Gregor Collins is an actor and a bestselling author of The Accidental Caregiver which is currently ranked #1 in European Art History Bestsellers on Amazon. Entertainment Vine talks with Gregor about his book and more below..
Mandy: First, congrats on the success of the Accidental Caregiver, you must be proud, as I’m sure Maria is, are you surprised to the reaction it has received?
Gregor: Thank you, Mandy! I am SO proud, because from the day I met Maria Victoria Altmann I knew I wanted the world to know this woman, and I mean REALLY know this woman from her head to her toes. Her historic Supreme Court Case and acquisition of her Uncle’s Klimt paintings certainly put her in the international spotlight, and people thought they “knew her” based on that, but I always felt that was only 1/100 of what made her who she was. What always motivated me in finishing the book was knowing that if I didn’t record my three years with her as intimately and honestly as I knew how, her heart and her soul would have been lost to history forever, and future generations would never have known how truly special she was. I valued my unique position as her caregiver, and not for one second did I ever take it for granted. The ultimate validation has come from her four kids, who all read the book, literally, in one night. They said they couldn’t put it down and that it exceeded all expectations. That day I got their endorsement was one my proudest days.
It’s funny–I showed Maria a few drafts of the book as it started taking shape (It was called “Conversations with Maria” back then), and she got a kick out of our exchanges, sometimes looking up from the manuscript, sparkly and red-faced, exclaiming, “I really said that??” I’m genuinely surprised at the positive feedback I’ve received. All I know is, I would be in front of my computer at 3 in the morning writing about the day that just happened, in the depths of despair or at the height of elation, and I thought, if no one ever reads this I am totally okay with that. I’ve written the book I wanted to write, and no one can tell me I didn’t write it honestly or correctly. I mean, I did figure the odds of someone finding it interesting were more in my favor than not, but some of the reviews I’ve gotten have gone way beyond that. Sometimes I wonder if they read the right book. Every time I told Maria I was writing a book about “us,” she widened her eyes with pleasure. So I know she approves up there in the sky.
Mandy: For those who have not read it yet, can you explain what the book is about?
Gregor: It’s a true story that just happened less than four years ago. It’s about me—a lonely, depressed young actor, tired of the business, tired of the women, tired of it all, and suddenly I happen upon a 92 year-old Holocaust refugee in need of a caregiver. I resisted the job for weeks because I thought ‘why the hell do I need an old lady,’ and then finally gave in to it—and the experience changed my life in ways I never thought possible. You’d have to read the book to get all the little details surrounding our meeting, her remarkable life, and the fascinating people she met and knew along the way. The book is sort of one part memoir, one part art and European history, and one part love story. Every single moment with her was like a scene out of a movie. It was truly the Michael Phelps of caregiving experiences. I feel like I won 18 gold medals, and now I’m retiring from it all, because there really is nowhere for me to go but down, when it comes to caregiving opportunities.
Mandy: What was it about Maria that made you want to tell her story?
Gregor: When I first learned of what made her “famous” I became obsessed with her Supreme Court Case and was convinced I would write her biography (as if other more qualified writers hadn’t already done that). Then as the days went by, and I started becoming extremely important to her and her to me (once early on her daughter Margie came in town to visit and took over the duties for a day, and Maria got mad at Margie for giving me the day off), I realized I should be writing a book on her and I and our unique relationship, not her, even though of course all the Klimt stuff and her charmed childhood would always be in the background. The real story was about our unlikely connection, our otherworldly romance that transcended time.
Mandy: She led an amazing and brave life, many may wonder how can a young struggling actor relate to her story?
Gregor: I wondered the same, believe me. My friends wondered. Her FAMILY wondered. I mean, our immediate bond defied logic to any sane person. But you can’t explain love. You can’t explain the universe. It’s clear to me, if you believe in all that “other life” stuff, that we were romantically involved in another life. I was brought to her in present time to make her final years a pleasure, and she was brought to me to open up my heart and love me at a time I desperately needed it. It was just a very beautiful scenario. Perfect, actually. It began and ended perfectly. You can’t say that about many scenarios in life.
