TV movie Temple Grandin traces passion, perseverance of autistic genius
TORONTO — When actress Catherine O’Hara came face-toface with the remarkable woman whose life story is told in the made-for-TV movie, Temple
Grandin, she says she was overcome with a desire to hug the brilliant scientist.
Trouble is, she knew that Grandin’s autism meant she had an intense aversion to being touched.
“ When you hear her story, you really do, you just want to hug this woman,” the gregarious O’Hara exclaims during a recent stop in Toronto to promote the film.
“ Just because she’s amazing and you want to be as near to her as you can be.”
Her recent meeting with the renowned scientist is top-ofmind as she discusses her latest film, Temple Grandin, airing Saturday on HBO Canada.
She says the encounter ended with Grandin and the cast armin-arm for a group photo, and says that as Grandin’s fame has risen, so too has her tolerance for fans who want to be near her.
O’Hara plays Grandin’s Aunt Ann in the film, which traces an incredible story of perseverance and passion.
The movie begins with Grandin as a frustrated teen labelled unteachable, and follows her blossoming interest in science and a unique empathy for animals that eventually makes her an expert on animal behaviour and autism.
Claire Danes plays Grandin, a task that involved adopting a slew of quirky mannerisms that include a heavy-footed gait, childlike enthusiasm and an odd, declarative speaking tone.
“ She’s just so totally this woman,” O’Hara marvels.
Danes’ research for the role included weeks of reading on autism, as well as observing autistic girls and studying Grandin’s unique cadence and speech patterns.
She’s so convincing as the autistic genius that viewers may at first have a hard time getting beyond the bizarre mannerisms to surrender to the story, O’Hara allows.
“If you’re in comedy, people run with you with that but I think it’ll probably take a moment,” says O’Hara.
“If people don’t know the real Temple Grandin ... and you first see Claire Danes you’d go ‘ What? What?”’
O’Hara’s Aunt Ann owns a cat- tle farm where Grandin spends the summer as a teen. It’s there that the curious animal lover develops a fascination for cows and their mannerisms, and takes note of such peculiarities as the movement of a horse’s ears and the different types of moos that cows make.
From there, Grandin goes on to study animal behaviour at university and develops a new way of cattle handling that revolutionizes the way livestock is raised for slaughter. She’s now professor of animal science at Colorado State University, the author of an array of books and a frequent speaker on autism.