It took 30 years to bring the true story of a gay couple's adoption saga to the big screen, but now that it's in cinemas, the topic couldn't be more timely.
Stephen A. Russell

11 Apr 2014 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:27 AM

When writer/director Travis Fine encountered the original script for Any Day Now, a rousing, bitter sweet film about a 1970s gay couple who take on the legal system to win custody of a intellectually disabled teenager who’s been abandoned by his drug abusing and ultimately imprisoned mother, he was initially taken by its period setting.

“I’m a huge fan of gritty, character driven dramas made in the ‘70s, so how cool would it be to make one?” he asked.

Penned by TV writer George Arthur Bloom in the late ‘70s, it was based loosely on the real life experiences of a Brooklyn-based hairdresser named Rudy, long before the New York City borough became the gentrified hang out of hipsters that it is today. Rudy had become the one constant in a young man’s life as his mother’s chaotic presence faded in and out of the scene.

“George almost had the film made in the ‘80s but at the time there really wasn’t the flourishing independent scene we have now,” Fine says. “The studio system wasn’t going to make it, and probably wouldn’t make it now either. It sat in his drawer for 30 years until it found its way to me and I fell in love.”

As a straight man married with kids, Fine wondered how he could broaden the story, drawing on his own experience of a messy divorce with his previous wife, which involved a tug of war over his youngest daughter.

“I was going through very challenging times, literally sobbing on the floor asking ‘how can a child be taken from me when I have so much love to give?’, and that’s how I got my connection,” he says. “It’s a story that’s absolutely rooted in gay rights and equality, but that also has a universality for anyone who had lost someone can understand.”

Any Day Now opens with a lost and bewildered Marco (Isaac Leyva), who has Down’s syndrome, wandering the streets of a transplanted LA setting before flashing back to the events leading up to the first meeting between Rudy (Alan Cumming), a drag club singer, and his new lawyer partner Paul (Garrett Dillahunt, (12 Years A Slave, Looper) and their eventual battle for custody. The ‘70s look is captured perfectly by Fruitvale Station cinematographer Rachel Morrison.

Noting that adoption rights are still something of a battlefield for LGBTI couples, and that marriage equality is not yet a federal right in the US, let alone even vaguely half there in Australia, Fine notes that a cast member asked why he didn’t update the script for a contemporary setting. “I could have, but one of the things this highlights is that change does happen, eventually, but it takes a long, long time.”

Two of film’s executive producers, who stumped up a fair amount of the film’s modest budget, are a gay couple who have been together for more than 20 years and have fostered 32 kids with intellectual and physical disabilities.

“They are remarkable human beings,” Fine says. “In 2007 they went to the State of Florida and said they wanted to adopt two of them. They had to fight like hell, spending a tonne of money just to look after these two kids who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks. Now they’re in private schools and working towards college.”

Some of Fine’s own extended family will not watch Any Day Now because of the sexual orientation of its central couple. “They’d toss a bible at my forehead. I can point out all the other things in the bible, like keeping slaves, that are contrary to the way they live, but they continue to say that what I’m talking about is a sin.”

Casting Cumming was serendipitous. Fine knew his agent and had called her to discuss the character of Rudy. “As I was describing him, she said ‘you’re describing Alan Cumming’. It was a light bulb moment where you go ‘holy crap, of course it should be Alan Cumming.’ Not only because of his singing background, musical theatre, drama and comedy but the fact that the guy hasn’t just talked the talk on equality, he’s literally walked the walk.”

Fine was amused when a friend pointed out the role was so unlike Cumming’s starring turn on The Good Wife. “If you know Alan in any little way, The Good Wife is drag for him. The business suit is like his Clark Kent alter ego.”

Dillahunt is the perfect foil, providing a convincingly grounded performance that anchors the film. “He is the central character in many ways – he goes through the biggest change, though Alan has more screen time. The understated approach is so important. Alan is a larger than life character; if you have somebody who tries to go over the top or even match that, it wouldn’t work.”

Any Day Now is in cinemas.