Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Louisville, Ky., man with Down syndrome turning heads as actor in 'Produce' movie role

From The Louisville Courier-Journal:

It was the middle of the afternoon in the produce department at the ValuMarket on Hurstbourne Parkway, and David DeSanctis (pictured) was naming PLU codes.

“Pear, Anjou: 4416,” said DeSanctis, a 21-year-old Ballard High School graduate who was born with Down syndrome. The man standing next to him, Kris Polaha, looked impressed.

“Banana — that’s easy,” DeSanctis said. “Everybody loves bananas. 4032.”

“Cut!” the director yelled. “Next time, you want to say ‘4011,’ ” Polaha said to DeSanctis, giving him the correct banana code.

DeSanctis and Polaha star in an independent film that wrapped filming in Louisville last week. The movie, called “Produce,” tells the story of a washed-up former major league baseball player who meets a produce clerk with Down syndrome. Their friendship pulls the ballplayer’s life out of an alcoholic tailspin.

The movie will now go to Los Angeles for editing, and the filmmakers expect to submit it to film festivals early next year.

Chris Dowling wrote and directed the film. Dowling, who grew up in Texas and lives in Los Angeles, originally planned to shoot the movie in Austin, but he and producer Milan Chakraborty decided on Louisville instead.

Chakraborty explained that he first visited Louisville for the Kentucky Derby this year, and he caught a glimpse of Slugger Field while driving one day. Because Polaha plays an ex-baseball player, the filming location needed a field nearby.

Still, Chakraborty didn’t really consider making the movie here until he read about Jennifer Lawrence’s work on behalf of Down syndrome. He then got in touch with Gill Holland, whose Louisville-based The Group Entertainment produces movies.

But the real clincher came when Mayor Greg Fischer phoned Chakraborty. “He talked about his background as a businessman,” Chakraborty recalled, appealing to the producer’s former profession as an accountant by pointing out the potential savings Louisville could offer over larger cities.

The producer and director both rhapsodized over how much cooperation they’ve received in Louisville, from the police to Slugger Field and ValuMarket.

 “It’s amazing how businesses and people are opening the doors,” Dowling said. “That has been such a big help.”

“It needed to be filmed where the community plays a big part,” Chakraborty said. “It’s about the heartland.”

While Chakraborty, Dowling and some of the crew came in from Los Angeles, about 75 percent of the crew was hired locally, according to Chakraborty. DeSanctis, the only Louisville actor to take a top role, met the filmmakers early on, and Chakraborty encouraged him to audition.

“We just didn’t have any idea it would ever happen,” said Bill DeSanctis, David’s father. “We thought he (Chakraborty) was just being nice.”

But DeSanctis, who had some previous experience onstage at Ballard, landed the part. “I felt powerful after I realized that I got the part,” DeSanctis said, taking a break from memorizing some lines with Polaha before the day’s shoot.

DeSanctis described his character, whose name is Produce, as “timid and shy and not powerful or stern and firm and invincible.” DeSanctis himself is the opposite — talkative, outgoing and quick with a joke.

“David’s such a ham, I knew he could do it,” said his mother, Julie Wallace. “It’s been a dream of David’s for years. ‘I’m going to Hollywood and be a movie star,’ he says.”

Back on the set, the actors and crew ran through the scene with the PLU codes a few more times, while ValuMarket customers went on shopping around them.

Between takes, Dodie Harmon, a nicely dressed older woman in a teal pantsuit and orange silk scarf, took note of the unusual cameras, microphones and lights crowding up the produce section.

“Who’s the actor?” she asked Polaha, who was standing idly with a shopping basket, looking very much like another customer. Polaha pointed to himself. “What’s your name?” Harmon asked. “Kris,” he said, offering his hand.

Polaha came into town a couple of days before the start of the shoot to hang out with DeSanctis and develop a rapport. “David has allowed me to put aside every preconceived notion I ever had about people with Down syndrome,” Polaha said. “He’s taught me a lot.”

DeSanctis returned the compliment. “Even though in the movie I’m the one that’s changing his life, in real life, he’s the one that’s changing my life,” DeSanctis said, before making a joke at the expense of Chakraborty, who was standing nearby.

“Milan ... I think that I’m the one who is really changing his life around,” he said with a perfectly straight face. “I think Milan Chakraborty needs a life adjustment.”