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The Envelope Screening Series

'The Sessions': Director on how Google sparked a love story

October 30, 2012|By Oliver Gettell

There's a thin line between desperation and inspiration, at least according to Ben Lewin, director of "The Sessions." The film tells the mostly true story of Mark O'Brien (played by John Hawkes), a 38-year-old journalist and poet confined to an iron lung who enlists a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity.

At a recent installment of the Envelope Screening Series hosted by Times film reporter John Horn, Lewin shared the film's origin story. "I think like a lot of worthy enterprises, it starts with an act of desperation," he said.

Lewin, a polio survivor (as O'Brien was), said his agent had encouraged him to write a sitcom about himself. "I was in the middle of developing something called 'The Gimp,' about a guy who trades the use of his handicapped placard for sex," Lewin said. While trawling Google for research, he added, "Out of the corner of my eye I noticed on the screen an article called 'On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.' "

The article, written by O'Brien, struck a chord with Lewin and ultimately inspired "The Sessions."

"I'd rarely been so strongly impacted emotionally by anything I'd read in such an immediate way," Lewin said. "It was pure serendipity."

O'Brien's unique story and Lewin's take on it also resonated with Hawkes. "To be sure, of all the scripts that I read that year, ['The Sessions'] was the best guy-in-an-iron-lung-who-wants-to-lose-his-virginity film," he said. "Definitely."

For more from Lewin, Hawkes and Hunt, view the full clip above.


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