Powerfully embracing motivational films that emotionally and relatably highlight complex and determined female protagonists and supporting characters who relentlessly pursue their goals, no matter what struggles they’re forced to overcome in the process, is an important movement that needs to become more prevalent in Hollywood. The new family drama, ‘Jack of the Red Hearts,’ is grippingly leading that essential trend, as it enthrallingly focuses on a troubled young woman who learns about the importance of responsibility and love from the pre-teen girl she’s been hired to care for. The film endearingly focuses on up-and-coming actress Taylor Richardson’s skilled interpretation of a young autistic girl who needs continuous attention, but ultimately teaches her new caregiver about the significance of what it means to care for someone else.
‘Jack of the Red Hearts,’ which was written by Jennifer Deaton and directed by Janet Grillo, has recently been distributed by ARC Entertaiment into select theaters nationwide. The drama follows the title character, Jack (AnnaSophia Robb), a troubled orphaned 18-year-old who’s desperately trying to earn money quickly so that she could gain legal custody of her younger sister, Coke (Sophia Anne Caruso). But since she failed to graduate high school and is unable to acquire a steady job, her probation officer, Miz (Tonye Patano), is constantly monitoring her actions. After the struggling teenager tries to illegally take custody of her sister, the courts limit contact between the two girls.
In a desperate attempt to prove she’s worthy of caring for Coke, Jack steals the identity of Donna, a therapist who’s applying for a live-in companion position of a young autistic girl, the 11-year-old Glory (Richardson). After successfully lying throughout her interview, Jack impresses the pre-teen’s mother, Kay (Famke Janssen), who needs someone to help her care for her daughter when she decides to revive her career. While Jack is initially flustered with her new job duties, and Kay struggles to keep her family together, despite the reservations of her husband, Mark (Scott Cohen), and son, Robert (Israel Broussard), over the need to hire a therapist for Glory, they all learn to appreciate their new arrangement. But when Jack’s troubled past comes back to threaten her new-found determination to improve her life, the promising future that she, as well as her sister and the family she come to bond with, no longer seems to be guaranteed.
Richardson generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Jack of the Red Hearts’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to play Glory because she not only wanted to portray such a unique role, but also wished to bring an awareness to what it’s like to live with autism. She also noted that she enjoyed working with her co-stars on the film’s New York City set. The actress also revealed that she valued that Grillo offered her the chance to fill in the character with some details she gathered from her own research as an actress, as well as helped guide her through her performance.
ShockYa (SY): You play Glory, an 11 year-old girl who has autism, in your new drama, ‘Jack of the Red Hearts.’ Why were you interested in playing the role of Glory?
Taylor Richardson (TR): I knew that I wanted to play Glory because I’ve never had a role like her before, and I don’t think I’ll ever have a role like her again. After reading the script, and speaking with Janet Grillo, our director, I knew that I wanted to share this beautiful story. I wanted to bring not only an awareness to autism, but also to the families who live with the struggles of autism every day. Even with those struggles, they still love their relatives who have autism unconditionally.
SY: What was it like working with the movie’s director, Janet Grillo, who you just mentioned, as you were filming?
TR: Janet was wonderful. She gave me a lot of freedom to create Glory. She gave me an outline, and allowed me to fill it in with my own personal experiences. She also let me fill it in with the details of who I thought Glory was, as well as the things she like and dislikes, and how she interacts with her family members and Jack. It was also helpful to speak with Janet, because she has a child who has autism. So she told me a lot of personal stories about her experience with autism.
SY: Besides speaking with Janet, did you do any of your own research into the lives of children who live with autism?
TR: Definitely-I read a lot of articles, and watched a lot of documentaries. Janet really wanted me to see what life is like for people who really have autism, instead of just watching an interpretation of it.
SY: How did you bond with your co-stars on the film, especially Famke Janssen, who played Glory’s mom, Kay, and AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Glory’s companion, Jack?
TR: They were absolutely wonderful and lovely to work with. I had fun with them on set everyday. I just learned so much from watching them perform their parts.
SY: Did you and the rest of the cast all rehearse together before you started filming?
TR: We had one rehearsal before we began filming, with AnnaSophia and Famke, as well as Janet, our director, and Jennifer, our writer. It was just to improv and explore things, so that we could figure out our characters, and so that we could get acquainted. We also hung out together on set, and went to dinner together. We would also have ice cream parties on set. (laughs)
SY: ‘Jack of the Red Hearts’ emotionally and powerfully shows how Glory is living with her autism. How did you prepare to show the physical elements of her illness?
TR: It was definitely challenging, because we were having fun on set everyday. But then, all of a sudden, we had to channel all of these emotions. Since Glory is so different from myself, it was challenging. But I also enjoyed getting to explore Glory and who she was.
SY: What was it like shooting the movie in New York City? Did you have a chance to spend time with your co-stars when you weren’t shooting the movie?
TR: Yes, it was really fun. We saw parts of New York that I have never been to before. We got to explore all of these nooks and crannies of the city that we just never notice.
We were actually filming in this house during the summer. But we couldn’t put the air conditioning on, because it would mess up the sound. So it felt like 102 degrees, and we were all sweating in this house. (laughs)
SY: The family drama has played at several film festivals, including the inaugural Bentonville Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. Have you been able to travel with the movie and see it with audiences at the festivals?
TR: Yes, I went to three of the film festivals; I went to the Bentonville Film Festival in Arkansas, the Golden Door Film Festival in Jersey City and the Virginia Film Festival.
SY: ‘Jack of the Red Hearts’ is the third movie you have starred in, after ‘A Most Violent Year’ and ‘Annie.’ How did you become interested in acting?
TR: Well, I’ve always loved to dance; I’ve been dancing since I was three-years-old. I’ve also always loved to sing. So when there was an audition for a local show at the Virginia Repertory Theatre, which is where I live, I went in and ended up getting the part. Then I went in for an open call for ‘Annie’ on Broadway, and I also got that role. Since then, I’ve been auditioning for films, and it’s been really fun.
SY: Also speaking of performing in theater, is acting in theater different than starring in movies?
TR: Yes. Acting in film and theater are very different. They have different aspects that are wonderful and exciting. So I love them both equally.
SY: Are you interested in continuing acting in different types of movies, like dramas and comedies?
TR: Yes, I’d love to be in an action or fantasy movie like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Hunger Games.’ But I also love comedy, so one day I’d love to be on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ (laughs) Acting in different genres allows you to explore different themes and ideas, which is fun to do.
SY: Would you also like to be a part of a production that would allow you to do stunts and action sequences?
TR: I did a few stunts for ‘Jack of the Red Hearts,’ which was so fun. Performing them was scary, but in a good way.
SY: Besides ‘Jack of the Red Hearts,’ do you have any other upcoming films or projects that you can talk about?
TY: I do-I’m in an independent film called ‘Easy Living’ that’s coming out next year. I’m also in a short film called ‘The Board.’ I’m also currently in an Off-Broadway show called ‘Smokefall’ with Zachary Quinto.
Written by: Karen Benardello