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'Gotham,' 'Firefly' alum Morena Baccarin leaves comfort zone for rom-com

By
Karen Butler
Actress Morena Baccarin's new romantic comedy Ode to Joy opens Friday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Actress Morena Baccarin's new romantic comedy "Ode to Joy" opens Friday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Deadpool, Gotham, The Flash and Firefly actress Morena Baccarin said playing a free spirit in the romantic comedy Ode to Joy catapulted her out of her "comfort zone."

Written by Max Werner and directed by Jason Winer, the film is set to open in theaters and will be available via video-on-demand platforms Friday. It is inspired by a true story WBEZ in Chicago ran as part of its This American Life radio series.

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Sherlock, Black Panther and The Hobbit alum Martin Freeman plays Charlie, a New York man whose rare, neurological condition causes him to fall asleep when he experiences intense emotions.

His attempt to manage his condition by avoiding stimulation leads to a cautious, lonely life -- one turned upside-down with the arrival of Baccarin's vivacious and beautiful Francesca.

The Office actor Jake Lacy co-stars as Charlie's charming, but insensitive younger brother Cooper; Saturday Night Live icon Jane Curtin plays Francesca's sharp-tongued, cancer-stricken aunt Sylvia; and The Big Bang Theory actress Melissa Rauch plays Bethany, the boring, but sweet woman Charlie dates to keep him from falling in love with Francesca.

"I loved the character. I thought [Francesca] was so different from my comfort zone -- from anything I've done -- and I thought it would be really fun to play someone larger than life," Baccarin told UPI in a recent phone interview.

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Winer said in a separate chat that he thinks the best casting in a film or TV show surprises people.

He tried to do this here by hiring the unassuming seeming Freeman to play the leading man and Curtin as a woman dying of cancer in a complex story that also sees Baccarin playing against type.

"Nobody has ever seen her in this combination of things -- the banter of Deapool, but the emotional depth of some of her other roles and yet the lightness of a comedic leading lady," the 47-year-old filmmaker said.

Winer, who also has helmed episodes of Modern Family and New Girl, said it was "tricky" to get the tone of Ode to Joy right since he and Werner wanted to create an entertaining film that also is respectful to a character suffering from a real disease.

"We are exploring real human characters and emotions and, at the same time, hopefully, also making the audience laugh," Winer said.

The film's mix of comedy and tragedy is an authentic reflection of real life, Baccarin said.

"There are really hilarious, funny moments, but then there are also really nuanced, sad parts," the 40-year-old actress said. "I think that if you can just be truthful in everything, every moment, it lands. I think comedy is good when it is rooted in truth."

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The explosion of technology, which allows people to instantly connect, plus the breakdown of social and cultural barriers, has resulted in fewer romantic comedy films in recent years.

"Some of my favorite movies of all time are romantic comedies -- When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall -- but they petered out over the years to a certain degree, I think, because we've run out of original reasons of why a couple can't be together. The obstacles have gotten stale," Winer said. "In this, we saw one we had never seen before."

Ode to Joy also allowed Baccarin to work in New York where she lives with her husband, actor Ben McKenzie, and her two children.

"It was so great to work at home and we shot a lot of it in Brooklyn Heights. We actually ended up moving there. It was really nice to have New York be such a part of the movie," she said.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be a challenge since her job is intense and she then goes home at the end of the day to young kids who need her.

"It comes in waves. There are times that I feel like I've got it under control, which is always misleading because something can throw you for a loop. I think you definitely have to have a lot of energy. Work sometimes feels like a vacation," she said.

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Baccarin hopes the huge fanbase she has built through her sci-fi work will follow her as she pursues other projects.

"I feel like everyone's with me," she said. "I feel incredibly supported by my fans."

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