Ways To Live Forever, released Friday July 19 in select AMC theaters, is based on a novel by Sally Nicholls. This is a coming of age film for two best friends facing the reality of death at a very young age. Award winning director Gustavo Ron adapted it to screenplay and directed the film, starring Ben Chaplain, Greta Scacchi, Phyllida Law, Emilia Fox, Alex Etel and Robbie Kay. A
fter being diagnosed with terminal Leukemia, Sam played by Robbie Kay and his friend Felix played by Alex Etel, are sent home from the hospital. At the encouragement of their private instructor (Scacchi), Sam starts a video journal and bucket list of things he wants to do before his short life is over.
I spoke to Gustavo Ron, who graciously called from Madrid, Spain, to chat about his interest in writing and directing this film, shot in Newcastle, England.
A little background on the director: Ron found interest in filmmaking and directing at a very young age when his mother, who had great influence in his career choice, allowed him and his brother (also a director) to stay up late to watch classic movies by such legends as Alfred Hitchcock. By the time he was 11, he had fallen in love with movies. “I wanted to be a director since then. I feel very passionate about this profession and have always felt I wanted to be that one day, to tell stories.”
Ways To Live Forever was discovered after he finished a project and happened to stumble across the novel in a bookstore. Although he bought three novels that day, after reading Ways he never got to the others and felt whole-heartedly this was to be his next film. Adapting the novel to screenplay wasn’t too difficult as it is very precise, structured like a diary and the story so powerful.
The main change in translation from novel to film was to visually depict it via video journal in documentary style versus simple pen and paper. Ron said that another change in the film was the character of Kayleigh (Ella Purnell). In the novel, Kayleigh is Alex’s cousin, and Sam (who dreams of going into space) climbs a tree to be closer to the stars. For cinematography purposes, it made more sense to have Sam and Kayleigh go to the lighthouse on the coast. This scene was one of the director’s most challenging due to the risk to cast and crew. The elements of strong winds and extreme cold temperatures forced the production team to ultimately create another lighthouse inside a studio for a portion of the scenes.
In casting Sam, Ron explained they spent several weekends in the springtime auditioning a lot of kids in England. However, after seeing Kay he invited the talented young actor to spend a weekend working with him. What impressed him most about Kay was his ability to make the other actors better and felt so strongly about casting him, that he asked to have Sam be 13 instead of 11 as in the novel. He had nothing but high praise for the rising star.
Ron is very proud of the connection this film has with various charities and says that it came about when the Worldwide Motion Pictures Corporation team in the US began to plan how to market it. “They were very clever in planning the strategy [to market] the film,” Ron told me. He went on to explain, they decided it would be best to approach those families dealing with this type of disease to determine interest.
To answer the question, Ron contacted a charity in Spain that sponsors a summer camp for children and families battling various types of cancer. He asked they review the novel and give feedback, which returned with a resounding 100 percent in favor of producing the film. All felt it was a good representation of how children and families deal with terminal illness. He adds, “Everyone in the project is very excited about its impending release to theaters.”
One of the things that Ron personally realized in doing this film was how universal and touching the story is no matter the culture or family worldwide. The film has opened in several different countries around the world including South Korea, India, Italy, Germany and the US. What impacted him most was the similarity of reactions from audiences to the story and the fact that families felt the same thing after seeing it. He says it’s a great feeling to know that the story they were telling was true and moving for anyone around the world.
The actor described it as being well-written, different than many other scripts he had seen and felt it was an interesting role as the character is very unique. He added that the film is very accessible, down-to-earth, and centered on the family and personal accounts, which is something many can relate to. He went on to explain that the role was very challenging because he had no personal experience with such a conflict– Sam’s conflict with himself, as well as with his family. Kay feels that his on-screen father, Ben Chaplin, did a fantastic job in building the father/son relationship. One of the things that helped Kay in portraying Sam dealing with such a difficult topic was the seven-week shooting schedule, which allowed him to stay in that mindset.
According to Kay, the best part of the film was being a part of it– the entire experience. He explained that the cast and crew were quite small, intimate, so they really got to know each other well, making it hard to leave at the end of the shoot. One of the things he loves about being involved in films is getting to meet new people, hearing their experiences and being immersed in that environment. Find out which favorite scene was deleted from the final cut of the movie, his favorite bucket list moment and what it was like to work with Johnny Depp on Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides! To hear the full interview, listen: Robbie Kay Interview .
One of the things I love about the soap genre is the actors’ willingness to support various charities. While many families dealing with this disease have been instrumental in getting the movie made, many daytime television stars also signed on to back the project including; the incomparable Crystal Chappell, Michael Damian, Jon Lindstrom, Eileen Davidson, Ronnie Marmo, Brian Gaskill and Cady McClain and more. I was also happy to learn that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to various charities, including The Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
While this film is heavily emotional, there is an innocence that the audience can definitely identify with as we’ve all met those milestones in experiencing life. What would be on your bucket list if you were a 13-year old boy facing such a tough reality? How about breaking a world record, having your first taste of alcohol or kissing a girl? Will Sam finish his bucket list? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!
It opened Friday, July 19 beginning in the following cities, with additional releases to come in the Fall:
- AMC Burbank Town Center 8 – Burbank, CA
- AMC Orange 30 – Orange, CA
- AMC Valley View 16 – Dallas, TX
- AMC Empire 25 – New York, NY
- AMC Loews Cherry Hill 24 – Cherry Hill, NJ
- AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield 20 – Schaumburg, IL
- AMC Hampton Towne Centre 24 – Hampton, VA
- AMC Owings Mills 17 – Owings Mills, MD
This heartwarming, tender, beautifully written and acted movie is a must see! I highly recommend it, especially to those who have dealt with chronic or terminal illness because although the subject is a tough one it has an uplifting message. Audiences will walk away with a better understanding and idea of what life is about: living in the moment, touching others positively, and most of all the power of love. You can follow the movie’s official Twitter at @WaysToLiveMovie. You can watch the movie’s trailer at the official site.