Autism In Real Life

Episode 19: Tyson's Run The Movie: An Interview with Director, Kim Bass & Lead Actor, Major Dodson

March 04, 2022 Ilia Walsh, Creator and Host Season 2 Episode 19
Autism In Real Life
Episode 19: Tyson's Run The Movie: An Interview with Director, Kim Bass & Lead Actor, Major Dodson
Show Notes Transcript

View the trailer here.

Movie Description:
When fifteen-year-old Tyson attends public school for the first time, his life is changed forever. While helping his father clean up after the football team, Tyson befriends champion marathon runner Aklilu. Never letting his autism hold him back, Tyson becomes determined to run his first marathon in hopes of winning his father's approval. 

With the help of an unlikely friend and his parents, Tyson learns that with faith in yourself and the courage to take the first step, anything is possible.

Guest Bios:
Bass is an Emmy®-nominated screenplay and teleplay writer best known for his work on “In Living Color,” “Sister, Sister” and the Nickelodeon sitcom “Kenan & Kel.” During his over twenty-five year career, Bass has worked as a writer for almost all of the major Hollywood studios and television networks as well as many prominent and independent film and television production companies including: Warner Brothers Studios; Twentieth Century Fox Studios; Disney Studios; Sony Pictures Studios and others. Currently, Bass is in post-production on his latest film, HeadShop, and pre-production on a faith-based Christmas film, Mother Johnson's Miracle Christmas, scheduled to begin principal photography in the spring of 2022. In addition, Bass’ film, Tyson’s Run is scheduled to open theatrically, nationwide on March 4th.

Major Dodson is best known for his role of Sam Anderson on AMC’s International smash hit series “The Walking Dead.” Other projects include LEFT BEHIND, “American Horror Story,” and “Revolution.” Dodson is currently featured in the inspirational drama TYSON’S RUN in theaters Spring 2022. Dodson currently resides in Los Angeles, Calif.

Film Website:




Hello and welcome to the autism in real life podcast. In each episode, you'll get practical strategies by taking a journey into the joys and challenges of life with autism. I'm your host Ilia Walsh, and I'm an educator and the parent of two young adults, one of which is on the autism spectrum. Join me as I share my experience and the experiences of others so that we may see the unique gifts and talents of individuals on the autism spectrum, fully recognized.

Hello, everyone, and welcome. This is Ilia with autism in real life, and today, I'm super excited. I have guests here with me I have the director and the lead actor from the upcoming film Tyson's run. And I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at that which I enjoyed very much. But before we start getting totally into that, I want to give a warm welcome to Kim bass who's an Emmy nominated screenplay and teleplay writer, best known for his work on In Living Color Sister sister, and the Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan and Kel. And another warm welcome to major Dodson, who is best known for his role of Sam Anderson on AMC international hit the Walking Dead, and other projects, including left behind American Horror Story and revolution. So thank you both for being here with me today. You know, I did, like I said, I was lucky enough to see a preview of the film. And I have, I have a very warm spot in my heart for this for this film and for this topic. But I think my my first question is to you, Kim, as the writer and director, can you share a little bit about how this movie came to be and why it was important to you to make it?

Yeah, first of all, thank

you for having us, we really appreciate that. And having this opportunity to speak about, you know, a film that is very special, I think, to both of us, and many people who worked hard on the picture, the, the nugget, or the sort of the spark, for the idea that became Tyson's run, was literally a conversation with a little boy, who didn't want to run anymore, because all of the other boys in his class in school could run much faster. So when they would start out running, he would always get left behind and rather than struggle to keep up with just give up. And that conversation just hit me a certain way. And I thought about that. And then eventually, that nugget of an idea grew into what became Tyson's run. And, of course, things that were happening in society where there's so much judgment of other people and those who can do things and those who can't do things, and those who are a certain way, look a certain way, move a certain way live in a certain area. It all just sort of sort of congealed in my mind, that a story about a family could be a microcosm for what's going on in society and the acceptance of those who are perceived to be different. And those some people need, you know, more help in one direction than in another direction. But all people should be allowed to be free should be allowed to flourish, and become the best version of themselves without any prejudice without any sort of forethought of what they can be and what they can't be. And so Tyson's run was born.

