This weekend sees the 10th-Anniversary theatrical re-release of Charly, arguably the most beloved Latter-day Saint love story in print or on film. With proceeds going to benefit West Ridge Academy, fans of the spunky and bittersweet romance have good reason to catch it at the multiplex. (Find theaters featuring the re-release here.) Heather Beers (who plays Charly) and executive producer Lance Williams were gracious enough to answer my questions. Enjoy their thoughts on the film, its appeal, and creating new scenes for the re-release.
Jonathan Decker: Heather thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Charly is loved by so many people, both the book and the film. What is it about this story that connects with people, do you think?
Heather Beers: I think Charly resonates with so many people because it’s a story that weaves its way through the meaningful things in life – romance, love, family, personal transformation, loss, and a hope in love that can last forever. These are things that touch all our lives – so it’s a film that draws people in.
JD: This role required you to convey a myriad of emotions and personality traits, as your character undergoes major changes and trials. How did you get the part? What do you remember about how you prepared for the role?
HB: When my agent called about the audition, I was excited. I had read the book a few years earlier so I was familiar with the character – and for an actor, Charly is a privilege to play. She is a complex, intriguing person who experiences a deep, beautiful character arc. After surviving the audition process (it was pretty unnerving – lots of callbacks, screen test, etc.), I was relieved and thrilled to get the role. As far as preparing, I read and re-read the script, mapped out her journey, wrote about her…spent time really trying to get inside the character. I wanted to do her justice, because I knew how many people had read and loved the book, and I didn’t want them to be disappointed (plus the opportunity to work with Director Adam Anderegg and Author Jack Weyland was a big treat!).
JD: I understand that there are new scenes included in this re-release. Were these simply things left on the cutting room floor from ten years ago or did you shoot new material? If the latter, when did that happen and what was it like returning after so long?
HB: You’re right, there are a few new scenes that help expand the story and give better insight into Charly’s transitions – both with the romance, and with her spiritual journey. We shot the “spiritual journey” scene (can’t give away any spoilers!) not too long ago, so yes, it was strange to step back into the character after so long. But beautiful, too, Charly’s always fun to play!
JD: I think your character means a lot to people because she’s so strong, intelligent, and such a free-spirit. She definitely challenges stereotypes (unfair and untrue) of Mormon women as submissive and weak. Audiences know Charly, but they may not know Heather. How are you like your screen persona? How are you different?
HB: I think regardless of religion, background, circumstances – all of us yearn to live life out loud. To find their own path.To have a voice. That’s why Charly’s so appealing. Am I just like Charly? Well, I have to admit I don’t pretend fish need dental work while boating. But do I love life, family, friends, laughter, fun, and soulfulness? Yes!!
JD: Another popular film of yours is Baptists at Our Barbeque. I’ve lived in the South, so I’ve got a good idea of the tensions caused by religious differences. How do you think we can best relate to and love those who don’t share our beliefs? Why might people want to revisit that film?
HB: This film was such a joy to work on and it has such a talented, comedic cast! Funny script, great story, wonderfully idiosyncratic characters. I think its appeal is also that it’s a film that doesn’t shovel its message [down the audience’s throat] – it helps us all take life and ourselves a little less seriously.
JD: What have you been up to these past few years? Catch us up on your life.
HB: My hubby Steve and I own our own marketing/public relations/media development firm, Momentum Communications, which keeps us busy with great clients, including Southwest Airlines, Jewel Kade, Paramount Financial and more. I have also been a contributing writer over the years for magazines like Utah Business and Utah Style & Design. As far as acting goes, I’ve been lucky to work on several films and television shows since Charly, most recently 12 Dogs of Christmas II (out this December on Sony DVD) and Once Upon a Summer. But most of all, I love every minute I spend with my best friend Steve, our two amazing sons, and our beautiful circle of friends and family.
JD: What are some of your favorite movies?
HB: Hmmm…I have too many to count.But hands down, my favorite is probably still Field of Dreams. I believe in the magic that dreams, family, and courage can bring each of us…even if we feel lost or on the fringe sometimes.
JD: Good call on Field of Dreams. That is such a moving film with some rich parallels to the Gospel. Thank you for your time, Heather.
