Thursday, December 12, 2013

If there are any individuals or parents that are struggling with autism. I invite you to read about my journey as an autistic person myself as I first discovered Star Wars, all the way until I recently auditioned for the upcoming 7th Star Wars installment.

Autism Meets Star Wars

      I was 7 years old when I first discovered the trilogy that fans have regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi blockbuster movies of all time. The trilogy that changed the way the movies were made, and brought to audiences a new world to discover. I am here to talk about how Star Wars affected an audience member diagnosed with the learning disability known as autism, and what it was like to audition for the first time. As a general warning, you may hear me throw out some of the most clich├ęs used, which is only me speaking from when I was kid.

      First let me give you brief history of what it was like for me as I grew up with autism. I was 4 years old when I was first diagnosed to have this unique disability, (although my Mother suspected earlier.) They told my mother that I would never grow up, that I would never graduate from High School, and that I would never become independent. Now there is that old saying ‘You’re greatest revenge is your success.’ I have been a college graduate for over a year now, with my own full time job, and apartment. I manage my bills; I have also participated in many theater shows.

     When I was 7 years old, I still believed that movies were real, and that stories were never fictional, and if you watch a movie from the beginning again and again, I always thought that we were rewinding time, and that would explain why the Characters and Locations that died in the movie still existed.

Here’s what happened when I saw the very first Star Wars movie.

“Mom can I have a lightsaber?” My Mom would say, “Put it on your Christmas list.”

Later on as we are driving in the car, I ask my Mom, “Mom, can we go to the Death Star?”

Mom says, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

As we cross the bridge, “Okay, we crossed the bridge; can we go to the Death Star?”

     Being excited by all the action scenes in the movie, I always wanted to re-live them, and that was long before I understood what it was like to be in a life/death situation. That’s why people now days will see me running around, my two hands together, swinging them in action as if I was wielding a lightsaber fighting off bad guys. Or have my gun shaped hand pointing, bouncing as if firing a blaster. I also thought that aliens and robots existed, which is why I wanted my very own R2D2 to have in our home.

    Every day since then, I would always ask myself, What can I do to live something like that? How can I be Luke Skywalker, How can I use the force?

    Every time I tried to experiment something, like hold my hand out with my eyes shut attempting to levitate an object, or wish for bad guys to appear so I can fight them, I think I just made myself look like stupid.

    This may be hard to believe, but at age 7, I could whistle R2D2 fluently. Because of that, I would often imaging myself having a conversation with the little robot, However little did I know that it just imaginary and people could see me whistling R2D2, then talking as a human.

    So far, figuring out how to relive star wars was hard. It’s fun for me to image and act the scenes out, but it also makes me look crazy in the real world. Having the dreams about being in Star Wars is fun and almost feels real, however with me, I don’t always have dreams about re-living the exciting battle scenes that thrill me, it would be about something that always scared me—wasting my time on supposedly silly childhood dreams and not living as a productive adult.

What am I to do now? Grow up and let it go?

   Getting back to me being a kid, in May of 1999, The Phantom Menace came out. Despite the Phantom Menace receiving negative criticism, I was excited by it, granted I was only 10 years old and still in the early development stages of my autism. When I saw Anakin played as a young boy that was roughly around my age, I said to myself, “Hey, if that kid can be in Star Wars. I should be in Star Wars too.” That’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor. Now the question was how do I get into Star Wars.

