Alan Ball Found His ‘Inner Tennessee Williams’ to Write ‘Uncle Frank’ (Video)

Sundance 2020: “I’ve always been interested in people who experienced great trauma early in their lives and how they deal with it,” writer and director says

Though Alan Ball’s latest film “Uncle Frank” is not autobiographical, it is very personal, and it led him back to directing and back to film for the first time in over a decade. And in order to write this story, he had to get in touch with his roots.

“I’m a playwright, and I’m from the South, so I have an inner Tennessee Williams, and over the years it took off and became ultimately what it is now, ‘Uncle Frank,'” Ball said at TheWrap Studio in Sundance.

“Uncle Frank” is set in the South in the ’70s and follows a gay professor named Frank (Paul Bettany) returning home for his father’s funeral as he grapples with the decision to come out as gay to his family. The film blends a coming-of-age story for Frank’s niece (Sophia Lillis) with some road trip comedy and drama between Frank and his nurturing, kind-hearted boyfriend Walid (Peter Macdissi). But of course, returning home inevitably brings back old demons for Frank, something Ball said was inspired by one of his mom’s stories.

“I’ve always been interested in people who experienced great trauma early in their lives and how they deal with it,” Ball said. “When I came out of the closet to my mom, she told me that she saw one of my relatives who was already dead by then was also gay. And she told me about him and a boy from his home town who were working together at the CCC camps in North Carolina in the ’30s, and one of them drowned mysteriously.”

Ball took years prepping this story in between his TV and stage projects, but it finally came together after Bettany joined the film a year and a half ago.

“Alan wrote a beautiful script, and I fell in love with the script. While also being incredibly melancholic, it was also really funny. And in the midst of the tragedy was really touching humor,” Bettany said. “So I fell in love with the material, and I have my own personal responsibilities to people I felt like I was making it for, and that’s usually how, if as an actor I do something well, it’s because it’s about somebody that I know and love.”

Check out the full video with Ball and the cast of “Uncle Frank,” Bettany, Lillis and Macdissi, above.