HB: Thank you so much!
I must say, Heather seems like a very warm and genuine person. Her performance in Charly is definitely one of the most enjoyable in the genre of Mormon cinema. Best wishes for her and her family. Next, executive producer Lance Williams (who also plays the doctor who gives Charly her fateful diagnosis) offers Meridian’s readers the inside track on bringing this timeless story to the big screen. He’s even kind enough to answer my question about his role in a very different film, but also very popular, movie.
Jonathan Decker: Lance, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Charly today. This film has gained such a following, both at its release and since. Why do you think this story appeals to so many people?
Lance Williams: The thing that makes Charly appealing and relevant in 2002, today, or ten years from now is that it deals with the human condition. Its the matic elements resonate with audiences all over the world, across both cultural and language boundaries because it’s a story that could be about anyone. When you get past all the comic book heroes, the special effects, car chases and explosions of the films being put out by Hollywood for the past ten years, basically what’s left are the smaller, more intimate “stories” that people can relate to. If the story is good and rings true, you don’t need all that other stuff. Charly is that kind of story.
JD: How did you get involved with Charly in the first place?
LW: When I was a boy in the 70’s, something happened that had never happened before. A professionally produced musical play written about LDS themes with LDS characters burst upon the scene. It took audiences by storm and was, for the times, wildly successful. That play was, of course, Saturday’s Warrior. Immediately after Saturday’s Warrior came My Turn On Earth and in the ensuing years, a slew of other similar projects. For a myriad of reasons, the once enthusiastic audiences began to trail off until the LDS themed plays collapsed under their collective weight and, for all intents and purposes, faded away.
Flash forward to 1990. My creative partner, Tip Boxell, and I secured the rights to a musical play that is arguably the most popular pioneer themed play ever created, Promised Valley. I don’t say “LDS themed” here because it wasn’t specifically about Mormons. It dealt with the settling of the Salt Lake valley by the Mormon pioneers and was commissioned by the governor of the State of Utah in 1947 for the centennial celebration of the arrival of the pioneers. Our plan was to create a motion picture musical of the play, but as we worked to create a screenplay adaptation, we discovered that the market wasn’t exactly primed for such a film at that time. We ended up shelving the movie idea and we created a novel version instead.
After the success of God’s Army in 2000, we revisited the idea of making a full-length motion picture for an LDS audience. Both Tip and I were already well established in our filmmaking careers at that time, but based on what I had observed as a boy, I knew that if we were going to contribute to the emerging LDS film market, we had to be at the beginning of the curve and we had to make the best film we knew how to make. We didn’t feel Promised Valley was, as yet, a viable property, so we asked ourselves, what would be the best project we could do for the target audience?’ The choice was easy, Charly.
Charly, the novel, was a hugely successful book, considered by many to be the first popular LDS fictional work. Like Promised Valley, Charly offered the firm platform of an already successful work upon which to springboard. We knew it was a beloved book. We set out to make it a beloved film.
JD: In the years since, what has been the most meaningful feedback you’ve gotten from viewers?
LW: Trying to narrow down what would be the most meaningful feedback we’ve received over the years about Charly is like asking someone standing in a Baskin Robbins store to choose their favorite ice cream. There is just so much and it’s all wonderful. We have received hundreds of letters and emails over the years from people, much of it telling us that Charly is their favorite movie. We always like to hear that and it’s much appreciated. Then there are the ones who survived the loss of a loved one and felt that Charly helped them process and move beyond it. Still and all, the most meaningful feedback to me has been from those who were either introduced to the Church or who, through being exposed to Charly in so
JD: I hit you up on IMDB and I simply have to ask you about Troll 2, because I am a huge fan. For our readers, Troll 2 is a PG-13 “scary movie,” shot in Utah, that has become something of a phenomenon, often considered the world’s “best worst movie.” Over 20 years ago you had acted in one of the most-beloved terrible movies ever made. What memories do you have about that shoot? What do you think of it finding such a large fan base all these years later?