   My Mom was nice enough to help me write a letter to George Lucas, the creator himself. Sure enough, I got a nice reply from his wife. She politely informed me that because I didn’t have representation, Lucas wouldn’t be able to work with me. I did also receive a Jar Jar Binks Bookmark. That was probably one of the best things ever. So then I had to figure out how to get an agent. I did a google search, and found an agency department in Portland Oregon. I wrote a letter to the person in charge, he replied back saying that he was willing to set up an interview to meet and work with me. However, because we lived 3 hours away from Portland, my Mom was not willing to drive me over. I was in tears because of this. My dreams of being in Star Wars seemed depleted. I had to let it all go. Two more Star Wars installments came out, for which I was still anxious to see and thrilled like I always was. I was 16 when I saw Revenge of the Sith, and that movie really triggered my childhood behavior where yet I would wield my lightsaber and fight of enemies, pilot star fighters in space, run all over the place with my adrenaline rushing, which of course looked extremely weird for a 16 year old, but I didn’t care. Whenever me and my family are driving through big cities at night time, I would always have thoughts of me in an airspeeder racing through the heavy traffic and buildings of Coruscant. It felt good for me to have that Star Wars feeling again like I did as a kid.

    Years passed on since Star Wars concluded in May 2005. I continued to love Star Wars, hoping to fulfill my dream job as an actor. I thought there was never gonna be any good movies after 2005.

    In July of 2008, as I’m surfing the internet, I discover that Lucas has decided to create a CGI animated series of the Clone Wars to air on Cartoon Network. Now nobody ever would’ve thought that Star Wars in CGI animation would suffice. What made my adrenaline rush and bring me into that Star Wars universe was fantasizing about the fact that it was live action; how the special effects made everything look and feel so real. One thing that did strike me was when I saw tickets available to see the Clone Wars Movie Premiere. Now back then, I never heard or realized what a premiere was. After doing some google searching, I realized that the premiere is where fans and the cast meet on the opening of the show. What also made it so unique is that it was being held at the Egyptian theater, the place where the premiere for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were held. So there’s an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

   I managed to talk my sister into coming with me. While I suggested that we wear Star Wars Fan T-shirts, she insisted that we wear suits.

   “Suits to a Star Wars Premier?!” I said. I was confused, but she insisted: “Yes, that’ll really show that you are truly Lucas’s number one fan and that’ll also help us get the most attention at the premiere.”

    Being autistic, I always asked millions of people’s opinions, and they all said “YES! DO IT!” So my Mom managed to help me schedule a flight to LA. We stayed a few nights with my Aunt Michelle who lives in the area and agreed to help us. During our trip, we toured Laguna Beach, Disney town, saw the Dark Knight in IMAX, and can’t go wrong with that!

    I had the opportunity to create and print a T-shirt of my very own, which no doubt I would chose to have its own unique Clone Wars T-shit style. Almost everybody I walked by high fived me for the shirt. On that one morning, my sister and I rode the subway to Hollywood. I step outside of the subway, in my suit, and there before me stood not only this gleaming, exotic, tan covered city street where all the movies began, but this massive heat wave! Not a minute went by when sweat didn’t run down my body--however, the look and feel of being in Hollywood managed to help me ignore it.

    My sister and I ran into a man dressed as the Joker, and his intro to us was “Why so serious?” We also walked by a wax shop with a man dressed as Rambo holding his knife at a group in a picture. Then before my eyes stood the Egyptian theater, with Clone Troopers guarding the red carpet. It was very hard for us to get into the premier as large crowds were waiting to get their autographs. Luckily my sister and I managed to find a quicker way around back. Everything there was free, ice cream, candy, professional photographs, I mean what a day. My sister and I had professionally printed photograph of us with R2D2. I had so many pictures taken with clone troopers; one of them was nice enough to let me hold his rifle! I pictures taken with actors dressed up as Anakin and Obi-Wan, Ahsoka Tano. We got to meet some of the actors, including Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best, Family Guy star and Robot Chicken creator Seth Green, Mathew Wood who is known as the voice of General Grievous and Sound Mixer for Lucas’s sound company Skywalker Sound. George Lucas himself was walking among the red carpet. My sister and I try to stand as close as possible to him, holding signs that said “Lucas is # 1.”

    We didn’t get attention from Lucas, but we managed to get attention from his camera crew and others. The best part was getting my pictures and my customized T-shirt autographed from the actors. Catherine Tabor, who voiced Padme, even struck up a conversation with me. When my sister and I walked out of the red carpet, a news crew approached us asking what we thought of the Clone Wars.

