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A Child Returns a Stranger in 'When Andrew Came Home'

Television * Making the Lifetime film about a son kidnapped and neglected by an ex-spouse was a heart-rending experience.

October 30, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lifetime's new movie "When Andrew Came Home" won't be easy viewing for parents. Inspired by a true story, the drama deals with a parent's worst nightmare: the kidnapping of a child by a former spouse.

"I don't think people want to face the truth of this issue and subject," says Park Overall, who stars in the cable movie premiering tonight. "I hope we will get viewers. I know it's [a subject matter] nobody wants to look at."

Overall plays Gail Carlson, the loving mother of 5-year-old Andrew. Her instincts tell her that something isn't right when her ex-husband arrives with his new girlfriend to pick up Andrew for his weekend visit. Her ex doesn't like the fact that Andrew is enjoying the company of Gail's new boyfriend, Eddie, (Jason Beghe). When he doesn't return the boy after the weekend, Gail and the authorities begin to search for Andrew. But he seems to have vanished into thin air.

Five years later, Gail is married to Eddie and has a new baby, but she still hasn't given up her search for Andrew. One day, she receives a phone call from her ex-husband saying he is sending Andrew back home on a bus. But instead of the warm, happy 5-year-old she once knew, the Andrew (Seth Adkins) who steps off the bus is a dirty and sullen wild child who eats with his hands and can't read or write. After being neglected for five years, he can barely socialize. And he resents Gail.

"This little boy's captivity, if you call it that, may be a little more brutal than others'," says Susan Rice, who wrote the teleplay and spent time with the real woman the drama is based on. "Her son is now grown . . . [and] he is doing all right. I don't know if you ever get over an experience like this. I guess that everything he learned [while with his father], he learned from television."

In kidnapping cases like this, says Rice, the child's interest or presence means little to the parent who commits the abduction. The motivation is more often revenge or anger.

"For this particular father it was the anger at seeing his son happy with a new father and a new family," says Rice. "It was incendiary to him. He didn't bring him up, he kept him like a pet, but probably without as much affection as most pets get."

Director Artie Mandelberg ("Moonlighting") felt a real connection to the material as a divorced father of three. "My kids went through a divorce," he says. "Anything dealing with kids just sort of hits me. What I liked a lot about this is that it wasn't a hostage story. It was about what some people are doing to their kids."

The vast majority of parents, says the director, don't really know much about this issue. "Just speaking for myself--and I have several friends who are divorced--I have never known anyone who has done this. But we do know that it happens. What really sort of hit home to me is that it's based on a true story."

Though the real father did jail time for kidnapping his son, Overall is shocked that his girlfriend did not. "Nobody caught her or anything," Overall says. "I feel that was really unfair. She was part of that mess. She should have been held accountable.

"I really don't like the idea of a child being hurt or damaged," Overall adds. "I think this guy did like two or three years. Can you imagine--to steal a life and barely pay for it? It's mind-boggling to me."

The heart and soul of "Andrew" belongs to 10-year-old Adkins, who gives a heartbreaking performance as the troubled boy. "He's just terrific," says Mandelberg.

"This part was difficult and challenging for me because I had to do a lot of crying," says Adkins, who appeared earlier this year in the TV musical "Geppetto." "I thought it was a good role to play. I didn't know moms or dads would do this to their own kids."

Rice hopes "Andrew" will make parents give their children an extra hug. "Treasure them and hold them tight. I don't think anyone can ever prepare for an experience like this because it shouldn't be an experience that anyone has to prepare for. The other thing that is important to take away is that love can set you free, even after an experience like this."

* "When Andrew Came Home" airs today at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. The network has rated it TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language).

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