I mean, Major, I don't know if you want to add anything to that for yourself, from your perspective.

I think it is just what Kim said. It's very good movie about that, you know, not judging people for preconceived notions of who you think they should be. Or our

I think you explained it very nicely.

Yeah, I mean, I think it's funny, I have notes in front of me, but now I'm jumping all over the place because it brought to to me, there's some very powerful phrases in the movie, at least that I felt were powerful for me and one of them is by the character, a clue and what he says to Tyson's parents is that Tyson does not set limits on him on himself and neither should you and I think this goes to your point Kim about How we may perceive or even as parents, I mean, I have an adult son who is on spectrum, and how we want to protect our kids, we want to make the world a safe place. But sometimes in doing that, we were creating limits that we don't realize, and we impose certain expectations that we don't mean to, but we do. And I think him your point there is to not have that and to be free of that. So people can move to their highest potential, as I say, or, you know, live their, their fullest life.

Oh, absolutely. And though, you know, parents love their children, but it doesn't mean they're not holding them back sometimes upon their perceived notion of what love is, and what protection is, of their child, and especially use, you spoke about your adult son who is on on spectrum, and I'm sure you dearly love him, and probably want the world not to do any damage to it whatsoever. But by protecting him with pillows and clouds, and, you know, don't do that something might happen to you. Well, you know, in a way, it's counterintuitive, right? You probably aren't protecting all that, well, of course, you have to do the basics, but allowing every person everyone has gifts, everyone has skills, and everyone has hopes and dreams that we might not understand. But if you allow them to have their freedom, and not protect them so much, and then certainly society not putting people down in society, not, you know, judging them in a way that keeps them from fulfilling their own sort of hopes and aspirations. People, people of all stripes and of all abilities, I believe, can achieve great things. And that's sort of the message in this movie is that, you know, this, the students at school need to allow other students to be themselves not to bully them, because they perceive them to be different. And I think it's important that a lesson that can be taken from this picture is I think Tyson, his character says something about, you know, doing just do just the concept of do letting him do and that nothing specific just let me do. And I think that's, that's an important sort of element to the to the film. And hopefully, folks take some of that feeling with them when they leave the theater. And it's not just about, you know, some children who may have challenges just in general, let your neighbor do let your loved ones do. So that's sort of them.

Yeah, no, definitely. And I think, you know, like you said, I think the lesson for me as a parent, my son is, is now 23 years old. But it does with that, like aging into adulthood. And I think the movie has a critical time as well, in this, you know, the high school setting is a huge transition period, where sometimes we tend to clamp down a little bit tighter and the world seems to get a little scarier as we start moving into that adulthood. But I think the movie does a great job of showing a lot of the challenge that exists in high school, I find that they can be super intimidating. And all the expectations that are placed on you like what happens when you leave. And I think the setting of the film really gives like, just like you said, like a little sliver of what that would look like for all students and not just, you know, someone who might have autism, but someone in the high school setting and how everyone's sort of navigating this world and how families are sort of also doing the best they can supporting or managing their own struggles and challenges and major, you know, I'm curious as someone who is on Spectrum, how does it feel playing an autistic character?

Um, it was

just a nice challenge from I never played a character like Tyson before. Of course, nowadays in this much more diverse climates where you can cast people who are actually no fit for the role that they're portraying. Back in the 80s, or the 70s. I mean, you couldn't find the kids and have them say, Oh, well, I'm on I'm on the spectrum. So it'll be okay. If the 70s casting director will say, why does that matter? That doesn't mean anything. But it is just nice to have that level of personal connection like okay, at one point, I was like Tice, I had my social issues I had to grow and become who I am now. It's just nice to have that relationship with the character and know that I am on the spectrum and that this is something to do with representation as well.

Yeah. And so I'm curious what part of that challenges? I'm wondering did it? Did it bring you back to some place that you know, where you feel like you've kind of built more skill? Or was it just that it was a completely diverse character?

