George read through the script for Music Within, as she would any other
project she was considering. But by the closing pages, she knew she had
to make the film. She would play Christine, the love interest of activist
Richard Pimentel, in a story that struck her as hauntingly familiar. Similar
to Pimentel, her father had been injured in Vietnam, sustained a condition
marked by constant ringing in the ears along with hearing loss.
It really affected his life, George says of her father.
The uncanny connections didnt end there: During the shoot for Music
Within, due out this fall, the Australian actress learned that director
Steve Sawalichs stepfather is the founder of Starkey Laboratories,
maker of the smallest hearing aid ever, George says. We
would like to help your dad out, Sawalich told her. So her father
flew to an affiliate in Western Australia, got fitted for the hearing
aids and walked solidly into the world of sound for the first time in
Now I cant hear your mother yelling at me, her father
Georges story is humorous with an undertow of emotion just like
the film, which follows Pimentel as he becomes politicized after he and
others with disabilities face repeated discrimination. While the smaller
story is of his friendships with Christine and Art Honeyman, a college
classmate with cerebral palsy, the larger tale is of the historic rise
of the disability movement, which culminates in the 1992 Americans with
Disabilities Act. Music Within won the Audience and Star Awards at AFIs
Film Festival in Dallas.
The first time I saw the film, it was very traumatic, Pimentel
recalls. As background, he had supplied the producers with 90 pages of
notes on his life, allowed them to videotape him during two days of in-person
interviews, and gave them a copy of his 1980 book Tilting At Windmills,
a guide to employing people with disabilities.
It was important to be real candid, to show up warts and all,
Pimentel explained. A highly sought-after speaker, hes fought for
disability rights for upwards of 40 years. The difficulty for him in watching
the film had less to do with how he was portrayed, than in seeing the
depiction of his late mother, who was emotionally and mentally delicate,
and of his father, who died in a sudden fall from a ladder when Pimentel
was a boy.
After the initial shock of seeing the intimate details of his life projected
onto the big screen, he saw the film a second time and evaluated it as
a movie. Then I was so thrilled, he said. Everybody
did such a fabulous job. I was especially pleased with the integrity of
the script. He realized then that they were using his life experiences
as a vehicle to tell the story of the disability movement.
Actor Ron Livingston took on the role of Pimentel, aware that his performance
could not help but draw comparisons to the real man, who is something
of a celebrity in his own realm.
The actor and activist first met in Minnesota, where Livingston flew to
hear Pimentel at a speaking engagement. It was kind of important
to see him in action, since I play him speaking throughout the movie,
Livingston related. Watching from the audience, he found the public Pimentel
to be an engaging and friendly speaker who, on a dime, can turn
The two men spent private time together over lunch, where Livingston observed
Pimentels mannerisms while asking a laundry list of questions. It
was a cross between a student newspaper interview and a therapy session,
jokes Livingston, who is a graduate of Yales School of Drama.
I could tell he was studying me, my gestures, the way I say things,
If it was some kind of test, Livingston, perhaps best known for his roles
in the comedy, Office Space, and HBOs Sex and the City, scored with
high marks. Ron really took a lot of care to portray my character
with truth, he didnt just imitate me. Playing his free-spirited
love interest Christinea character also based on a real personGeorge
came up with her own set of questions for Pimentel, to help her better
understand the person whom she believes was the woman who really
made it all happen, who made him become a bigger man. Theirs starts
off a hippy-dippy relationship in which Chistine is willing to make sacrifices,
while Pimentel refusesa choice he later regrets.
George says the film was shot in Pimentel and Honeymans hometown
Portland, OR, while the Vietnam scenes were set in the Philippines. The
actress, who just wrapped a season of the new HBO show In Treatment with
Gabriel Byrne, Diane Wiest and Blair Underwood, divides her time between
homes in Los Angeles and Buenos Aires. She is a veteran of the long-running
Aussie nighttime soap, Home and Away where, at only 16, she starred opposite
Guy Pierce and Heath Ledger, and is a former championship skater.
For her, Music Within made her highly aware of challenges people with
disabilities face, particularly on a physical level. She finds such accommodations
as accessible entrances and restrooms widely available in the U.S., Australia
and England, but largely non-existent in the rest of Europe. Still
to this day, she says, they dont seem to care.
Actor Michael Sheen, who drew impressive notices for his portrayal of
Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, had to play someone who
needed those accessible entrances and restrooms. In perhaps the most arduous
performance in the film, he affected the mannerisms of a person with cerebral
palsy and learned to maneuver a wheelchair in his role as Pimentels
best friend. When I started off, I wasnt great at using it.
I remember causing a bit of obstruction as far as some persons were concerned.
While some people were helpful, others seemed to find me invisible.
The experience, he says, made me realize how inaccessible certain
Many of the revelations the actors came to collectively while making the
film, however, had more to do with things people dont say in those
awkward moments when people with disabilities and people without seek
common ground. I always used to think that most of the challenges
with people who had disabilities was the disability itself, says
Livingston. What I started to figure out, doing this movie, was
that most of the challenges stemmed from the fact that people without
disabilities are scared of people who have them. Once you started teaching
people not to be afraid of each other, most of the problems went away
by themselves. .... continued in ABILITY
Other articles in the Ron Livingston issue include Autism—A Fathers Story; Green Up!—9 Things You Can Do; Humor Therapy; Yo God, Down Here; Allen Rucker—Stuck at the Starting Line; Disability Legal Rights Center; Fighting Cancer Discrimination; Senator Letter—Hillary Rodham Clinton; Assistive Technology—20 Years of the ATA; Amputee Camp—Fun Without Limits; Extremity Sports—Have Prosthetic, Will Rock!; Wheelchair Games—At 83, They Kick Butt; Horse Therapy—Gallop Your Way to Good Health; Paralympics 2008—Countdown to Beijing; George Covington—To Lawyer or Not to Lawyer?; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences.subscribe
from the Ron Livingston issue:
Livingston Music Within
Hire & Hire
the Scenes Music Within
Humor Therapy Yo God, Down Here
Allen Rucker: Stuck at the Starting Line
DRLC Fighting Cancer Discrimination
A Father's Story Adopting a Boy with Autism
Horse Therapy Gallop Your Way to Good Health
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