    My sister was flustered, beat red: “Um yeah, we enjoyed it. All the actors were hot.”

    I managed to come up with a last minute speech, to which the camera crew set up their cameras to focus on me and my speech, and after hearing action, I spoke my mind!

    So that was that. With no Star Wars left, I kept whining to my friends and family, “Ah man Star Wars is over. There’s nothing to look forward to.”

    I participated in many theater productions. I completed my education course and graduated from College. I got my full time job. I was living life as a normal being--praying for a chance to live my childhood dream.

   Then I got the text from my sister. “Did you see the Star Wars thing?”

    I asked what Star Wars thing, she said “Check your email.” I did, then I ask “How in the hell did you find that?”

    So Star Wars Episode 7 is now being helmed by Disney with LOST creator JJ Abrams directing, and the news was that they were having an open casting call for auditions. People can show up to various casting agencies around this country and UK, or submit a video online of your audition. I was very reluctant to do this, thinking my chances are slim because I am competing against thousands of people who probably have bigger film backgrounds than I do, and probably have representation.

    My sister replied, “I think it’s worth a shot. You’ve been dreaming about it since you were little.” All my friends were supportive of this and urged me to do it, even my former theater professor Craig McIntosh, citing that I definitely won’t get cast if I don’t try, and the best thing about this is that I can tell all my friends and people, “I got to audition for Star Wars!”

   By the time I worked up the courage to say, “Yeah, I’m gonna do it.” It was near the final deadline. I was able to get a copy of the audition script, along with directions of how to do your audition as far as filming it. I looked up Star Wars Episode 7 auditions on youtube. I’m not gonna point fingers at anybody, but I just don’t feel like they were handled the right way. Some people had their hair in emo style; some laughed and giggled through their audition, or rocked out while reading the lines. There were also videos that were star wars edited, like a text scroll that said In a Galaxy Far Far Away, (This person) auditioned for star wars, with star wars music in the background. I thought I was hopeless because I didn’t know how to properly do the audition. Later, I came across an audition tape from Aaron Paul when he auditioned for Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad. There was no fancy editing, the video and sound quality was low, and all we saw was Aaron Paul, sitting down, softly reading his lines, relaxed, but with expressions. Not over the top body language where you would project, be energetic like you would with theater, he just remain stationary while casually reading his lines. I also came across Mark Hamills audition tape for Luke Skywalker; he auditioned the same way as Aaron Paul did. Well now that I had an idea of how to go about my audition, I had to figure out how I was gonna get it done. With few people available to help me since it was close to the end of the school term, I was up against so many odds to getting this done. I almost thought I would have to use the camera off my iphone and film myself doing everything, but thank God I was fortunate enough to have a friend of mine, Paula Martin, read the lines of the other character. I personally went to her front door step and asked her because she has been involved in so many theater shows. We were also in “Once upon a Mattress” together.

   Two of my friends at work, Ben and Angelique, were also willing to meet with me--to film my audition with their digital camera. Even though this was all being taken care off, I still kept saying, “God I can’t believe I’m doing this.” However, I was doing this with people I knew pretty well, so that was less pressuring. We all met in a small “Green room” at the CCT Bob Clapp Theater. I sat stationary against a white wall. I had to take a few breaths to prevent myself from goofing off or stammering. Luckily I didn’t sweat. Paula’s sweet motherly voice also helped me relax, which is actually perfect because most of the people reading the lines of the other character never put much acting or effort into it. It’s usually a test to see us, how we act on camera, how we speak, what our personality is like, and how we can act when we are not given much to work off of.

    With my audition submitted, I now have the opportunity to shout, “Hey everybody, William Wehrli just auditioned for Star Wars.” One thing that worried me was that I would either feel regret for not doing this, or feel stupid and embarrassed for doing this. Well good thing I don’t have to feel regret. I cannot fully state whether I am the first autistic candidate to audition for a major blockbuster Hollywood film, but this alone being my first one is pretty cool for me. I don’t know if I’ll get to relive my childhood dreams, we can only keep praying and wishing.