I think it was more than it was just a completely diverse character. For some of the school parts, you know, when I'm interacting with the other kids, and Tyson doesn't exactly know what the cues are, or how to make himself presented like the other kids. I mean, there was definitely elements of that, when I kind of made the connection there, like, Okay, this happened to me, sometimes now it's younger.

Now, there was some elements.

I think, you know, one of the things that struck me visually with the film was that there were some scenes that, and I don't know if this was intentional or not, so please let me know, where I feel like, you're really capturing some of what the sensory experience would be like, in a variety of circumstances, at least from how it's been described, to me and how I personally have experienced some sensory overload. So I'm, I'm wondering what that was like, and what the thinking was in bringing that to your audience.

So I'll jump in here, and then major can jump in as well. That was intentional, to show that the world though, it's the same, it's taken in differently, right? The the way that the under the way that a person on the spectrum. And of course, it's we use the word spectrum, because it's so broad, but certain people, persons on the spectrum, certainly consume what is thrown at them in a way that might be different than others consume it. And so we tried to show that there were actually times where you're very perceptive, because there are times when it was Tyson's point of view, we actually use a slightly different camera setting. So that there was a little bit of a enhancement a little bit more of a flutter to the, to the picture. And so it sort of comes at you in, in, in waves, almost like tiles. And so it's it's, most people won't even notice it, but subconsciously they will. And so you're absolutely right, it is his POV of looking at everything was shot specifically with a setting that was for that character. And then, of course, you know, major, you know, having had the experience he had growing up and being on the spectrum himself, brought so much organic feel to what we were doing. So sometimes it was almost as if he could lead and then based upon what major was doing, we could then adjust the camera to sort of follow his lead because we knew what he was doing was, was true was, was genuine. And, and you talked about this role, I'd like to say this part, so that folks understand, we as a production did not set out specifically to cast someone on the spectrum, someone who had experience with autism. We were casting for the Best Actor for the role. And major came in an audition, he prepared. He came in and his audition was magnificent. We actually auditioned if I'm not mistaken, one 262 Different young men for the role. And it was very clear, that major would bring something special to the role. So after the decision was made that he was Tyson is when we actually found out he was on the spectrum. And I think that makes a bigger statement than anything else. This was not this was not a gimme, because of this was an actor came in prepared properly for the role, and then gave a great audition. And so the bonus, if I might call it that is that he's actually on the spectrum so that we are not bombarded with Why did you cast that person? So kudos to major I want you know, the viewing audience to understand that. He he was allowed, as we were talking about this by his parents to take acting lessons, and he became a very good actor. And like any other actor, he got a script and did his homework and came in and auditioned for the roll and didn't come in with some cards saying, Hey, I'm on the spectrum hire me. That was not. That was not the case. You just came in an audition for the role. Right? Made? You might want to add to that, but

yeah, it was, it was absolutely like a bonus. I mentioned it in passing to Lisa Hamel, the casting director. Lay right as I was leaving out this Oh, hey, spectrum, by the way. She just kind of worked out very nicely.

Yeah. Do you feel that? I mean, I guess this might be a silly question. But I'm just curious. When you read the script, and prepared, did you feel like, Oh, well, I get this because I've experienced some of these things, or I can resonate with some of what's in this. So do you feel like your preparation would have been different than some of the other characters that you've played?

only to a certain extent, I mentioned before that it was more of a just a relation to some of the experiences I did have, for the most part, preparing for Tyson was just creating Tyson. My interpretation of this character. The relation kind of just tied into the more deep, almost spiritual, and I don't think that's the right word, but the deeply personal sort of connection to Tyson it was, oh, this is somewhat like, what happened to me when I was younger. I didn't know what to do. Exactly. To please, all the other kids in schools make them think oh, yeah, he is the cool guy. I just didn't know that for the longest time so that it was more of just a. Okay, I had some similar experiences. So I don't know, maybe I'll work a little bit of that into it.

