Blount County actor Bruce McKinnon finally got to walk the red carpet at a New York movie premiere. The carpet, however, wasn’t red at all.
It was pink.
McKinnon will be on national television Saturday night in a Lifetime Television movie “Living Proof.” The film is based on the book “Her2” by NBC Chief Science correspondent Robert Bazell. The movie is the centerpiece of Lifetime’s 14th annual public awareness campaign “Stop Breast Cancer for Life.” In honor of the movie on breast cancer, the traditional red carpet was substituted for pink at the New York City premiere.
The film is the true story of Dr. Dennis Slamon, the UCLA doctor who helped develop the breast cancer drug, Herceptin, and his efforts to keep bring the drug he was convinced could save the lives of thousands of women with breast cancer through the Federal Drug Administrations drug trials.
McKinnon plays Dean Bradfield, husband of Barbara Bradfield, a woman with breast cancer to was part of Dr. Slamon’s clinical trials. Barbara is portrayed in the movie by Bernadette Peters.
McKinnon said Peter’s character is diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 1980s and 1990s while Slamon is trying to get the drug approved. For Bradfield, the diagnosis is considered a death sentence but Slamon believes his new drug could help her.
“Bernadette’s character gets diagnosed with a death sentence,” he said. “She gets involved with this treatment where Dr. Slamon is trying to prove to the Federal Drug Administration and the drug companies that this works.”
McKinnon said there were 15 women involved in the treatment. “The movie takes you from the beginning to the actual approval. A lot of people to this day don’t realize this is an option,” he said.
The Blount County native said all the actors in the film worked for scale, the lowest pay allowed by the Screen Actors Guild, because of the subject of the film.
“There was a feeling of something different than if you did some action film to have fun and make some money.”
Harry Connick, Jr., played Slamon. Peters character was the woman who survived the initial experimental treatment.
McKinnon said he wrote to the head of Lifetime and was grateful for the opportunity to participate in raising awareness regarding breast cancer. “What more could an actor want than to have a hand in a production that does this thing, which is to save lives. That’s the pay you get. That’s why I’m so honored to be involved,” he said.
McKinnon said if the movie raises awareness and helps save one life, it will be worth it. The actor said those on the film treated the experience not just as a movie job, but as if everyone involved was on a mission.
“We’ve all been touched by cancer, either with family members or friends. Someone you know fairly close has cancer or has died of cancer,” he said.
McKinnon had his own inspiration. His older brother, Norman, died of cancer on Aug. 11, 2007. While shooting film, McKinnon said he used the memory of his brother’s struggle to help bring emotion to his role.
“Part of my preparation for this role was to be truthful under those circumstances. Part of what I tapped into was that emotional involvement with my brother. For two years, he fought cancer. I had that contact with cancer,” he said.
Drawing on that emotional connection wasn’t always easy. “I found out on a Wednesday I had this part, and I was filming the hardest emotional scenes on Friday in New Orleans. It’s like being a gunslinger. You come into town and let both barrels go,” he said.
Being part of an ensemble cast that is telling a good story made it easier to work because the actors all put aside their egos to make the show successful. McKinnon said Connick told an executive producer he was amazed McKinnon was able to draw on emotion over and over again.
“We had 15 takes from different angles. He said, ‘You must have an acting implant to be able to do that over and over,’ “ McKinnon said. “I was thinking about Norman. Also I listened to old messages on my phone from my dad. He was saying the treatment was working for Norman. I would listen to that over and over. I would have that in me and then the action would start. On one exact word, I’d have to cry.”
McKinnon said it was tough. “I remember them saying, ‘Let’s do one more take.’ I sat back and shook my head. They let me be. They gave me my space then said, ‘Let’s go.’ It was difficult,” he said.
Getting to go to New York as an actor and attend a red carpet screening was an honor, McKinnon said.
“I was invited to go up there, which was really cool because I was the only non-star to be invited,” he said.
New York media covered the premiere, which was headlined the “Pink Carpet” premiere.
It wasn’t the most convenient time to head to New York, but McKinnon made the trip regardless. “I was supposed to start shooting a movie in Georgia the next day. I had to take a flight from Newark. The premier was Wednesday (Sept. 24) at 7 in the evening, and the flight out was at 6 in the morning, and then I was supposed to fly to Georgia and ride a motorcycle,” he said.
The premier was at the Paris Theater, an ornate theater off 5th Avenue and Central Park. “I had been to premiers, but not red-carpet premiers like at the Emmys, with all the paparazzi and ropes and security,” he said.
Renee Zellweger was the executive producer. Zellweger re-teamed with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, executive producers of the Oscar-winning movie “Chicago,” to produce “Living Proof.”
McKinnon had a good laugh on the red carpet because he had never actually walked on one as part of a premier. “It was kind of funny. I was the first one up. I had never been down a the red carpet. I wasn’t able to see how the pros did it,” he said.
McKinnon started walking down the red carpet and suddenly the flashes from the paparazzi cameras started going off. “They were yelling at me, ‘Look over here, look down, look up.’ I was slowly making my way across the red carpet trying to act like I knew what I was doing. I got to the end, and I thought it over, but they yanked me out to do the last half of the walk again,” he said.
McKinnon said he watched as Zellweger was walking down the carpet. “She was posing, turning back, stopping. She got it down,” he said.
As everyone watched the movie, McKinnon sat right behind Connick and next to Dr. Bazell, who wrote the story. “Every time I was on screen, he would poke me, and every time something happened to do with the story, I patted him on the back,” he said.
McKinnon also got to sit next sport commentator Ahmad Rashad. “He’s a nice guy, and we were talking UT football. I’m there seeing what scenes were cut and what edits were made and what takes they took,” he said.
After the movie, everyone went next door to the Plaza Hotel. “The cheapest room was $800 a night. We were in the ballroom where we had dinner. It sat 500 people. All these different high-level people of New York society and then there was me,” he said with a laugh.
McKinnon said it was a great meal and then Connick and Peters serenaded the group and then afterward everyone mingled for a while. “It was really just cool. I felt at home. I want to do it more,” he said.
McKinnon said the movie shows that in life, there is hope. “Don’t let anyone tell you there is no hope. I think that’s one thing that, during these hard financial times we are going through and all the sort of upheaval we’re having, you’ve got to remember, there’s hope,” he said. “This film is a celebration of life even though we’re dealing with death within the story.”
The movie is scheduled to be aired on Saturday, Oct. 18, as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “It’s going to be on Saturday night at 9 p.m., after we beat Mississippi State,” he said.