Mitch Albom ('For One More Day')
OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS: MITCH ALBOM'S FOR ONE MORE DAY - Emmy Award®-winning actor Michael Imperioli and Academy Award®-winning actress Ellen Burstyn star in the two-hour television event motion picture "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's For One More Day," premiering SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9 (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
In the film, based on Albom’s bestselling book 'For One More Day,' Imperioli plays Chick Benetto, a broken-down former baseball player who has collapsed into alcoholism and despair. He returns one night to his small hometown with plans to take his life. At the final moment, he is magically granted one more day with his departed mother, Posey Benetto, played by Burstyn, who illuminates the secrets of both their lives and shows him a way to redemption.
Samantha Mathis (“The Punisher,” “American Psycho”) and Scott Cohen (“Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” upcoming show “The Return of Jezebel James”) also star. Michael Imperioli’s son, Vadim Imperioli, plays the role of the younger Chick in his acting film debut.
Chatting recently to the very easy-to-talk-to Albom, I first asked him if the true moral of his latest book 'don't lose sight of what's in front of you before it's too late' came first and the story was built around it? "No, because I think if the thought came first it would feel too forced as a story. First what comes is the story and then you have an idea of an emotion behind the story. Like in my case for the book and then ultimately what became the movie, I was motivated to write that off an event that happened to me."
"One morning I was working on another book - as I write every morning, that's kind of my routine - and I picked up the phone and called my mother just to say hello. It's just kind of a habit we have a couple of times a week. And when I hung up the phone I turned back to this book that I was working on and I was hit with this sudden wave of sadness. Thinking about what's it going to be like when I can't do what I just did. When I'm gonna turn and reach for the phone like I always do and that voice is gonna say 'Take your hand back, because she's not there anymore'."
"And I almost had like a wave of depression over something that hasn't happened yet. And I recognized that that must be a pretty strong emotion if I can feel this way and nothings even happened. So, I decided to write a story that's a little bit more centered around that. Because it's something I obviously feel in my gut. And so I began to construct this story about this guy who wants this one day back with his mother, but it's too late."
"Because I knew when that day comes and I'm gonna reach for that phone and she's not here that's the feeling that I'm gonna have inside me too. You know, just give me one more day. If you can just give me one more I'll say everything I was supposed to. Just one more conversation."
"And so I built the story from there and it's only after the story is kinda done you say 'I guess the point here is don't waste the time that you have now.' But it's more culled from the story after you've put it together then what you're suggesting."
So, your other two best sellers were also pretty much written and constructed in the same vein? "Well, 'Tuesdays With Morrie' was a true story. So that was really reportage more than anything else. I only wrote what happened. 'The Five People That You Meet In Heaven' was actually inspired by a story that my old uncle - who the book was sort of based on - used to tell me. And it was just a story, just like my stories are."
"It was a story about how one night he had got rushed to open heart surgery and was on the operating table. And the way he told it, he had an outer body experience. He floated out of his body and looked down on the bed and saw himself being operated on. And when he looked at the edge of the hospital bed all the dead relatives were waiting for him. So he told them to get outta there and he was not ready for any of them. And so they all flew away or whatever and he went back into his body and lived a little longer."
"And I had grown up with that story as a kid hearing it at the table the whole time and so I always sort of had that idea in my head of what if there are people waiting for you when you die? Who would those people be? And when I kinda decided that he was a good character to build a story around - a guy who fought in the war and had had kind of blue collar life - and I just used that sort of setting to set it in. It was only kind of after I was into the story I said who are these five people and what are they gonna share with him? What secrets are they going to reveal? And the ideas they kind of expressed kind of just came up."
How much say on how one of your books gets turned into a movie do you actually get? "Well, I wrote the screenplay for it so as much as you can sort of create the blueprint that's probably the extent of my influence. I've learnt from not only these three movies that you pretty much have to let it go, from the writing point of view. And just let the directors and the actors put their vision on it. You're not in a position as a writer to dictate how a film comes out. I don't care how influential a writer you may be it's a visual medium, it's an editing medium, it's an acting medium, and most importantly it's a directors medium."
"Those parties shape the film far more than you're ever gonna do, even if you wrote the script that they begin with. I kinda provide the bones for the story and then all the flesh and blood and everything is done by the other parties."
And talking of actors 'fleshing' things out, you had both Michael Imperioli and Ellen Burstyn back again for this movie! "Yeah, that was a nice sort of coincidence. We had worked with them on 'Five People You Meet In Heaven' in a short capacity. They were never there together but they were there long enough that you could kinda see their devotion to their craft. I remember when Michael left I was up there on the set and everybody was saying how great he was to have around."
"So, when this came up we were looking for a guy in forties - that could kinda traverse from his twenties to his forties with the right makeup - and also looking for a mother in her seventies. And, their names came up. And because I'd worked with them before and the director had worked with them before, I said yeah, if you can get them that would be great. And fortunately for us they were willing to do it."
So, the obvious question is if you yourself had one more day with someone who would it be and why? "Well, I'd prefer a week so that I could pick five different people. But, I think at this stage there are two, if I can indulge you on two. One is Morrie. Simply because Morrie died before anything happened with that book. I didn't write a word of it until after Morrie died. And it was supposed to be just a little book to pay his medical expenses. It wasn't supposed to be some best seller or anything like that. So, he had no clue what would happen and I just would love -selfishly - to spend the day with him."
And what would be your first question? "I'd ask him what he thought and how had I done? Have I represented you well? Am I being true to what happened between us? You know, then I'd like him to see all the schools that are using that book now, and all the colleges. And hear all the people that have taken his words to heart. That would just be, selfishly like I say, a great pleasure to have him understand and know what happened since he died."
"That he's still teaching people. I don't really look at myself as having a lot to do with that book except for being the person that wrote it down. But it's his words."
"And the other person is an uncle of mine who was my mother’s brother and was kinda a second dad to me. Unfortunately he died when I was 21 ... and I was with him the night that he died. I was living in an apartment in New York on the floor below him and got a call at 4.00 O'clock in the morning that he was sick - he had cancer - and that he really wasn't feeling well. And my aunt wanted to take him to the hospital and would I come up and watch her two little baby kids."
"So I came up at four in the morning and he came out ... and you could tell by just looking at him there was something wrong. His skin was kinda yellow. We just walked down this hallway together to the elevator. But I was way too young and didn't know what you were supposed to say in moments like that. And so I didn't really say anything. And so he got onto the elevator and I just mumbled something and the elevator doors closed - just like in one of those movies - and then I never saw him again as he died five hours later."
"And I think about that all the time and wish that I had that night back. That I could have said the things that I had wanted to say to him and now could show him that the little babies grew up, that they're married and have their own kids. I thought that I kinda blew that and so that would be the other one."
Finally, and is it true that you are working on a script with Adam Sandler?! "Yes, believe it or not, which is something totally different for me. It's a comedy and I'm kinda developing that for him. It's a baseball comedy. Adam and I have gotten to know each other a little bit ... and he had actually tried to buy all three of those books at one point or another to turn into movies. So, he started teasing me about having something in a drawer or something for him anywhere. And it's this father / son story that had to do with baseball that I had kinda monkey'd around with and he kinda fell in love with it and asked me to write the script for it. And it's now being developed by Sony/Columbia Pictures."
Finally, what are you working on now for the future? "Well, I have a non-fiction book that has been in the works for a number of years. So that might be the next thing that comes out."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
'For One More Day' Book Purchase Link
'The Five People You Meet In Heaven' Book Purchase Link
'Tuesdays With Morrie' Book Purchase Link
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