(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The State newspaper on Nov. 21, 2006. It is being republished following Patty Duke’s death March 29, 2016.)
Wearing only a thin robe and pajamas to ward off the Monday morning chill, Patty Duke sat in a wrought-iron chair waiting for the camera to roll.
Getting an Academy Awardwinning actress to appear in the backyard of an Eau Claire neighborhood home in a low-budget, locally made movie might not be as tough as it sounds. Just have a great script, know what you're doing -- and cast her son MacKenzie Astin in the lead.
"The script is so good -- especially for Mac," Duke said. "And these young people really have a sense of what they are doing. This has given me a little glimpse into the joy of working with people who haven't heard 'no' enough."
Duke, whose married name is Patty Duke Pearce, plays her son's on-screen mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, in a brief but subtle role that helps provide insight into his character.
The movie is "The Four Children of Tander Welch." Astin plays a young man hired by an eccentric, terminally ill writer (Nicholas Pryor) to help him reconnect with his estranged daughters. On a break during filming, Astin said he offered his mom for the part before he even talked to her about it.
Astin took the role after he struck up a friendship with the movie's producer, Matthew Sefick, on another film they worked on together, "The Final Season." Sefick, who has worked behind the camera on a number of films since earning his master's in media arts from USC, is making "Tander Welch" with two other USC media arts graduates, Ashlon Langley and Stewart Grinton.
"Matt said he had a script, and Mac said, 'My mother should play my mother,'" Duke explained.
"I had such a great feeling for Matt, I said 'yes,' and when I read the treatment of the story, I said 'yes' again," Astin said.
The filmmakers teamed with USC media arts professor Karla Berry to land a $100,000 grant from the S.C. Film Production Fund to make the movie, which they began filming last week. Sefick is producing, Langley wrote the script and is directing, and Grinton is director of photography and editor.
A group of Berry-selected media arts students are the crew, handling everything from the blanket that kept Duke warm between takes to the setups for the next shot.
The filmmakers wrap up the first part of filming today and will resume in the spring.
Sefick plans to enter the finished film in the festival circuit. Theatrical or television distribution are both possibilities, Sefick said.
Duke had this advice for fledgling moviemakers that might apply to more general situations: "If you think someone is right for the part, ask. Ask the question."
They might answer 'yes.'