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2004-01-07 life & times
Teen struggles focus of 'Gracie's Choice'
A conversation with Diane Ladd

Diane Ladd
by Sally Stone

On Jan. 12, LIFETIME will premiere "Gracie's Choice," a drama about the struggle of a 17-year-old teenager named Gracie to adopt her three brothers after their drug-addicted mother goes to jail, and the grandmother who cared for them dies. Inspired by a true story, the film stars Anne Heche ("Ally McBeal") as Rowena, the children's mother; Kristen Bell ("Everwood") as Gracie; and Academy Award nominee, Golden Globe and British Oscar winner, actress, producer and screenwriter Diane Ladd ("Ramblin' Rose" and the upcoming ABC miniseries "Steven King's 'Kingdom Hospital'"), as Grandma Lou, Gracie's grandmother.

Diane Ladd says she was drawn to "Gracie's Choice" because "I loved this story of a young girl who was determined to fight for her family against overwhelming odds. You know, when you take on a government bureaucracy—as she did when she learned she might have to be separated from her brothers—you have to have the courage, first of all, to attempt it, and the strength to stay with it. She had it on both counts. I felt a story like this honors young people like her who are doing good things all the time, and rarely get noticed for it."

Ladd also felt the story was important because of its emphasis on child abuse and child neglect.

"Most people would think Lou was a good mother to Rowena. She was certainly not a permissive parent. On the contrary, she was very strict and laid down some tough rules for Rowena when she was growing up. It was only later when Rowena started on drugs and neglected her children that Lou realized that she may have been too strict with her own child, and might have helped create the problems faced by her grandchildren. She began to understand that when her daughter rebelled against her treatment of her, she did so in a big and tragic way."

Diane Ladd said the film also points out the importance of breaking patterns of abuse and neglect that are often passed on from generation to generation as if they were genetic attributes, like blue eyes and red hair.

"They're not inherited," she says. "It's all learned behavior. But the behavior is so much a part of a family and its history, you might assume they're inborn traits that you can't do anything about. So every generation repeats them. But they don't have to. And that's what comes through in the movie. The pattern can be broken."

Ladd says as a mother herself (her daughter is actress Laura Dern) she understands that being a parent is one of life's most difficult experiences. "For many, it can be overwhelming, and lead to neglecting and abusing the children."

That's why she and co-stars Anne Heche and Kristen Bell were pleased to be part of a public-service announcement to be aired when the film ends. The PSA directs viewers who need information as well as help to contact ChildHelp USA at a toll-free number that will be shown during the PSA. For additional resources, viewers can access www.Lifeimetv. com.

As for any hint of what she'll be doing in the upcoming "Steven King's 'Kingdom Hospital'" miniseries, Ladd says, "I'll be doing a lot of being scared."

IN FOCUS: On Jan. 16, TNT will air Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl," starring Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), Jeff Daniels ("The Hours") and Hallie Kate Eisenberg ("The Insider"). Actor/director Richard Benjamin ("Love at First Bite") says the decision to direct a new film version of Simon's work was easily arrived at. "I loved this story and always wanted to do it. As soon as I realized it was a reality," he adds, "I thought, how in the world could I update this classic work and still keep the integrity of Neil's wonderful story? But when Neil said, 'go for it,' that's all I needed to hear. And I went for it with a lot of help from some wonderful actors."

In the movie, Heaton plays Paula McFadden, the "Goodbye Girl" herself, Daniels is Elliot Garfield, an actor who comes to New York to find a career in theater. Eisenberg plays Paula's daughter and is determined to push her mother into a relationship with Elliott and, hopefully, never have to hear another man tell her, "Goodbye."

Benjamin, who acts in and directed the recently released "Marci X," with "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow, says the strength in "The Goodbye Girl" is that it's a love story. "And who doesn't love a love story when it's told with the sensitivity and humor of a master story teller like Neil Simon?"

(P.S. On Jan. 15, the day before TNT's movie premieres, TCM will air the original award-winning 1977 film with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason as the lovers.)

DIAL TONES: On Jan. 9, at 9 p.m. EST, the new season of "Stargate SG-1" returns to the SciFi channel with 11 all-new episodes. A new series, "Code Name: Eternity," starring Cameron Bancroft, follows at 10 p.m.

Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton stars in NBC's figure-skating special, "Scott Hamilton and Friends," airing Jan. 11.

(c) 2004 King

Features Synd., Inc.

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