Oscar Winner Ed Saxon Reveals Why His Sister — a Doctor — Is His Secret Production Weapon

Illustration by: R. Kikuo Johnson

Writing for THR, the producer behind 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Philadelphia' explains how having an M.D. in the family helps his shoots stay on schedule

Producing well means having prepared so well that there's nothing you really have to do when you get to the set. In an ideal motion-picture factory, all the parts are well oiled, they're meshing, and we're on schedule. But in real life, people get sick. Their relatives get sick. Everything from canker sores to the cancer of a star's parent threatens to derail the production train.

I'm lucky to have a younger sister, Dr. Leslie Saxon, who has reached the lofty perch of chief of cardiology at USC. Additionally, she runs a high-tech medical think tank called the Center for Body Computing that convenes a big conference annually to talk about how our mobile devices are rapidly becoming an important part of our health support system. (For example, Apple has announced its Health Kit, and wearable devices are a new way for us all to see the story of our health.)

Leslie and I have always been very close; we talk every day. As different and not so different as our careers are, we've served as mentors to each other. Academic medicine is not without its politics, and periodically my sister seeks my advice. With long experience with the outsize personalities in the film and television business, I have been able to offer steady-handed counsel on what seemed to me like minor border skirmishes between people who make life-and-death decisions. I'm proud to help my sister achieve well-deserved credits for her work.

Leslie has been an important tool in my producer's belt kit for many years. Neurotic director obsessing about a cold? Put him on with my sister. Actor worried about his father's stress test? Talk to my sister -- that's her specialty. Writer in search of a funny name for an illness to use on an absence note for a student character? Ask the cardiologist!

Sometimes it goes deeper. Preparing Tom Hanks for his role in Philadelphia, Leslie and I arranged to have him meet HIV specialists. On The Silence of the Lambs, the actress playing Catherine Martin, the girl in the pit, showed up having lost significant weight after we'd cast her. The problem was, we needed her to be bigger. I had a refrigerator of Haagen-Dazs put in her hotel room at the suggestion of my doctor sister (admittedly, I thought I could have come up with that one myself).

For Elsa & Fred [starring Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer; in theaters in November], we had a couple of octogenarians. While the actors are remarkably fit, their characters weren't so healthy, and we needed to make that realistic. Kidney, heart or liver? Which diseases keep you looking good until the plot calls for a rapid decline?

And for my own palpitations when we're losing the light at the end of the day and still need an important shot at an expensive location? Even my talented little sister, the doctor, hasn't been able to help with that one!

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