Please be sure to also check out my Next Blog Entry: Autism Meets the Eye where I will be discussing more aspects of my autistic life, relating to my lack of eye contact, and how I overcame that.

36 comments:

  1. You're truly a gift William. It's been an honor being your Mom. If George Lucas knew you he'd hold up a sign that read William Wehrli's #1 fan (but he would have to stand behind me!)

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    1. Aww, thank you Mom. I can't tell you great that makes me feel. I bet all my fans and friends will soon come to asking how you raised me and how they can help those with autism. You delivered a gift into this world.

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    2. I have two autistic children.Your story has inspired me so much.You r such an outstanding individual and hope my kids look up to someone like u.U truly let us all know what skills our children poses and some of the thoughts they may b having as they do their strange movements as they watch television.I never really thought of it the way u have explained it.I thank u so much for being a strong willed individual willing to share your struggles with the world.U r truly a gift.

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    3. Zachary, I can't tell you how grateful I am to hear that reading my story has given you hope for your children. I am also honored to hear that they are autistic as well. Autism is truly a wonderful gift, even if others don't see it that way. I am always happy to be someone that others can look up to and help in any way I can. I wish you and your children the best and that they grow up be great people.

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  2. Love you so much and very proud William!
    -love your sister

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  3. William, this is incredible. I knew I could see exceptional things in you when I met you. It's nice to get a glimpse into your world.

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  4. Aww, thank you so much Karen, that really means a lot to me. I'm truley glad I was able to share with you what my experiences were like.

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  5. What a great read! My nephew also has autism, but it hasn't slowed him down. He just graduated AF basic, like a boss! Dont let anyone try and tell you that you shouldn't fight for what you love because of an affliction. And, if they do, call me and I'll punch them in the face!

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    1. I'm very glad to meet you Mr. Noshnitt. And thank you greatly for your support on my dream path and for my autism. Tell your nephew he has my full support for his autism.

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  6. Hi William, I first would like to say, i'm so happy for you! I have two boys with Autism my oldest is 6 and he loves transformers (he is a transformer). I understand now, why he gets so involved in it. I get why he thinks it is so real. He tell a lot of stories to everybody also, he has a huge imagination. Thank you, for sharing a glimpse of what you were feeling at that age. I'm sure your Mom is so proud of you:)!

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    1. Thank you for your response Tracy. I am very pleased to see that you are a supporter of autism. I am blessed to hear that your son has an imagination just like I did and is not ashamed to show it. Please tell your sons that they have my full support.

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  7. Your life story is amazing. You are a truly gifted and smart man! Wow, by the end I was in tears, happy tears. My son is three and has Autism. I can only hope that he grows up with as much ambition, hopes, dreams, intelligence, and great attitude. You are AWESOME!

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    1. It is very good to meet you Jessica. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your response to this. As a person with autism, I know that if you work close with your son and never lose hope, he will grow to be a great human being. Reading your response brings me great joy!

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  8. William thank you for sharing your story. I only hope my son who is 14 yrs will follow his dreams as you have yours.
    I hope to see you up on the big screen! I will be there watching, smiling and remembering your story! You are a beautiful gift, an amazing young man!!

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    1. Thank you so much for your response Sandy. Being autistic is really one of the best gifts ever. It may seem like a burden to a lot of people out there in this world, but some will come to accept it. I thank you for your support in following my dream, and wish the best for you and your son.

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  9. Mr. Wehrli, you have made this mom of 2 kids with autism so happy and proud today! What an incredible example you set, just by being who you are. Well done, and thank you!

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    1. Thank you for your response. As an autistic individual, I truly support you and your kids. I'm glad to hear that my story has made you proud.