Yeah, so so it makes me think a little bit. Kim, you know, why a story about a family with an autistic son? I'm just curious why that topic, it's not a common topic, unless someone's trying to send a very particular message. And it is super impactful that you have an autistic actor, and I know, and it's great that it was, it was organic. And I really love that it happened that way. But they're oftentimes people, you know, some of my listeners will say, Well, you know, if you're going to have an autistic character, and I know, there's been some backlash in the media recently about this, then you need to cast someone who knows. And and, you know, I'm just curious that it is it is an interesting type of character to create, and the stories kind of central to it, but not like totally, but but like, I think, I don't know, I'm just curious about that.

Well, I did some research,

and an element of the research, it rang true, but it was also sad at the same time. And that was the end, I talked to various friends, I have friends who have children who are on the spectrum.

And I, one sort of, wouldn't, I'd hate to call it a central theme. But it occurred to me that oftentimes, the father has a more difficult sort of

understanding, and the ability to deal with their children who are on the spectrum than the mother does. And that might be stereotyping in a bit. But that seemed to be a theme that was constant, that the fathers seem to struggle a little bit more with it. And then in particular, fathers with sons. And so I thought that that dynamic played out on screen would have just a little more punch than some other version of the same story. And I felt that, you know, you could push a little more and you could pull a little more, and I think folks could relate to it slightly more. And so it was set up that there would be a mother, doting on her son, and then a father who is, you know, for all intents and purposes, and an NFL hopeful who didn't make it because of an injury but quote, unquote, you know, the man's man, the the athlete, and then having a son. It's not that his son really So much can't follow in his footsteps, because of his own particular failures. He has a son. He he can't utilize to to live vicariously through for his own purposes a bit. So I just thought it made it much more complex a complex story. But I'd like to share a story with you though we test screened the picture in Texas and Houston, before it was fully complete. And there was a wonderful test audience and there was a father, who came out of the screening with a daughter and his daughter had her own challenges, I believe she had Down syndrome, probably about 15 years of age. And he sort of ushered her into the ladies room in the lobby, and then came over to me and wanted to shake my hand and thanked me for making the film. And he said, seeing this movie, makes me understand that I need to be a better father to my daughter. And then he gave me a hug and cried on my shoulder. And his daughter then comes out of the lady's room, and he put his arms around her and then walked out of the theater. And so, you know, made it made it all sort of worthwhile just to have brought that picture there. And I'm hoping they're doing doing well, or even better than they were doing before they saw the film. But there was an example of a fall, right?

Absolutely. And I think, you know, the movie definitely struck me in certain places, you know, through the mother's eyes, through the father's eyes, through some of the other people in Tyson's life, like the way that was sort of set up, as well as the challenges that are in there and the joy. And I think that's something that I, you know, tried to bring through this work that I do and through my other nonprofit work, is to show that there are just because there might be some challenges just like with everyone and all of life, we can pull the threads of joy. And we can build closer connections to the people that we love and the people that we care about. And I think this film does that really well. And I thank you, Kim for sharing that story. Because it's, it's really powerful. It's the kind of work that I do every day that I hope, you know, impacts people. If we get one story like that, it's always a really a really positive thing.

Yeah, absolutely.

And I hope there are many more, many more stories like that, I think a major is, you know, maybe unwittingly, so but become a bit of an ambassador by just by just doing what he does, which is, act, he's an actor, he's a young man and decided that that's what he wanted to do at a very young age, he can tell you his story about how he became an actor. But, you know, the fact that, you know, he happens to be on the spectrum to me is he happens to be on the spectrum. It does not define what defines him. It's not me, it is right. Exactly. Yeah.

And I'm really curious about the acting piece, because I know so many people that I've worked with, have gotten so much benefit out of the arts in general, and particularly acting. I'm curious how, you know, what made you interested in acting? And I see you've been acting since a young age. So I'm curious, like, what was the draw for you there?

