The Jewish Ensemble Theatre
At The Movies
Director/writer Brad Silberling, the boyfriend
of murdered actress Rebecca Schaeffer, captures
a swirl of emotions from a difficult time.
BY MARK MEDOFF
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
The author of "Children of a Lesser God", and "When You Coming Back Red
Ryder" brings us a new play about a controversial celebrity held hostage by an
unbalanced fan. Tommy J and Sally deals with a Jewish family who took in a
young black over a decade earlier. This encounter about race, religion and
personal identity in America quickly becomes an intense and mysterious
dialogue revealing unexpected wounds from the past.
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math of a death.
"For example, I'd be sitting with
Rebecca's parents, and we'd just be
roaring with laughter, dishing on peo-
ple who were mouthing [platitudes].
There would be this bizarre, complete-
ly inappropriate humor at moments
you'd never expect."
Gyllenhaal, who spent hours on
quizzing Silberling about his experi-
ence, says he was drawn to the movie's
"Brad taught me that what we con-
sider strictly a sad time is actually filled
with everything: humor, oddities, idio-
rad Silberling heard the ter-
rible news from an L.A.
police detective the morn-
ing of July 18, 1989. His
21-year-old girlfriend, actress Rebecca
Schaeffer (TV's My Sister Sam), had
been shot dead by a stalker in the
foyer of her Sweetzer Avenue apart-
On many a Yom Kippur since,
Silberling — the director of Casper
and City of Angels — has lit a yarhtzeit
candle in her memory.
This Yom Kippur, he
remembered Schaeffer in
a more public way, with
the premiere of his inti-
mate drama, Moonlight
Mile — inspired by the
relationship forged with
Schaeffer's parents after
he moved into their
Oregon home for her
funeral and shivah.
At the beginning of the
Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Ho an and Susan
film, as in real life,
Sarandon in Brad Silberling's `Moonlight Mile."
Silberling's alter ego, Joe
(Jake Gyllenhaal), places
a spadeful of earth on his murdered
syncrasies," says Gyllenhaal, whose
fiancée's casket. He dutifully stands
mother, Naomi Foner, is Jewish.
beside her parents (played by Dustin
"The movie isn't a high drama about
Hoffman and Susan Sarandon) as the
mourning, like In the Bedroom. It's
cantor chants the El Mole Rachamim.
more about the subtleties of everyday
But when another woman unexpect- life after a tragedy."
edly enters his life soon thereafter, he's
torn between following his heart and
Based On Truth
fulfilling his role as the bereaved son-
On a recent afternoon, boyish, affable
The movie, Silberling's quick to say,
Silberling — who grew up attending
is based on emotional, rather than lit-
Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village,
eral truth. He was Schaeffer's
Calif. — is wearing faded jeans in his
boyfriend, not her fiance, though
office, not far from Schaeffer's apartment.
they'd just started talking about the
He recounts how he was 23 in 1987
possibility of marriage.
when he met her on a blind date at
He said he didn't even attempt to go
the nerve-wracking premiere of his
out on a date for two years after her
UCLA graduate student film.
death. In fact, it took him five years to
Silberling knew he liked her when,
muster the emotional distance he
sensing his anxiety, the dark-haired
required to begin writing Moonlight Mile. actress patted his knee and told him
"I wanted to explore this very
everything was going to be fine.
strange journey that I'd never seen on
"We just sort of fell into each other's
film," the 39-year-old director says of
lives," says Silberling, who was sur-
the movie. "Like, how you go through
prised to learn that Schaeffer had once
every possible emotion in the after-
aspired to become a rabbi.