Available exclusively on Sundance Now, the documentary film Circus Kid (directed by Lorenzo Pisoni, produced by Jon Hamm, Jennifer Westfeldt and Eden Wurmfeld, and executive produced by Daniel Radcliffe and Karen Lehner) shows the spirit, danger and dynamics of growing up in a circus family. As young as age 2, Lorenzo Pisoni started his career in the family business, the Pickle Family Circus, and while that’s a fascinating story, in itself, the doc also delves deeper into the father-son relationship, through interviews with Larry Pisoni, exploring not only how he changed the way people view the circus and what it can be, but also the tension that a family working together can create.
During this interview with Collider, Daniel Radcliffe and Jennifer Westfeldt talked about how they got involved with Circus Kid, why they were so impressed with Lorenzo Pisoni and fascinated by his story, the incredible challenges of a life in the circus, and the complicated father-son story at its center.
Collider: How did you get involved with Circus Kid?
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: Lorenzo [Pisoni] and I did a play called The Explorers Club at Manhattan Theatre Club, a few years ago, in 2013. I just couldn’t believe that this dashing guy who looked like Clark Kent and who was playing this British Hugh Grant role opposite me in this British farce had grown up in the circus. He was carney folk. It was so incongruous ‘cause he’s so straight-laced. It just doesn’t quite compute. I learned that he had been doing this one-man show called Humor Abuse, which was basically telling this story in a different way, on stage. He won a lot of awards for the show and people loved it, and he was actually going to finish our play and then go do that play again, at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. I just remember thinking, “You’ve been doing this play for how many years, and you’re in your late 30s, doing stunts where you have to fall off a ladder into a pail and standing back flips. We should film this before it’s too late.”
So, that was how it began. I wanted to film and capture the play at the Taper. It stared with just that in mind, for a special or something like that. And then, as soon as I met Larry (Lorenzo’s father) and saw this magnetic, compelling, dark, tortured figure, and watched their dynamic together, I was like, “Actually, this is a documentary.” That’s how we started, and it just grew from there. The play was wonderful, in its own right, but it was a different tone and we wanted to go much more in depth into Larry and everything that went down.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: Lorenzo and I first worked together when I did Equus in New York. I think it was the first Broadway show in which he had ever had it in his contract that he would have his own dressing room, which is always a nice thing for an actor. And then, he didn’t get to enjoy that because I invaded his dressing room for basically the entire run. I just thought he was amazing and I wanted to hang out, so he had me, as a 19-year-old groupie going, “Tell me more stories about the circus! Can you juggle?”
He became a huge part of my life, specifically my life in New York, and has become an incredible friend who I’ve turned to for advice and sanity, at various points in my life. I’d like to think that I’ve been a sounding board for him, as well, sometimes. Personally, I adore him, but professionally, he’s somebody that I’ve gone to because his physical work is so amazing. I’ve gone to him when I was doing Frankenstein and Swiss Army Man, and quite physical roles. I go to him to work on ideas with him because I know I can fall on myself in front of him and I don’t mind. Also, I am in the process of writing a script, which I haven’t in many years, and when we’ve done readings of it, he came and read one of the main parts for me. He’s somebody who’s supported me in my career, and particularly my post-Potter career.
So, when we were doing Equus, I saw Humor Abuse, which was the play that he did that pre-existed the documentary. It was a wonderful show, but it was a very physical show. Lorenzo is at a point, in his career, where he’s still very capable and he can still do a standing back flip, if he needs to, but he would prefer not to have to. So, I saw the very early version of the show and I saw the final version when it was in L.A., but after that was done, he wanted to continue telling the story and tell a version of the story that focused even more on his relationship with his dad, in a way that reached more people. The first few years of my relationship with Lorenzo, I would describe as ice packs and tiger balm. He’s an amazing performer. Circuses are incredible and the range of talent in there is so extraordinary.
So, to have something that combined all the fun of the circus with this very reflective, self-aware man, who was also willing to go in-depth on his childhood and on his relationship with his parents was really beautiful. Both of us have had what other people would probably regard as a slightly abnormal childhood, but we’re both really grateful for it because it made us how we are. The range of experience and the range of people that we encountered was a big influence on both of us. Of course, there were difficult times in Lorenzo’s life, but he’s always been incredibly grateful for what that childhood gave him, as I have been, as well.