Neve Campbell talks about playing Zach Sobiech's mom in 'Clouds'

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Neve Campbell talks about playing Laura Sobiech in 'Clouds.' (MPR)

In Clouds, the Zach Sobiech biopic debuting today on Disney+, Neve Campbell plays Laura Sobiech — the mother of the young Minnesota man who wrote and recorded the inspiring title song before dying of cancer at age 18. Campbell spoke about what it was like to explore this challenging role, and about her newfound friendship with the real-life woman she portrayed onscreen.

Clearly the setting of this story is so important, here in Minnesota, which is maybe not a wildly different setting from the one you knew growing up in Ontario.

Yes, exactly.

Did you have any impressions or experiences of Minnesota before taking this role?

I actually didn't, and I'm grateful that I've been introduced. The people that I've met have been really wonderful, and the experience that I had visiting after we shot the film, at the Mall of America, was really a beautiful and phenomenal experience. So I have very positive memories at the moment.

Can you tell me a little about that experience: visiting the Mall of America?

Yeah. Well, as you know, millions of people have been following Zach's story now, across the world, and once a year at the Mall of America — I don't know how long it's been now, maybe it's been six years now — thousands of people get together to sing "Clouds" and to honor the family and to raise money for osteosarcoma. And so we got to go to that event and announce that the film had been made and that we were telling Zach's story in a broader way, and to stand amongst thousands of people who all love this story, love this young man and love his message. And to hear everybody sing together was pretty phenomenal.

So this is obviously a somewhat dramatized version of Zach's story, but as the closing montage makes clear, in a lot of cases it's pretty close to life: specific scenes and situations, and you're obviously portraying a real person, Laura Sobiech, Zach's mom. Were you able to connect with her before filming, and if so, what did you learn from her that informed your performance?

Yeah, absolutely. We spent a great amount of time together, and actually became dear friends. I read her book; after I was sent the script, I read her book, which is profound and beautiful and tragic and so honest. And I was nervous to meet her...I didn't know if I was just going to start crying when I met her, 'cause as a mother, you know, to hear this story just feels devastating at first. But when I got to know her, she was able to bring to light the beauty of their journey as well, and what she's taken from it, what she's learned from it and her faith and her commitment to her family and the bolstering up of family and love and connection that she chose to do on this journey with her child. Really gave me a completely different perspective, as opposed to just pity and heartbreak. Respect. I have great respect for her, and great respect for the way that they all handled this journey. So it was amazing. It was the first time...I once played a woman named Frances Kroll Ring, who was the assistant to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the last year of his life while he was writing The Last Tycoon, and that was an amazing experience and an honor to play her, but to play this kind of an emotional journey was a big ask and a great honor and I wanted to get it right and I was so grateful for Laura's help and guidance and support in it.

'Cause you really have to walk that line in your performance, as you do so successfully, portraying a mom who is grieving and still kind of dealing with the shock of all of it and supporting her son through it, but at the same time encouraging him as an artist to break through with this song.

Yeah. I mean, you know, she didn't just let him sit on his laurels and live in pity. You know what I mean? Or in self-pity. She really did inspire him to — you know, and she says in the script, and she said it in the book, and it's the reason I wanted it in the script, she says, you get to choose your story now. You know? You get to decide what that painting is, whatever it is, no matter what time you have left, you get to make a choice here. What an incredible gift to be able to give as a mom.

And she's not even sure, necessarily, how it came to her. She has a very strong faith, so she certainly has that, but I think she surprised herself in moments. You know? She learned a great deal. We've all learned a great deal from her and from Zach, and it's been an amazing experience.

So this is a movie about an artist and a song that's inspired so many people around the world. What are some songs or musical artists who've inspired you over the course of your life or career or maybe even while making this movie?

Hmm. You know, I grew up listening to classical music because I was dancing, I was a classical ballet dancer from the age of six and by the time I was nine, I was dancing six hours a day and I would start on the wood floor, lying on the studio floor warming up at 8:30 in the morning listening to the pianist warm up, you know? So I was very lucky to have that experience and to be exposed to classical music from such a young age and to so much art. Music really connects us...I mean, think about this one song this young man wrote that has touched millions and inspired millions of people, the power of music is really phenomenal. So for me it was really classical music, so I can't name any one artist. And I have a tendency...they say people listen to music one of two different ways, you either listen to the music itself or you listen to the lyrics. I personally don't listen to the lyrics. I just listen to the feeling of the...I don't know, the rhythm or something! But certainly, Zach's words, you really listen to them. They're heartbreaking and they're beautiful and the fact that he wrote them to share and say goodbye to his family is pretty incredible.

Well, and a big part of the story of the movie, too, is the story of the relationship between his mother and father and how they're negotiating this together as a couple, which seems like very emotionally sensitive territory.

Yeah, absolutely, and it was, again, very courageous of them to share that journey. 'Cause it wasn't easy. It wasn't...you know, this story really shows the final year, year and a half of Zach's life, but really, he was diagnosed at 14. You know, so they had years of this, and as a couple, you're going to go through some big ups and downs and some doubts and then some strengths and some coming apart and then some coming together. So I think we really felt it was important to show that that was its own struggle, you know. As two parents, two individual people facing the death of their child, it's complicated.

Well, you must be looking forward to now seeing this movie come out and seeing how it's going to affect people who are able to see it through Disney+.

Yeah, absolutely. And I really...I do hope it brings attention to osteosarcoma, you know, and I hope that their fund — the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund — will get a push. You know, Laura said to me, interestingly, I didn't realize this, that children's cancers don't get a lot of attention, and they don't get a lot of donations, because they're not as common. So I really hope that this can make some kind of a difference.


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