Permobil chair stars in movie ‘The Upside’

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Friday, February 22, 2019

PHILADELPHIA – The disability community can give Hollywood flak for not including more people with disabilities in their TV shows and movies. That’s a responsibility that actor Bryan Cranston took seriously when filming “The Upside,” say Joe Kelly and Tony Forgione of Permobil, whose F5 Corpus VS wheelchair was used by Cranston to play a quadriplegic in the movie. Here’s what Kelly, the Eastern Regional vice president of sales, and Forgione, the territory sales manager for Eastern Pennsylvania, had to say about working with Cranston and why it’s important for movies like “The Upside” to be made.

HME News: How did Permobil get involved in “The Upside”?

Joe Kelly: We were at an Abilities Expo and someone from their prop department come into our booth and approached us. He was a family friend of a dealer from the New York area who was familiar with Permobil. So we walked him through the booth and showed him some things. We kind of gave him a brief in-service. We had no idea he was working on a major film with a major production company with major stars.

HME: Tony, were you also at the expo?

Tony Forgione: No, I got brought in because most of the filming was done at a studio in Aspen, Pa. They built an entire house in an airplane hangar, which was pretty cool.

HME: What was it like to work with Cranston?
Kelly: His portrayal was so authentic and, overall, there was just so much clinical relevance to everything they did in the movie. Bryan lives in LA and had our reps in California bring him a chair to do some training on it there. It’s a very complex chair. He drove it around with a mini joystick and a harness that you wear round your head. They weren’t big about having something around his face, but he knew it needed to be that way to be authentic. He put the work in and was totally engaged.

HME: What were your roles on set?

Forgione: We did everything we’d do in a seating clinic. There were two chairs that were exactly the same and we had to make adjustments to them. Then we came back a few days later and made more changes. It was interesting, the first day we arrived on set, he took a chair for a test spin at high speed, and we told him it was going to be fast and we thought he’d crash into the wall, but he drove down the hallway, stopped and turned around. By the time we started filming, he was good enough getting around in the chair that he didn’t have any trouble.

HME: He had done his homework.

Forgione: He kept everything as realistic as possible. Even when we were seating him in the chair, there were times when he’d ask, “Should I be holding my hands like this?” and “Should my position be like this?”

HME: A wheelchair with standing technology is top of the line—not everyone has access to one. What does it say that this is the chair that’s used in the movie?

Forgione: It initiates conversations about technology and access and funding. I can’t tell you how many times people come into our booth at an expo and say, “How come this wasn’t offered to me? No one showed me this.” Having this chair in this movie will help people understand this equipment is out there and they can benefit from it.

Kelly: This is a chair that showcases everything the user needs to do in life—stand, weight shift, recline. People often ask, “Why a stander?” and I say, “Why not a stander?” From a funding perspective, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

HME: You were also extras in the movie. What was that like?

Kelly: We were. This was bucket list-type stuff for me and Tony. My fear was, this movie is going to stink and people were going to say, “The only reason you’re in this movie is because it stinks.” But it’s quite the opposite. It’s so good.