtly gave him that control back, behind the scenes,” he recounted.
Garfield, who plays Robin Cavendish, said using only his face for physical movement to play the role meant “having to surrender to your limitations.” Another hurdle was playing Robin Cavendish’s death scene, as it happened in 1994 at age 64, with Foy, who plays Diane.
Despite having memorized his lines, Garfield recalled struggling for words to express as the cameras rolled his love for his onscreen wife, and thanks for their lives. “I was so dissatisfied with the words. There were no words, when I looked into Claire’s face. What could I say that could possibly encapsulate those many years,” he said.
For Foy, Breathe becomes more than a story of two people. “It’s a story of love for everyone. Their love for one another meant they could love other people, even more,” she observed. Breathe had its world premiere at Roy Thomson Hall on Monday night.
The Toronto Film Festival runs through to Sept. 17.
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