Peter Facinelli wrote and directed "The Vanished," in theaters and VOD Friday. File Photo by Chris Chew/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Actor Peter Facinelli, who wrote and directed the new film, The Vanished, said a road trip he and his first daughter, Luca, took from New York to Los Angeles when she was 5 inspired the screenplay. Luca is now 23.
"It was 30 days in a motor home," Facinelli told UPI in a recent phone interview. "Going cross-country in the United States is such a beautiful drive. The landscape changes, the architecture changes and the people change."
In The Vanished, Paul (Thomas Jane) and Wendy (Anne Heche) stop at an RV park. When their daughter, Taylor (Kk and Sadie Heim), goes missing, and a convict escapes a local prison, the parents desperately try to find her.
Facinelli said he stopped at an RV park in 2002 near a prison where he could hear gunshots. The proprietor explained that the shots came from drills the prison ran frequently.
"I could barely sleep that night because I thought, 'What if a convict escapes and what if my family's put in danger?'" Facinelli said. "The seedling of this movie grew from that trip."
Facinelli had three children with his ex-wife, 90210 star Jennie Garth, before he filed for divorce in 2012. Lola was born in 2002, and Fiona was born in 2006 -- after that road trip.
In The Vanished, the strain of Taylor's disappearance wears on Paul and Wendy. The friction between them gets as much screen time as the search for Taylor.
"I was interested in exploring that dynamic between a husband and wife and what a tragedy does to a marriage," Facinelli said.
The Vanished presents a worst-case scenario for Paul and Wendy. Sheriff Baker (Jason Patric), who helps them look for Taylor, lost his child to a drug addiction. Baker's collapsed marriage shows what could happen to Paul and Wendy if they don't find Taylor.
"You get to see what the Ghost of Christmas Future would be for Thomas Jane and Anne's character," Facinelli said. "For me, it's almost less about the kid who's gone missing and more about the relationship of the husband and wife."
Facinelli said he originally intended to play Paul in the movie. After he directed his first film, 2018's Breaking and Exiting, Facinelli decided to direct his screenplay. He did appear as Baker's deputy, though.
Even playing a smaller role dissuaded Facinelli from becoming a director/actor like Clint Eastwood or Mel Gibson. He found he ended up doing double duty, memorizing lines and making shot lists the night before a scene. Then he would endure hair and makeup on a day he preferred to be preparing to shoot.
"Every time I was acting, I just wanted to get my part done so I could get back behind the camera," Facinelli said.
He said his passion still is acting, but after working since 1995, he wanted to branch out.
"I love acting, but you're just one cog in the bigger wheel of the machine," Facinelli said. "A director gets to tell the story. I love collaborating and I love actors."
Heche took a more instinctive approach to The Vanished, while Jane was more analytical, Facinelli said. He said he was able to adapt to either process to get the performances he wanted.
"Being a director is kind of like being a therapist in a sense," Facinelli said. "You have to kind of figure out what motivates the actor and what gets them going."
Facinelli said conversations with both Heche and Jane helped him understand their processes. The director said he could describe an emotion to Heche and she adapted. Jane would require more discussion about the scene, which Facinelli was happy to accommodate.
"I know what it's like to be vulnerable in front of a crew, in front of a camera," Facinelli said. "I hope that when actors are working with me, they understand that I understand that."
In The Vanished, Facinelli directed his actors to escalating states of panic and paranoia. Despite bringing his worst nightmare to the screen, Facinelli said he hopes his movie doesn't sour families on RV road trips.
"I recommend that anybody, even if you don't have RVs, just do a road trip from coast to coast," Facinelli said.
The Vanished will be in select theaters and on video-on-demand Friday.