Mandy: You say when Maria spoke, you fell in love at first sentence, can you explain?
Gregor: It never occurred to me that the concept even existed. I had never encountered this sort of instantaneous love. When she opened her mouth, the most elegant song wafted through the kitchen, and I fell in love with her in that instant. It was this old-world Viennese accent, which you just don’t find anymore. The kids today know NOTHING about this accent. It’s an endangered species. Maria was probably one of a few dozen people left who owned this particular accent. And she never lost it. Seventy years in Los Angeles and she still had the same exquisite lilt as when she was a teenager in Vienna. I recorded a lot of video that I offer to readers who have read the book. The info is on my website www.TheAccidentalCaregiver.com.
Mandy: If there is one thing you want people to take from yours and Maria’s story, what would it be?
Gregor: Love knows no age. Maria and I proved this first-hand.
Mandy: You are also working on a movie, a comedy, about assisted suicide, not really a topic many would consider funny, any concerns about that?
Gregor: Yes. Doors have been opening just from our pitch: Assisted Suicide Comedy. We’re not concerned about people thinking the subject isn’t meant to be funny, in fact that’s the point, and what drove us to write it and what drives us to make it: We want to challenge people to think about death differently.
Quick, funny story: We pitched it to Danny DeVito’s agent, and he cut us off almost immediately: “Um… assisted suicide isn’t funny.” As if he was telling us a fact (and it was strange to think that his client, Danny, has made a second career out of directing dark comedies). We were stunned at first, then realized it was just a sign we needed to go out and make the film ourselves and show people what it was really about, and what tone we were going for—somewhere between Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, and Spike Jonze. It’s a movie about living life to the fullest in your final moments. What if you were faced with a terminal illness, given weeks—sometimes days or hours—to live, and you had the opportunity to die how you always wanted to live? In the life of our movie, you haven’t lived until you’ve died. www.TheDieMovie.com
Mandy: What do you hope this movie teaches people?
Gregor: That there’s never any excuse or any point in your life where you should not be living in the present, where you should be living with regrets, and where you should be living without love.
Mandy: You have a great cast headed by Cloris Leachman, how is she to work with?
Gregor: Cloris is awesome. A bonafide diva, but in a really charming, endearing way. She’s polite, genuine, HILARIOUS, as sharp as a tack, and hasn’t lost her magic. I mean she’s almost 86 and still dancing and playing the piano (which we have her do in a memorable scene in the film). My writing partner Andrea Shreeman has known her for years and she’s been an admirer of Andrea’s work as an actor, and when Andrea gave her the script she said immediately she wanted to play the title character of “Lily.” Who were we to argue with that? And then we found this fabulous director—Emily Lou, who directed, in my opinion, a near flawless film called “The Selling.” having its LA premier at the Egyptian on October 22 at 8pm (http://www.thesellingthemovie.com). Andrea’s spearheading the pre-production of the film, and she’s in talks with investors right now. We’re excited. This is how true filmmaking should be: a real grassroots effort by filmmakers who really believe in the story.
Mandy: Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Gregor: I do have a movie that came out called “Goodbye Promise.” I produced and starred. It was 100% improvised, and shot on literally no budget. The LA Times praised us, which was completely unexpected, and we’ve gotten some other big press, and premiered it back in June to sold-out crowds in Los Angeles. Then we became the first ever feature film distributed online via a crowdfunding platform. Now we’re not sure what to do with it! But we really believe in it, and pretty much anyone who has ever pursued a dream believes in it.
When we were shooting we had no idea how it would end or even sometimes what we’d be shooting the next day, but we somehow managed to piece together a compelling drama, what I like to call “an emotional action movie.” You can read about it at www.GoodbyePromise.com.
Thanks for this opportunity, Mandy. I hope to connect personally with some of your fans and readers!
– You can check out Gregor’s Book at: www.TheAccidentalCaregiver.com
Interview by Mandy Raytik