Robert De Niro and ‘Ezra’ writer Tony Spiridakis draw on practical experience for a script

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“Ezra” celebrated its premiere in New York, NY on Thursday, with stars Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale and Tony Goldwyn in attendance.

A Bleeker Street Media release, the film follows Max Bernal (Cannavale), a stand-up comedy writer (with scenes filmed at Comedy Cellar) who lives with his father (De Niro). The comedian faces challenges when it comes to co-parenting their autistic son (William A. Fitzgerald) with his ex-wife (Byrne).

“Ezra” is inspired by the personal life of film writer Tony Spiridakis, as he has a child who is on the spectrum. “I realized I didn’t know anything about autism, I thought: I have to write this down. Because of the lack of understanding I had, I kept thinking that every day was a surprise,” Spiridakis said Variety at the film’s premiere.

“I’ve made so many mistakes as a father, I wanted to show warts and all – the mistakes you make as a father of an autistic child, because I held on tight, I loved my son, and my son with his amazing spirit gave me a way it looked, and that was a beautiful thing. So I thought it would be a good movie to see how a father got it so wrong,” says Spiridakis.

De Niro was drawn to the project because he also has a child who is on the spectrum. “I had certain things about it that I thought needed to be addressed. Everyone means well and comes from a real place,” De Niro said. “It was done with a lot of love and hard work.”

Byrne takes the script early on from Cannavale and says: “[It] really captured my mind.”

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The film’s director, Tony Goldwyn, says he got involved with the project because Spiridakis is his “best friend in the world” and he wanted to tell his and his son’s story. “This is a story about destigmatizing autism and disability in general,” he says. “More than that, it’s about celebrating the fact that what makes us powerful is our uniqueness and our otherness.”

The star of the show, 15-year-old Fitzgerald, made his acting debut in “Ezra.” During the screening’s Q&A session, he joked that if he ever wanted to quit acting, he’d like to become a history teacher!

Other stars in attendance included Bryan Cranston, Claire Danes, Scott Foley, Bellamy Young, Dianna Agron, Peter Friedman, Peter Gallagher, Asher Grodman and Odelya Halevi.

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