Kristoffer Polaha & David DeSanctis

Where Hope Grows

Playing the role of a person with Down syndrome would be a challenge for any seasoned actor.  Combine that with an actor who actually has Down syndrome and the task could become overwhelming.  And yet for David DeSanctis the undertaking was about so much more than just an acting job.

DeSanctis received the school spirit award from his high school–Ballard High in Louisville, Kentucky–the same school that was used to film scenes in a feature film where he landed the leading role. His energy is contagious.  So, it was no surprise when production rolled into town looking to cast the role for a local grocery store clerk with Down syndrome, named Produce, everybody in town said, “You have to talk to David.”

The movie, Where Hope Grows, is about a professional baseball player whose career is cut short. He’s an alcoholic trying to raise his daughter and failing miserably. An unexpected friendship develops between the grocery clerk and the former athlete and they embark on a journey full of hope and redemption.

DeSanctis’ parents, Bill and Julie, related they had worked with David a little bit at home, taped him and sent in the video for consideration for the role. According to the director, “David just stood out; he’s not just memorizing lines, he’s acting.” DeSanctis  earned the part and has great chemistry with his co-star Kristoffer Polaha, who is best known for his roles in television on popular shows like Mad Men, Life Unexpected and Ringer. This real life father of three said the biggest thing he learned from DeSanctis was, “not to treat him any differently than he treats anybody else.”

Risen sat down with the duo to talk about managing expectations, the filming of Where Hope Grows, integrity, and parenting.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine in Los Angeles, California

Risen Magazine: How did you become involved with the project and what attracted you to it?Kristoffer Polaha: It’s funny, I was in my Malibu house and I was asking my manager and agent to send me scripts, because I did a pilot for a FOX show called Backstrom and we were in this long wait pattern to find out if it was going to get picked up, but in the interim I was sent all these weird like right on the nose, saccharine scripts.  I had literally read like five scripts in a row that were kind of just stuff you had already seen. Then I got Chris’ [Dowling, writer/director] script and it was edgy.  When I read it I thought it was a movie with a great message that can speak to a huge audience, not just a faith-based audience. It’s a movie about redemption and second chances.

I think the conversation that no one has had yet today is that we live in a world–doesn’t matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Atheist–it doesn’t-matter what you are, we are human beings and we all share this story, this life, and we are on a steady march towards the grave. And the thing about media and movies and art is that it is a quick respite from that march. You take a minute to look at your life and sit in a dark room with strangers, or in your home, and you get to focus on other people for a minute and it gives you a chance to reflect. I think with movies, what you consume is what you are. If you keep putting stuff in that is aggressive, violent, or sexual, it wears off on you every once in a while. So to be part of something that is really well done and no matter where you come from in this life, you will take something away from this movie.

RM: David, your character has so much integrity, even when telling the truth has consequences. In your own life, how important is it to be honest and how easy or difficult is that for you?
David DeSanctis: I went through a phase when I was younger of trying to tell the truth and not lie and my older sister Sarah Marie DeSanctis, at first she believed in me one hundred percent, and then in middle school before she left to go off to college, I was living behind lies. So she didn’t believe me at all. And then I think I needed to learn to trust her again and put my trust in her for her to trust me and believe in me again. I needed to live behind the truth and not behind lies.

RM: Kris, your character is an alcoholic former baseball player who never made it quite as far as he hoped. How do you manage expectations in your own life?
KP: As an actor in Hollywood I think you need to be realistic about how you manage your expectations. We live in a city where one minute you are doing one thing and the next, because of a project, your life changes dramatically, or it doesn’t, so I think you have to go through it with a humble heart.

I hope that the movie is an honest portrayal of a guy’s journey into faith.

RM: David, your character is so loving and he hugs everyone he meets. How have you seen someone’s demeanor change by getting a hug?
DD: According to character Calvin Campbell, the first hug Produce gave him he thought, “Why is he giving me a hug?” Later he kind of half accepts the second hug. And then finally he goes in for a full-sized bear hug. I really cried in real life during the final hug scene and the reason I cried was because of what Calvin said to Katie [his on-screen daughter] outside of the hospital that was so moving to me. He loves her so much that he wanted to give everything to her.

RM: Kris talk to me about the importance of being a parent rather than having your children take care of the parent.
KP: I think probably ninety percent of society’s ills would be remedied if parents were actual parents and did their job. I saw a bumper sticker that read, A Good Man is A Good Father, and for me my number one priority is my family and everything else stacks up after that. I know there are a lot of people where their first priority is making the legacy, building the career, or whatever it is, but all of that [will fade away].

RM: We see you and your on-screen daughter attempt to pray for the first time. What are you hoping was translated to the audiences about the power of prayer?
KP: I hope that the movie is an honest portrayal of a guy’s journey into faith. And if you don’t know Jesus, how do you start that relationship? In my journey and in all of our journeys we meet people and say, “Do you believe in God?” And they will say, “Yea I believe there is something out there.” But what is that? What is that relationship? And I think that is what that scene was addressing. You want to reach out and you want to hope that there is something that can help you in your life. And I love that when he was talking to his daughter he told her he didn’t know. Why would he know? It was so honest. Is God this genie in the sky that makes everything perfect? Obviously not, but He provides hope.

RM: What lessons or themes in the film resonate most with you?
KP: I think it’s a three-prong story really. There is one about addiction, there is one about a broken relationship between father and daughter and the third is about Down Syndrome and how we as a society treat people with Down Syndrome.

Kristoffer Polaha & David DeSanctis

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