Based on an award-winning book, the new movie A Chance In The World is the unbelievable true story of Steve Pemberton, a wounded and broken boy destined to become a man of resilience and vision.
From the day he is five years old and dropped off at his foster home of the next eleven years, Steve (Terrell Ransom Jr.) is mentally and physically tortured by his foster mother Betty (Kelly Owens), his foster father Willie (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and his foster siblings.
Desperate for a sense of family and belonging, Steve searches for his biological parents, but no one in the system can help him. No one can tell him why, with obvious African-American features, he has the last name of Klakowicz.
Eventually, through the help of his high school teacher John Sykes (Tom Sizemore) and his love of literature, Steve finds that family isn’t just a biological function; it’s a choice based in love.
Moviegoers nationwide have the unique opportunity to experience Pemberton’s inspirational true story when A Chance in the World makes its upcoming world premiere in U.S. movie theaters for a one-night event this spring.
Pemberton is now a corporate executive, writer, and beacon of hope. His unbelievable journey has inspired the A Chance in the World humanitarian movement and foundation dedicated to protecting children and the continuous improvement of America’s foster care system.
N’DIGO recently caught up with Pemberton and Hilton-Jacobs to find out more about the inspirational film and their upcoming projects.
N’DIGO: Steve, what’s the process like of turning over your life story to a director to interpret? Were you pretty hands-on to make sure things were represented properly?
Steve Pemberton: It’s not easy turning your life story over to anyone, especially when you’ve seen a lot of movies where the film’s subject actually becomes a secondary actor in their own story. I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
The primary reason I went the independent route was so that I could stay as close to the story as possible and for the most part we accomplished that. The director, Mark Vadik, deserves a lot of credit for understanding my vision and then adding his own touch to execute it.
Lawrence, do you remember your initial thoughts when you first read the script, and what made you want to be a part of this project?
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs: I thought it was an eye-opening examination of the foster care system that seriously needs to be exposed for public assessment. I wanted to put my slant on a touch-and-go true story that is very thought provoking.
It looks as though Terrell Ransom Jr. did a great job in his portrayal of you. Did you work closely with him throughout the making of the film?
Steve: Terrell is exceptionally talented! You would have no idea that this was a 12-year-old boy; he had that big a presence on the set. I did work closely with him throughout the film and he had a lot of questions. What I really appreciated was his ability to convey the quiet defiance that sustained me through some very difficult times.
How do you approach playing a not so likeable character like Willie Robinson?
Lawrence: As an actor, my quest is to show the inner soul of this person as an expose without personal judgment.
What if anything do you want people to take away from the movie after seeing it and experiencing your story?
Steve: There are a few critical messages I am trying to get across – that all is not lost; that there are still good people in the world and they come into your life when YOU decide enough is enough; that literacy is an incredibly powerful weapon; and that family is not always biological. But I also want people to DO something that will impact the lives of young people.
With a career spanning more than 40 years, to what do you attribute your longevity and ability to survive in this fickle business?
Lawrence: Always believe in yourself first! Second and last, because you’re working with the best you have to offer, there is no quitting.
You’ve been a part of so many pop culture classics from Claudine to Cooley High to Welcome Back Kotter to The Jacksons: An American Dream and more. Who are three of your all-time favorite characters you’ve played?
Lawrence: Actually all those roles you just named – Charles in Claudine, my first! Cochise in Cooley High and Boom-Boom Washington in Welcome Back, Kotter were forever fun experiences. And Joe Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream was a multi-layered and emotional role. Sorry that’s four, but they’re all favorites.
If you had to name a single book that changed or really impacted your life, what would it be?
Steve: One was the book Watership Down by Richard Adams, and the other was the poem Ulysses by Tennyson. I was drawn to stories of taking a stand against darker forces and both of those stories are about that. When Adams wrote, “He fought because he felt safer fighting than running,” it was as if he wrote it for me. I had the same reaction to Tennyson: “It’s not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds.”
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
Lawrence: I’m a doting granddad to the max!
From my daughter: (too cute)
• you have a brother named Steve
• your wife forces you to do yoga
• you LOVE dogs
• you’ve read a gazillion books
• you love shellfish
• you always get the same drink as your daughter.
Best advice to aspiring actors?
Lawrence: Be honest in and out of yourself. Only you know your true limitations or when you’re full of B.S.
Best advice you would give to a child currently going through the foster system?
Steve: You have a purpose in the world and are meant to be here, in this time and place. If your time in foster care has been kind, treasure it with all that you are. If it is not, fight on, for out of adversity you can build an entirely new beginning and create a new legacy.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Lawrence: “Plant your feet, look the other guy straight in the eye and tell him the truth.” – James Cagney
Steve: “He was, first and last, the born fighter, to whom the consciousness of being matched against a great adversary suffices, and who can dispense with success. Life for him was an adventure, perilous indeed, but men are not made for safe havens. The fullness of life is in the hazards of life. And, at the worst, there is that in us which can turn defeat into victory.’
What’s next for Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs?
I have a few things up my sleeve, including writing and illustrating a graphic novel, directing an upcoming feature film that I’ve written, and starring in a new TV series in London. Also, I’m taking my granddaughter to the park to fly her new kite!
What’s next for Steve Pemberton?
Certainly I have designs on writing another book and that has me really excited. Beyond that, bringing healing and understanding to the world. I’m not yet sure what form that will take, but I’ve learned that those paths reveal themselves in ways we cannot imagine.
A Chance In The World opens nationwide in select theaters on Wednesday May 30th. For more information and listings, visit www.achanceintheworldmovie.com.