Well, like you said it was it was from a very young age, I was about six years old. To really get into it at the time. When I was growing up, and I didn't really understand moderation was I would have these phases where I would have a certain obsession. Usually it was something involving transportation vehicles. So just memorize all these things about this particular like, oh, this locomotive for this car, and health books. And at the time, it was trains. So I could tell you anything about trains. And we had seen the I think it was Robertson Bacchus. I can't remember it was years ago. But we had seen the newest Christmas girl movie. I think it was the motion capture, like 3d one. And they did this event with Amtrak, I believe, where they toured around the country with a train full of like, props that they made that were like, Oh, look, it was in the movie. And then tons of kids were there. And so we went and I saw these things, these trains and honestly, it was really cool. And around the same time back in Dallas, where we were living there. The local theatre production company was doing a production of A Christmas Carol, and so kind of Nice to coincided. So my mom, I had told her before that I want to be an actor, I think was some bolts movie with the Disney movie. And so I was feeling inspired. I was feeling invigorated to do this. And so I She reached out and I got an audition. And they were holding these auditions for kids to play parts. If you went there and you sang a song, or did anything, you get a part. So it was kind of perfect. Little, little old me was the greatest actor at the time. So if I went up there and sang, I would get to participate and feel nice. So I told the casting director, lady, once I was up on stage, that I would sing, thank you for the music by Abba, because my mom was very much into Mamma Mia at the time. So I got up on stage, and I totally alright, I'm going to sing thank you for the music, but I'm only going to sing one word, and I won't dance. And so she was kind of bewildered like, What do you mean? word universe? Is that fine. So I sang a little bit of a Dance Central in the word there. And I got the role of Tiny Tim. So we did that for a while. And that's kind of just how it started. kind of snowballed. And

for sure. Thank you for sharing that. So I'm wondering on my tell, as we're having our time together, I'm curious, like what you hope, and I, you know, I want to talk about the film, but I don't want to give anything away. So what I'm what I'm, what I'm wondering is how what do you hope that families can kind of take and I know, Kim, you mentioned a few things earlier. Right? But what are you hoping that families will take from this story, or anyone watching the film really?

Well, I hope that they take away from the picture,

the impetus to sort of do self inventory of their own families, and what they're doing right things that they could be maybe doing better, and then allow that to spread to the neighbors and to their community as a whole. Which is, let's not just do well, for our own selves for our own children, let's do the best we can for them. But let's also make sure that we're the kind of people who are doing the best for our neighbors and for society as a whole. Where we're not judging other people, by who they love, what they do, how they look, what money they have, what money they don't have, what their political beliefs are, what their religious beliefs are, allow


people to be themselves and have the freedom to express themselves and to I like to use the word flourish, to flourish to, to blossom to fly, let let everyone fly, because everyone can given the opportunity. And so I hope that that's sort of the takeaway, that, you know, we're all in this thing together, and ain't none of us getting out of it alive. But so let's have a good time while we're here. And you know, a good time doesn't mean you just have a good time, right? We all we all are allowed to do the best that we can we all are allowed to love to laugh, and to live and not be shackled in any way, shape or form, not physically, not emotionally, not spiritually. And so I know that's a lot to ask, but if I think they can enjoy the picture, and those little things will seep in, and I want folks to understand that this is not a preachy film. This is a film that has heart has inspiration. And it it leaves you feeling good as you walk out of the theater and you've enjoyed it. You've enjoyed the arc and the journey that this family's gone on. And I think then you can sort of apply certain things to your to your own family. You know, a lot of hard work and effort went into making this you know, Major. He's Tyson, but he's surrounded by some fantastic actors who breathed such life into the picture we have Rory Cochrane, Amy Smart Leila Felder, Reno, Wilson, Godley as a VyOS. You know, we have just such and then Barkhad Abdi who becomes his mentor, they all came to the project, because they liked the material, and then gave space to each other as actors, you know, actors do their own thing, but they were generous to one another, to allow each other to sort of be who they needed to be as actors and emote, what their truth is, and then they were all surrounded in supportive of major, as he you know, played the lead role. And so we all had a good time and I just I just Make that that translates to a film where families and people will have a good time watching it. But also,

yeah, so it sounds like the cast itself sort of modeled what you said about doing a self inventory, right and B and being sort of not just doing it with yourself, but are with the people close to you, but also with everyone around you. And sort of just, you know, I mean, to say, just be kind is kind of seems it seems too simplistic of words. And I think there is another line, where major as Tyson says, you know, I like, I like the way you say things, to a clue also. Because that also, not just as the mentor, I feel like he is sort of the character that has a lot of introspection and a lot of this inner wisdom that he's sharing, and sort of helping to bring this family together. But in saying those words, I think that's sort of it made me think about myself, and how, how do I say things to other people? And how do I allow space, like you said, for other people to just be in the space that we are sharing together? And so, you know, there are those those little really golden nuggets that are in there that I that I very much appreciated? And, you know, major, I'm, I want to kind of come back to you. You know, what are you hoping that people take from this from this film?