LW: Oh no! A Troll 2 Fan! They’re everywhere! Yes, it’s true. I confess, I play Mr. Presence in the best worst movie ever made. It was quite the experience actually and I spent much of my early career trying to distance myself from Troll 2 (as did most of those involved with it), but now it has a huge cult following and we can laugh about it. I guess if you can’t be famous for being in the best movie ever made, be famous for being in the worst.
I knew I was in trouble after I got the part and they sent me the script. Someone who did not speak English as their first language had obviously written it. Upon inquiry, I learned that an Italian film company was making the film and that there might be some challenges. That proved to be the understatement of the project. No one on the shoot spoke English with the exception of an assistant and she didn’t speak it very well. The director relied on her to translate everything he said to us. That saying about being lost in translation definitely applied here.
The director certainly had his idea of what a horror film was supposed to look like (nothing relatable to an American horror film however).He wouldn’t let us act, but instead wanted us to be stiff and wooden. It felt like a parody even while we were filming it.
I had no idea what was going on half the time anyway. It was a fun shoot at least, but fun because of the other actors who were just as confused as I was. We all stuck together and laughed our way through it.
I’m glad fans enjoy it in the way they do. It shows that we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously all the time. Nobody could ever watch that film and take any of it seriously!
JD: Returning back to Charly, what has been the impetus behind re-releasing the film in theaters? What can you tell us about the new scenes and the benefits to West Ridge Academy?
LW: It’s fairly common in our industry to reissue a film at certain milestones like a 10-year anniversary, a director’s cut or a technology update like a 3D conversion. Films that have a large fan base tend to get re-released so that their fan base can enjoy the large screen experience again and so that future generations can share that same experience. For us, Charly is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. The story might be intimate, but the character of Charly is three stories tall. It just isn’t quite the same on the small screen.
There is a saying in our industry that films are never finished- only abandoned. As a film maker, I can tell you that it’s so true. When we released the film ten years ago, there were things that we weren’t satisfied with, but because of time and budget constraints, we had to stop and get it into the theaters. Now, ten years on, we have the time, the budget and the technology to address things we may not have the first time around. That isn’t to say that we weren’t satisfied with the original version. Quite the contrary; we are all very proud of it. In the 10th Anniversary edition, we sought to improve on the original to enhance the audience’s experience.
We did create entirely new scenes for the film utilizing the original cast. They help tell the story in a way that we think the audience will like. We listened to the feedback over the years about what our audiences liked and didn’t particularly care for and made some changes accordingly without compromising our vision of the original film. The result is quite satisfying, but the only way to know what we did is to go see the movie. I won’t spoil it for you here.
A significant percentage of all proceeds generated by the 10th Anniversary Encore Celebration of Charly will be donated to West Ridge Academy. We hope our audience and fan base will help us in our efforts to support them by going to see the movie and telling their family and friends about it so they can also go. We partnered with West Ridge Academy to help get the word out that Charly is coming back to theatres, but also to help support them in their incredible mission. In case you aren’t aware of West Ridge Academy, they exist to help struggling youth and their families. Since both our messages revolve around themes of hope and healing, teaming with them was a perfect fit. If we had simply reissued Charly solely on the merits of its 10th anniversary, I don’t believe it would have the significance it does now in partnership with West Ridge Academy. It means more, it says more and hopefully it will do more than it would standing alone.
JD: Charly fills an audience need for wholesome romantic movies. To that end, what are some of your other favorite romantic movies?
LW: Oh, that’s a can of worms. I’m a hopeless romantic so I have a lot of favorites like The Notebook, You’ve Got Mail and even dark romantic movies like Phantom of the Opera, but by far, my absolute favorite romantic movie is Pride and Prejudice (the five hour BBC version with Collin Firth). Now that’s a romantic movie!
Author’s Note: I’ve also been in correspondence with Jeremy Hoop (who plays Sam) and he’s been a pleasure to visit with, but scheduling conflicts on both sides have kept us from completing our interview. Rest assured, that exchange will run when it’s finished (he also has some great thoughts about co-starring in The Testaments and other Church films, so be sure to come back here).
My thanks once again to Heather and Lance for their time and wonderful insights. For theatre locations and showtimes for Charly, please visit the official website. For more of my articles, as well as my film reviews (including an exclusive preview of the upcoming Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed), please visit mormonmovieguy.com.