For decades, CBS has been synonymous with television...but that's all about to change. In 2007, the media corporation that produces some of the most-watched shows in America—Survivor, CSI, Two and a Half Men—launched CBS Films, a feature film division. Then, the search was on for a story to bring to the big screen.
John and Aileen Crowley have been making miracles happen since two of their children, Megan and Patrick, were diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare, fatal form of muscular dystrophy. Doctors told the Crowleys there were no treatments, so John set out to change that. He quit his job, teamed up with scientists and dedicated his life to finding a cure.
After reading The Cure, a book by Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Geeta Anand, executives found their inspiration—the Crowley family.
Directed by Tom Vaughan, Extraordinary Measures is an inspired-by-a-true-story film that brings together an impressive cast, including Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell. Mad Men's Jared Harris and Courtney B. Vance, one of the stars of ABC's science fiction series FlashForward, round out the all-star lineup.
Russell, an actress best known for her roles in August Rush, Waitress and the earnest TV drama Felicity, plays Aileen Crowley, a mom who juggles hospital visits, PTA meetings and birthday parties. Before shooting her scenes, Russell says she drove to the Crowleys' home in New Jersey and spent a day with the family.
"It's one of the best everyday hero stories I've ever really heard about," Russell says. "Every time I see her, she's just so funny and real and self-deprecating. ... She has a very practical sense that I think mothers inherently do—maybe women inherently do—and I think that's a major part of the glue of this family."
While visiting with the Crowleys, Russell says she watched to see how Aileen unhooked her son Patrick from his ventilators and eased him into his wheelchair. "People will see her with the kids in the wheelchairs and come up to her and say, 'Oh my god, you're such a saint, what you go through...blah blah blah,'" Russell says. "And she's like:, 'Okay. You don't have time to sit around and think about that stuff.' You're still living your life."
In 2007, Russell welcomed a child of her own, a son named River, into the world. Since then, she says motherhood has shaped her into a more empathetic actress. "I would say it definitely opens you up in a way that you're a little bit more vulnerable to experiencing things," she says. "When you hear stories, for instance this story, you're just more vulnerable to it in a way. You listen in a different way than before you became a parent."
Fellow parent and co-star Courtney B. Vance also channeled life experiences while shooting Extraordinary Measures. Vance's character, Marcus Temple, is the father of a baby girl who was recently diagnosed with Pompe disease. Off camera, Vance and his wife, actress Angela Bassett, are parents to twins, Bronwyn and Slater.
While Vance's children have been blessed with good health, his daughter did have a health scare three years ago, which Vance says helped him relate to his character.
"We were about to leave the campus of Harvard and get in a cab or car service, and head to the airport. We looked at Bronwyn, and she had a big lump on her neck," he says. "She said it was hurting her. We ended up back home at [Cedars-Sinai Medical Center] and her going into surgery to have it lanced. The neck is really nothing to play with—all the various veins and nerve endings and things. It was very traumatic."
After three days, Bronwyn was released, and since then, Vance says she's been perfectly healthy.
Every hero's quest is fraught with challenges, and in Extraordinary Measures, actor Jared Harris' character is the closest thing there is to a villain. But, if you ask Harris, Dr. Kent Webber—a fictional, mishmash of people John Crowley has encountered in his life—has something to say.
"He represents the faceless, by-the-book world of corporate governance," Harris says. "But what I find very interesting about the part and curious about it is: He wasn't wrong. He was like Cassandra in the tale of the fall of Troy, warning about what was going to happen, and no one paid any attention to that person. ... He wasn't someone who was necessarily bad at what he was doing; he just had very bad people skills, I imagine."
He may not like him as a person, but Harris says he was determined to argue Dr. Webber's side of a medical debate as passionately as possible. "I believe if I can articulate that in a way that makes people think, 'Well, maybe he does have a point,' I've made the story stronger," he says.
After all, this is the kind of story that defines courage and inspires those faced with the impossible. "You like to believe that you'd have the guts to do what Brendan's character does and to take those risks," Harris says. "Not always the case in real life."
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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