If you've read Nicholas Sparks' novel 'Dear John', then you know that Channing Tatum's character John befriends an autistic little boy by the name of Alan. Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
In an effort to be as realistic as possible, the film decided to cast Braeden Reed, a 6-year-old boy living with autism, in the role of Alan to shine a light on how those affected with the condition can successfully function in the world.
The cast and crew praised the debut performance of Braeden when principal photography on 'Dear John' wrapped in late December. Braeden's portrayal of Alan earned the respect of his accomplished director Lasse Hallstrom ('The Cider House Rules', 'Chocolat'), as well as his more seasoned co-stars Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried ('Mamma Mia!', HBO's "Big Love"), Richard Jenkins ('The Visitor', HBO's "Six Feet Under") and Henry Thomas ('Legends of the Fall', 'ET').
"To work with Braeden in 'Dear John' was completely wonderful," said Hallstrom. "He brought charm and intelligence and spontaneity to the part he played. He was fearless and lacked that inhibition that many other kids have in front of the camera. It was therefore a delight to get to know Braeden and I look forward to the opportunity to show his charm and inventive intelligence to an audience!"
Phil Blevins, Executive Director of Carolina Autism, a Charleston-based non-profit agency that serves people with autism, sees the young actor's opportunity as "a daring statement about authenticity and the ability of people with autism to work and participate in the world, including the entertainment industry."
Blevins, who consulted with the filmmakers on matters relating to autism spectrum disorders, had responded enthusiastically to Hallstrom's proposal that a child with autism audition for the role and introduced the filmmakers to a number of boys, including Braeden. While dozens of typically developing boys also auditioned, in the end the child with autism won the role.
Blevins first met the young actor when Braeden started receiving services from Carolina Autism at age two. Lottie Koster, Director of Behavioral Services for the agency, observes how "with intensive applied behavioral therapy and hard work by his family, Braeden has made great progress. We are so proud that he is enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Carolina Autism is a non-profit agency that provides services to people with autism in South Carolina and consults to groups nationwide. Founded in 2000 by experienced autism experts, the agency serves people of all ages and reaches hundreds of people annually. The Charleston premiere of the movie will raise funds and awareness for Carolina Autism and enable more children like Braeden to receive therapy from the agency.
In the photo on the left, you can see Braeden with Channing, his mom (far right), and his therapist (far left) on the set of 'Dear John'.
The film is based on the novel by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks ('The Notebook', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Nights at Rodanthe'). It tells story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a young soldier home on leave, and Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), the idealistic college student he meets during her spring vacation.
Attraction quickly turns to love and a mysteriously deep commitment. During the tumultuous years between 2000 and 2007, the couple is separated by John's increasingly dangerous deployments. While meeting only sporadically, they stay in touch by sharing a continuous stream of overseas love letters--correspondence that eventually triggers fateful consequences.
Marty Bowen & Wyck Godfrey of Temple Hill Entertainment and Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity Media are Producers, Tucker Tooley and Jeremiah Samuels are Executive Producers and Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall) is a Co-producer and Screenwriter for 'Dear John'. Screen Gems will distribute the film domestically some time late this year or early next year.