Temple Grandin is a Doctor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, a consultant to the livestock industry in animal behavior, and a best-selling author. She’s also autistic, a fact which you may have already known if you happen to have a connection to someone with autism, be it first-hand or indirectly. For instance, I came to know about her, as you’ll soon read, through my wife, who works with autistic students and is the proud owner of a copy of one of Grandin’s books, The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s.
When an advance screener of the new HBO movie based on her life – entitled, appropriately enough, “Temple Grandin” – landed on our doorstep in advance of the TCA press tour, you can imagine that we popped it into the player post-haste, and I’ll tell you right now, I was blown away: Claire Danes gives a phenomenal performance as Grandin, but director Mick Jackson ties for MVP with his visual presentation of how Grandin’s mind works. I immediately went about trying to set up interviews in connection with the tour, and although Danes was unavailable, when HBO asked if I’d like to chat with Grandin herself, you’d better believe that I didn’t hesitate for a moment before saying, “You bet!”
Bullz-Eye: I just wanted to start off by telling you that my wife works with autistic children.
Temple Grandin: Oh, okay.
BE: She hadn’t actually trained in the field, but she ended up stepping into a job as a substitute teacher in a special education classroom, and she had such aptitude that the teacher gave her a gift: a copy of your book. She basically said, “Not everyone has the heart and the temperament to work with children who need a little extra effort, but I really think you do, and I think you’d get a lot out of reading this.”
TG: Which book was it?
BE: “The Way I See it.”
TG: All right.
BE: So as soon as she found out that I was going to be speaking with you, she immediately passed it on to me and said, “You’ll be wanting to read this.” (Laughs) But we also watched the movie together, and I thought it was fantastic. How did that first come about? Did someone read your book, then come to you and pitch the idea of making it into a movie?
TG: Well, that’s actually been going on for a good long time. Emily Gerson Saines started working on this about nine years ago and went to, like, two different directors and writers. Then, finally, it came together with the right people.
BE: Did you get final say about who would play you in the film?
TG: Well, that was just decided. Claire Danes did an absolutely brilliant job. Absolutely brilliant. I met with her for about six hours, and I gave her the oldest VHS tapes I could find of me, where I’d be more autistic-acting. Like, in old programs from the late ‘80s, where I was on a TV show, and some lectures from the early ‘90s. We dubbed those over onto DVDs, and she had those to practice with. I didn’t have any video older than that. Or movies. We didn’t do movies as a family, so I didn’t have that.
BE: I thought the visual aspects of the film, which try to give the viewer an understanding of how your mind works, were outstanding. I guess that was Mick’s idea…?
TG: I thought that was absolutely brilliant, the way Mick showed all of that. Wonderful. Like, the scene where it shows all of the shoes coming up…? That’s exactly how I think. Mick was absolutely brilliant with that.