Mission to Lars: Q&A with Kate Spicer
Even if you’re not a girl, you might know lifestyle journalist Kate Spicer as one of the food critics from “Masterchef”. She’s the one evincing existential angst into a plate of blood, sweat and tears. The one who looks utterly disenchanted with life, despite her perfectly coiffed bob and a cushy job which consists of scoffing Michelin standard food and then moaning. On the telly.
Of course, the telly has done her an injustice. In real life, she isn’t Eeyore, she’s Tigger. She’s the playful, petulant sister to Tom, who has Fragile X syndrome. He’s another Spicer who is often misrepresented in the media – autism is “very hot at the moment”, says Kate, and Tom’s superficially similar condition remains obscure and misunderstood. MISSION TO LARS isn’t just the story of his dream come true – it’s a story about how most people are driven by the same feelings, and how, once we work that out, we might still bicker in the back seat on a long car journey but we can still love and understand one other.
“The home of documentary isn’t TV, it’s cinema.”
Heart warming? Yes. But not nearly enough for the telly. MISSION TO LARS was initially pitched by Kate and her brother Will to television producers, which was a “chilling” experience. “It might work if she was Stephen Fry,” they mused. They didn’t find Kate to be sufficiently “emotional and warm”. “There were quite a lot of mega-offensive rejections,” says Kate. Will turned to Jon Battsek at Passion Pictures for advice, and Jon said, “Forget about TV, just make the film you want to make.” He added, “It made me cry, but less of Kate angsting, please.” And so MISSION TO LARS is brought to you on the big screen, where it works best of all. As we learned at the recent Sheffield Doc Fest, and as Kate says herself: “The home of documentary isn’t TV, it’s cinema.”
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
So, Will and Kate might have learned more about their brother and his condition, but how has it shaped the man himself? “Tom is a changed man,” says Kate. “It took a while for it all to sink in. We started working on it four years ago, and we’ve really started to notice a change in Tom. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. One of the first things he did when he moved back was to learn to use his mobile phone. It’s levelled out the sibling playing field. He phones us. We used to have really difficult conversations by phonebox, but now we have really long conversations and we’re much more immersed in each other’s lives.”
“Will’s pathologically removed, I’ve got my issues and Tom is quite mellow.”
Experts on Fragile X warn that the media hype could overwhelm Tom, but this type of clinical misapprehension represents one of Kate’s bugbears. “All the things the experts say are rubbish. He loves the attention. One of my problems with my disabled brother is that everything is reduced to a diagnostic phrase.” Even Tom’s sense of humour, she says, is attributed to his condition – when it’s clear to anyone who has met the family, or seen MISSION TO LARS that a flair for silliness is a symptom of being a Spicer. It’s hard enough to understand how any fellow human being’s mind works, let alone someone with the added complication of Fragile X – “A shrink could reduce me to a bundle of neuroses,” Kate points out. “Will’s pathologically removed, I’ve got my issues and Tom is quite mellow. I don’t understand what’s inside Will‘s brain.”
Anxiety is a major part of Fragile X, and Tom is hypersensitive in all ways – to sibling conflict, to sound, to bright lights. “He must have done this many times – had to cope with his disabilities,” says Kate. “We don’t appreciate what he’s coping with.” In preparation for the road trip, Kate and Will spoke to those closest to Tom, as well as to experts on his condition, and realised that Tom had more to handle than the emotional impact of a meeting with his hero – the sights and sound of the concert itself could be ten times as physically dramatic for him. It’s a testament to Tom’s passion, trust and resolve that he even embarks on this journey.
Does Kate actually like Metallica? “I don’t dislike them,” she says. “There’s this gig they played in Russia post-Glasnost [above]. I love watching that when I’m drunk. You’d have to be a real square not to see how brilliant they are, and to celebrate it.” Tom’s particular taste in music was a boon when it comes to PR – the Spicers have Metallica to thank for much of their publicity, but they deserve the landslide of hype the affiliation has brought them. “When we put you up on our Facebook page are you ready?” warned the band. “Don’t underestimate Metallica.” And one might add, “don’t underestimate a Metallica fan on a mission”.
For a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the road trip, read Kate’s blog.
Visit http://missiontolars.com to find a screening near you.
The quotes in this article are extracted from Kate Spicer’s Q&A session following the recent screening at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse.
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