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  10. Hello William, I am autistic too and so are my two sons. I'm glad to see that you're out there breaking the very wrong stereotypes about autistic people :) Best of luck to you in your endeavors. There are a few actors out there who are autistic...Dan Akroyd and Darryl Hannah have been in the news recently talking about being autistic. Tammy Klein is a friend on facebook who is also an autistic actress. If you would like to friend me on FB you can request the add at facebook.com/embraceautismnow. I have tons of autistic adults on my friends list who might be a good source of support for you :)

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  11. Hi, William. I enjoyed reading your Star Wars audition story! Standing in line to see the first Star Wars in 1977 is one of my favorite memories. The line wrapped around the theater, and we had to get take-out because we had to wait through one showing and go to the second. Everyone was so excited, and the film was worth it. It changed my imaginative life. I spent lots of time afterwards lying on my bed, listening to the sound track, and imagining myself as part of the story. So, I can relate to your interest! Good luck with your audition!! Nancy

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    1. Thank you so much Nancy! I wish I could've experienced that moment that everyone else did when Star Wars came out in 1977. Buts it so great to hear what it was like for you and boy do I bet that was exciting! Thank you so much Nancy for your support.

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    2. Well done william, you are amazing hope all ur dreams come tru. my son is 4 and autistic I hope he follow his dreams just like you. god bless you.

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    3. Thank you Eda. I truly wish the best for you and your son.

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  12. Dear William Wehrli, I have an 11 yrs old son with high functioning autism. He will start junior high school next term. We live in Indonesia. His only interest is in History, all short of history. Please tell me how you managed junior high school because my son doesn't have any real friends at all. How did your mother help you.Thank you so much.

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    2. Thank you for your question. My Mother went from city to city trying to find proper schools for me, most of which did not have the knowledge or patience to work with me. By the time I reached 4th grade, my Mother decided to home school me until I reached my Sophomore year. During the time I was homeschooled, I participated in activites such as 4-H. Learning how to work with my dog was a good activity. I was also in Tae-Kwan-Do, which really helped me build up my confidence. I would urge you to find some activities in the outside world for your Son to participate in, and that will help him with his social skills. I wish you and your Son the best.

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  13. William I sit here in tears at your story...not tears of sadness but tears of joy and hope! I have an eight year old son who has not been tested for ASD but we have always been certain he has high functioning ASD, in fact the beginning of your story just made me smile so much it could have been my Connor that wrote it :) We also have a two year old son who has just been diagnosed with ASD. I've had quite a few 'down' days recently worrying and fretting about my boys (I am an older mummy age 46) and how they will manage when they grow up. Although they have an older brother and sister who are 27, 25 who will look out for them, I have feared for their future. Your story gives me hope William that they CAN have independence and have the ability to look after themselves. I thank you so much for sharing and wish you all the best from Scotland x

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    2. Karen, I can't tell you how grateful I am to hear that my story brings you hope and joy. Believe me, you're not the first mother with autistic children that had fears of their children's future, and your children are not the only ones who have struggled with growth and development. Tell your kids that they have my full support and that I wish them the best for their futures. All ask of you is that you work close to them, be there for them when needed, and be patient with them, and they will grow up to be great people.

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  14. I can only iterate what William has said, it takes baby steps for autistic children to grow to independence. I think as William graduated from high school it was often difficult for me to let him go as it was for him to become independent. He first lived at home and went to a community college, then upon receiving his AA degree he commuted to the four year college, then he moved into his own apartment and came home on the week ends.
    It doesn't happen over night but keep trying new things. Life isn't easy, but you pick yourself up and keep going!

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  15. I was inspired by your life journey and how your mother homeschooled you. Mind if I ask what kind of dog you worked with? God is good! From Gardo.

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    1. Thank you for your support Gardo. I am very glad to hear that you were inspired. When I first started 4H, I worked with a Sheltie that I named Teddy. Later I moved to worked with a German Short Hair Pointer I named Rita.

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