Same thing that Kim said, um, it's just a very positive, uplifting movie with a good message that anybody can enjoy. And I think that's really nice to have nowadays. The past two years have not been easy for anybody. We if you manufacture masks, maybe, but I don't. So

I'm pretty sure and hand sanitizer. Yeah.

I suppose for hand sanitizer. I don't think, you know, a lot of people have had some struggles these past two years, losses, I'm sure. So came back out of that mean, we found this three years ago, but it doesn't change anything. And I still think this is a very positive nice movie, and has a lot of hopeful themes. And I hope that's just what people take away from it. Yeah,

definitely. You're right in, in, in the world that we're in today. And as I think we, whatever re entry looks like, or whatever the new normal looks like, I think we can definitely take some of these messages with us. And so I really, definitely want to make sure people know, I know that the release date is March 11. And so where Will people be able to, to watch this in the new world that we have now.

In the New World, this is exclusively in theaters, the initial release is, as you said, on March 11, Friday, March 11. It's nationwide, select theaters, but nationwide, it will be in hundreds and hundreds of theaters across the country. So folks just really just have to, you know, Google their local theaters and find it or they can go to Tyson And, you know, type in their own zip codes, and the closest theater will come up, they can even purchase the tickets online or purchase them directly at their theaters, but it will be pretty much everywhere. So if they want to see everybody will be able to see it, but it is exclusively in theaters for the first certain run of the of the release. And, and we're hoping that a lot of folks will see it, it'll be in theaters all over Latin America. Yeah, that's terrific. Right, five or 600 theaters, and in some theaters in in Europe as well. So if you want to see Tyson's run, and yes, should you right, we'll be able to see it. And we're, we're we're looking forward to support from, you know, a very diverse fan base. And I think it'll be well worth their time and well worth the dollars that they need to spend in order. Yeah,

and especially so many people still probably haven't yet gone to the movies. Since, you know, in the last couple of years, I think to have a feel good movie to come back to is would be a really beautiful thing. So thank you so much for joining me today. And I really appreciate you both being here. I'm just wondering if there's anything else that you want to add before we say goodbye to our listeners,

make sure you go first. Ah,

thanks for tuning in. Let's let's talk about this movie. We've all worked very hard on it and extremely happy to hear so much positive reception. Hopefully you come back from it with positive reception as well.

Absolutely. Thank

you. And I would just like to thank me for doing such a great job on the picture, and then for you Ilia for people like you who have the challenges you have being the mother that you are, and obviously you care enough to create, you know, this show in order to get the word out. And then supporting what I believe is a is a good picture wouldn't be so presumptive to call it a, you know, unnecessary film. But it's a good film, it's entertaining. And I believe this is the kind of picture that puts something good out there, like drops a little pebble in a big pond. But it's a ripple that I think folks will enjoy. So I appreciate the invite to being on your show. And I hope that people can find this picture and enjoy it. And we really appreciate the support. So thank

you. Thank you both for joining me today. Thank you so much. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow, I'll probably see it again with other people. So it's different in a theater, right? So that

that community that communal experiences. Absolutely.

Thank you so much, and have a great, great rest of your day.

You too. Thank you very much. All right, take care. Thank you very much.

Hi. Thanks for listening to autism in real life. This is Ilia Walsh. And if you like the show, please hit subscribe so you can get notified each time a new episode is released. I also offer training, consultations and parent coaching and would love to help you in any way that I can. You can check out my offerings at the spectrum And when you join my email list, you can get a code to receive a discount off of an online class or a coaching session. Looking forward to hearing from you. Take care and see you next time.

Auto-Transcribed by