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Towelhead in our magazines

THE MOVIE: Towelhead

Aaron Eckhart • Toni Collette • Summer Bishil • Peter Macdissi

Peter Macdissi and Summer Bishil THE CONCEPT:
When 13-year-old Jasira (Bishil) is exiled by her selfish mother to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father, Rifat (Macdissi), she must navigate the confusing and frightening path of adolescence, and her own sexual awakening by herself, and is drawn to her pedophile Army reservist neighbor, Mr Vuoso (Eckhart)

U.S. RELEASE: September 26 2008, Nationwide
• Rated: R


Summer Bishil and Alan Ball“My agent sent me the manuscript [of the novel] before it was published, and I read it over the weekend and I just got sucked into that world. I was so empathetic with Jasira, and I was so with her on her journey. The novel was hilarious, harrowing and heartbreaking, and as I was getting towards the end [I thought], ‘Oh no, this is not going to turn out good,’ and then when the novel ended, exactly as the movie does, I felt such a visceral sense of relief and exhilaration. I was so happy that this usual story of victimization actually turned out to be a story of empowerment and it felt like this young girl who had unfairly been asked to deal with so much that was beyond her years of comprehending and understanding, just out of the strength of her spirit had come out of it on top and in total control of her body and her existence. I thought it was a real powerful message.”

“I loved the script and I understood it, the writer wasn’t trying to manipulate you into feeling a certain way, and it wasn’t about victim-hood, it was about a young girl searching for an understanding of herself, and coming into her power, and those are themes that you don’t really encounter a lot when you’re reading scripts, especially when you’re ethnically different. I knew if I didn’t get it that I was going to go watch the movie the first day it opened, I was just happy somebody wrote it.”

“Jasira is the movie, and I hired casting directors in New York, London, Australia and Detroit, because there’s a big middle-eastern community there; and Summer lives in Pasadena [California.] She came in off a casting director’s breakdown and thank God we found her, because it’s not like there’s a huge pool of 18-year-old actresses that can play 13 year olds, who look middle-eastern and who can carry a movie. So we were really lucky.”

Summer Bishil and Aaron Eckhart“I didn’t get uncomfortable when I read [the sex scenes]. I was excited. I probably didn’t have the normal reaction. And I wasn’t wildly uncomfortable doing the scenes with Aaron Eckhart, it wasn’t awkward for me, because it was walked through, it was very logistic and very professional. He’s an extremely professional actor, and the set was really closed, so it wasn’t all that uncomfortable.”

“We talked about it a lot, we rehearsed it, her mother was there on the set every day, we used a body double when necessary. But I’ve got to say, she’s a trooper, and she came in, she knew what was expected of her, and she was ready to go there. I think in a lot of ways it was more difficult for Aaron, and I understand that because Summer’s playing a character that’s not that aware that she’s doing something wrong that’s going to negatively impact a person for the rest of their life. He is, so he has to live with that knowledge and that self-loathing, so I think it was a more difficult place for Aaron to go.”

Aaron Eckhart“It was hard, but I think because of the humanity of the film, because of Alan’s sensitivity with the subject, because this is not the focal point of the movie and there are so many other issues to be tackled in the movie, that I felt like it was worth doing. It was an acting challenge for me. In terms of physically having to do the things that I did in the movie, it was something that I wouldn’t want to do again and I have a hard time in a lot of ways watching it.”

BASHIL on the controversy of the title:
“I think it was necessary that [Alan Ball and the studio] wouldn’t back down. They choose to use the title Towelhead. There’s a sensitivity around that word because it’s used to dehumanize, humiliate,and unfortunately sometimes it does have that power to do that. Some people give that word that much power.”

“I think it’s a good thing because it promotes discussion and discourse. Instead of shying away from the problem I think we should just grab the bull by the horn and see exactly what’s going on. Martin Scorsese dealt with a lot of violence in his movies, and his objective was for people to understand the consequences of violence, and this movie does the same.”

“Every character in this movie has an ugliness factor to them which I think is great, because of the humanity of life and the choices that we make. I felt as an actor that the only way that I could play this character was if he fell in love with this girl, and the first time she laughs my whole life lights up.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Images above © Warner Independent Pictures
Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #699, August 2008 cover

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