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The Envelope Screening Series

'The Sessions': Did director's own polio color his judgment?

November 01, 2012|By Oliver Gettell

It's not hard to imagine why people would be intrigued by the unique story of Mark O'Brien, a journalist confined to an iron lung who, nearing age 40, enlisted a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. Writer-director Ben Lewin was clearly one such person, as his new film "The Sessions," starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, is based on O'Brien's life.

O'Brien's story had particular resonance for Lewin, who, like O'Brien, contracted and survived polio at a young age. But as Lewin told Times film reporter John Horn during a recent installment of the Envelope Screening Series, he wasn't sure at first whether his personal background was influencing his notion that O'Brien's story could make for a successful feature film.

"I think it was something that I was initially suspicious of and felt that my reaction to Mark’s story was really too heavily colored maybe by my own experience," Lewin said. "And I really had to get away from that and say, 'You know, this is the sort of impact it could have on any able-bodied person.' "

For more insight from Lewin, and to hear Hawkes discuss "the 800-pound gorilla in the room," watch the full clip above.


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