Big screen dreams come true for Ocala man
As a child growing up in Marion County, Clint Robinson dreamed about what he wanted to be when he grew up.
One of his aunts recently recalled how he and his cousin once cast themselves into future roles as garbage men and even sent Robinson an elaborate homemade card with the pair’s’ young faces pasted on hand-illustrated bodies dressed in overalls and matching caps in front of a truck bearing the name Cousins Inc.
However, those plans were blown off course in 1996 when Robinson encountered the white-knuckle adventure film “Twister,” starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt as a pair of adventure-seeking storm chasers.
“It was the first movie that I remember watching that made me think, I want to be an actor, but I also want to be a weatherman,” he recalled.
Now Robinson comes full circle when he makes his feature film debut in the hurricane-inspired “Because of Charley” at the Florida Film Festival in Maitland on Friday. It is the first COVID-compliant film to be shot in Florida during the pandemic.
Robinson stars alongside a talented ensemble cast led by veteran actor John Amos, who also starred in “Roots,” “Good Times” and the “Coming 2 America” movies.
The quirky comedy/drama takes place over the weekend that Hurricane Charley hit Central Florida in 2004. But the storm brewing outside is matched in intensity by the stormy scenes playing out between the estranged extended family members inside. It touches on race, sexuality, maintaining love relationships and the often-treacherous territory of family dynamics.
“I love the way so many of these heavy topics are touched on, but in a really subtle way,” said Robinson. “Everyone has their own little story going on at the exact same time. And that’s what life is like.”
The challenge that Robinson faced in bringing his character to life was how to create a fully formed portrayal of someone with a complex backstory involving a character that never appears on screen, amid the rising action of the family’s more immediate issues.
“Michael has been through a lot in his life. He’s gay, but his father doesn’t accept it and yet he doesn’t outright reject it. I make a comment [in the film] about how my character’s father and I have a ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy with regard to my sexuality. His mother has passed away. And he’s dealing with figuring out where he fits in this family and he doesn’t know where he stands,” Robinson explained. “He’s also in this new situation with a significant other who is older than him, because some of his past relationships have not worked out. So, there are a lot of walls that he’s had to build up. In thinking about that, I thought, Well, how many walls have I built up and how do you overcome that … how did I overcome that? Michael has a lot of negativity that he’s dealt with in his life, but he still has to somehow put on a brave face, wake up every day and go about his life. That’s what I love about being an actor – I get use these experiences that I have had, or I have observed that other people have had, and channel them into something creative that somebody else will watch and say, ‘Wow, I never realized how important a father’s acceptance is to a young gay man.’ Our job is to tell them in way that makes people feel something. That person has to be real for the audience.”
For the actor, a pivotal moment in the film comes when his character realizes his stepsister not only accepts him but is on his side. It’s particularly significant because it represents the kind of acceptance that Robinson credits with saving his own life when he struggled with being bullied for pursuing his passions.
“I grew up in a place where sports really are a big part of the lifestyle. So, being a boy who was able to sing and act and dance, that wasn’t exactly the popular thing… especially in middle school,” Robinson said.
Middle school and the first half of high school were tumultuous times for Robinson.
“I had a lot of friends, but I remember feeling alone,” he said. “I didn’t really talk about being bullied.”
He did tell his parents, who offered their support.
“My parents kept telling me, ‘I know it seems impossible at the moment, but just forget about it and work hard, because in 10 or 15 years, you’re going to look back and be thankful that you kept going.’ And that’s what I did. I used all that bullying, the name-calling, the negativity that lasted for six years of my life, and I channeled it into this fire of, ‘No, I wanna win!’ I wanted to prove to 13-year-old me that it does pay off. It does get better,” he said.
But without his family cheering him on, the story might have had a very different ending.
“It was pretty bad. I know that if I didn’t have my family… I don’t know if I’d be standing here today. My family is the reason I made it through. So many kids don’t make it through that kind of bullying.
Daryl and Pat Robinson raised six children and built their businesses through hard work.
“Seeing how they built their lives, I thought, I wanna be like them. They are the type of people that others aspire to be like because if you believe in yourself, work hard and surround yourself with a good support system, you can achieve anything,” Robinson said.
While reflecting on his character’s journey in the film, Robinson says, “Some of his walls are coming down … crumbling. He’s still trying to figure himself out, but I think he comes away thinking, Hey, life is pretty great.”
The same seems to be true for the boy who once dreamed of hauling garbage and chasing storms.
“We had a private screening, and as I was walking up to the theater, outside I saw the title of the film, my name and photo outside and, I’m not going to lie, I had a lump in my throat,” he said. “Being in a movie was the goal for me… All those years of hard work all paid off, and it was a moment of, ‘Wow, I did it.’ I’m living this dream that I had as a kid.”
The Florida Film Festival runs from April 9 – 22. For information, tickets and to learn how to stream films at home, visit floridafilmfestival.com. Visit becauseofcharley.com for information about the film.