It’s been eleven long years since six-year-old Mitchell Harris disappeared without a trace while spending the day at the lake with his mother, Laura (Virginia Madsen), his father, Greg (Mark Valley), and his twin sister, Summer (Sosie Bacon). Laura remains obsessed about finding her lost boy even though so much time has passed. Her inability to move on has wreaked havoc on her marriage and her relationships with her daughter and younger son, Jonathan (Buster Harris). When the now 17-year-old Mitchell returns out of the blue, Laura feels vindicated and the family rejoices — at first. With all he’s been through, the boy seems nervous and troubled. Is he truly their missing son or an imposter looking for a loving family or maybe just a handout? Mitchell’s return affects everyone in the family in profound ways. I talked to Tara Miele, the talented director of The Lost Boy. The film premieres tonight on Lifetime.
Danny Miller: This movie scared the crap out of me! I loved how it remained kind of ambiguous and that we are never quite sure who this grown-up Mitchell really is.
Tara Miele: That was very intentional. For me, that question was the most important thing about this story. Here’s this kid who’s now with this family. Is he their son? And even if he’s not the kid that they lost, he’s somebody’s lost son who has gone through some horrific things. To some extent, it doesn’t matter whether we ever find the answer to that question. At some point the mother has to move on, even without closure. That’s what life is like — we often have to move on from the tragedies we face and find that closure for ourselves.
When you’re working on this kind of a movie for Lifetime, do you have a lot of input from the earliest stages?
Oh, yeah, I cast it and did a lot of work with the writer, Jennifer Maisel, on the script. It was a really beautiful script but there were some big budget restrictions that we had to deal with and I pulled back on some elements of the script so that we could focus on the relationship between Virginia and Matt Fahey who played Mitchell. I built up the big question of the film: “Is he or isn’t he?”
I’ve always loved Virginia Madsen and was thrilled to see her in this very meaty role.
Virginia was so great. She had some pretty strong thoughts about the script in our first conversation and that thrilled me. If an actor comes on and doesn’t have a lot of thoughts about the script I get a little nervous because it usually means they don’t give a shit and they’re not thinking. Virginia had some really good ideas that we incorporated into the story.
It’s such a great cast overall.
On top of being able to get Virginia, which was wonderful, I was most concerned about finding a good match for her with the son. And we found this amazing kid, Matt Fahey, who I think is so magical with her, their chemistry was great from the beginning. I remember thinking when Matt came in to read for me, “Who the fuck are you”? He’s like the love child of Aaron Paul and Ryan Gosling — so talented. Virginia fell in love with him immediately. He later told me that the day that he auditioned he was sitting in his car downstairs and was about to walk away from it all — he was thinking about quitting the business. He wasn’t feeling well that day, he didn’t know all his lines from the scene he was reading, and he almost didn’t come in. I love that story because as far as I was concerned, he got the role the minute he sat down.
He definitely seems like one of those guys you see in a small indie film who’s suddenly a huge star a few years later.
Exactly. And Matt was very invested in this role, we had a lot of really long conversations about it. I knew some street kids growing up and I tended to adopt stray people in my life so I told him a lot of stories about this one guy that I was friends with who had been living on the streets in Santa Monica. There was a lot of dark stuff in that guy. I really wanted Matthew to never play Mitchell as evil. I think people are very complicated, it’s rarely a case of good vs. bad. Like that line he says in the film, “People aren’t evil, it’s just that someone did something bad to them once.” That’s much scarier to me than just showing someone who’s a real monster.
I loved the girl who played Mitchell’s sister, Summer. I was surprised to read later that Sosie Bacon is the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.
Yes! Sosie is a very special being. This is her first feature and she was so humble and grateful. She’s extremely talented and worked so hard to get it right.
And how fun that your film can now be part of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game!
I know, my degrees are much closer now!
I also enjoyed Mark Valley as the father. I remember when he was on the series Once and Again which I loved.
I loved that show, too! He was also on Days of Our Lives back in the day and the Fox show, Human Target, among other things. So talented. I remember standing in the kitchen set one day listening to him and I just said, “Wow, you are so good!” He’s such a subtle actor — that moment where he hugs his son for the first time — it got me every single time he did it!
I know Lifetime has had a certain reputation over the years but do you think they’re trying to change their profile now — especially with films like the recent A Deadly Adoption with Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig?
Yes. A Deadly Adoption was made by the producers I’ve been working with for three years and my very dear friend Rachel Goldenberg directed it so I’ve known about that movie for a long time. Another friend of mine, Sarah Shapiro, has this show on called UnREAL that’s just great. I think that Lifetime sometimes gets a bad rap because of its “Television for Women” slogan but I think that’s bullshit. There’s no reason why television for women can’t be amazing things. Look at shows like Orange Is the New Black and Nurse Jackie — there are so many quality TV shows made for women and I think Lifetime has the opportunity to do things like that.
And, of course, it’s also for men like me who love movies and TV shows that focus on women.
Right! “For women and people who love women!” I think there’s a lot of really great stuff happening at Lifetime. We did this crazy movie Starving in Suburbia last year that has a ton of activity on Tumblr and Instagram and even fanfiction written about it — all these amazing communities, and that started on Lifetime. I think there’s a lot of very interesting work happening there and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. And I do feel like the TV movie is primed for a real resurgence.
I miss those great ABC movies of the week from my childhood!
That’s kind of what A Deadly Adoption was. You had two huge movie stars who were paying homage to that genre.
What do you think about the state of women directors in the industry is these days?
I was a kid of the 80s, I was raised to think we could do anything. But I have to say that 12 years into trying to build a career as a director, it still seems hard to make the big leap. It’s much less of a problem in the indie world so, like many women, I went off and did some micro-budget indies, but it’s a bit of a ghettoization. I want to do studio features, I want to direct big movies, I want money to play with, I want cranes and helicopter shots. I love all that stuff and I want to make those movies, too!
Are you optimistic as you look to the future?
I’m gong to be making movies no matter what. I think not having women behind the lens and only having the male perspective of the world represented is a dire situation that perpetuates misogyny and gives us an imbalanced perspective on our world. Every time that I get behind the lens, it feels like a political act. I think it’s incredibly important for women to make movies and not just to be looked at and objectified. We need to be the storytellers.