The Arts

Greenport resident’s screenplay, inspired by real life experience as parent of neurodiverse children, to star screen legend Robert De Niro

While running the Manhattan Film Institute in Greenport this summer, screenwriter Tony Spiridakis will be preparing for a new movie to begin filming this fall with Bobby Cannavale and Robert De Niro starring.  

The Greenport resident wrote a screenplay inspired by his connection and relationship with his neurodiverse son. It is set to be directed by Tony Goldwyn in September. The film will star Mr. Cannavale as the father of a child with Asperger’s and Mr. De Niro in a major supporting role. 

Titled “Inappropriate Behavior,” it draws on Mr. Spiridakis’s experiences with his son Dimitri and explores topics of neurodiversity through the lens of a father-son relationship in this comedic drama. Mr. Spiridakis has found through his own experiences with two neurodiverse children that their behavior often isn’t inappropriate – the inappropriate actions come from those around them who cannot understand the way their minds work. 

“We’ve come to learn behavior and social behaviors that are the norms and the beautiful minds that are neurodiverse, they’re not restricted by those social norms,” Mr.Spiridakis said. “They don’t create their own truth; they speak the truth where we tend to look at the truth and have learned to be polite.”

Mr. Spiridakis shared stories of being called by his children’s principal about their disruptive behavior in classes and said that as “freaked out” as he was from receiving those messages, he realized his kids were simply stating their observations about the world around them.  

“It’s not inappropriate at all,” Spiridakis said. “The title is a misdirect.”

Based on the family dynamic of a divorced couple, the movie depicts the story of a late-night comedy writer who fails in his career and marriage. He moves back in with his father and navigates how to care for his young son, Ezra, who has Asperger’s. 

Ultimately, the father decides to kidnap Ezra and take him on a cross-country trip. 

“I think so often journeys like this are considered from a woman’s point of view and from a mom and her children,” said Lisa Gillooly, Mr. Spiridakis’s life-partner. “But to capture something between a dad and his son is really extraordinary.”

While the story was inspired by his own family, the characters in the film are not based on Mr. Spiridakis or his sons, and instead conveys a more universal story about fatherhood. 

“It just grew into a real father and son love story,” he said. “If you took autism out of it, it would still be a compelling story about a father and a son and an ex-wife that does everything she can to protect her child. Part of that protection includes protecting her child from her ex-husband.” 

One of Spiridakis’ favorite lines, written on his board on an index card, is ‘Sometimes you have to do the wrong thing so the right thing happens,’ which epitomizes the plot of “Inappropriate Behavior.”

“The father kidnaps his son, not a good thing, don’t recommend doing it,” Mr. Spiridakis said. “But for this story, it became the symbol of how far you have to go sometimes to protect your child.”

The team is still in the process of casting a neurodiverse actor to play the role of Ezra. 

With production about to get underway, Mr. Spiridakis is still running the Manhattan Film Institute (MFI) in Greenport for its 11th year. Ms. Gillooly said her partner “dropped everything” to lead the program and teach classes. 

This year, MFI is holding classes at Brecknock Hall in Greenport and students are being housed in cabins at Peconic Dunes Camp. 

Over the years, both of Mr. Spiridakis’s sons have been involved with MFI. Dimitri, a recent alumnus from Bard College, starred in a scene from the movie that MFI produced in 2016, called “Moving On.”  His older brother, Nikos, is involved with the post-production team for the films this year. 

Originally from Queens, Mr. Spiridakis spent summers on the North Fork his whole life. He attended Yale Drama school and worked as an actor from 1980 to 1989 before he wrote his first screenplay, “Queen’s Logic.” He used inspiration from the neighborhood he grew up in to write the film and starred in it alongside John Malkovich, Kevin Bacon and Joe Mantegna.

Mr. Spiridakis and Ms. Gillooly met at D’latte in Greenport about 18 years ago, as she spent her summers in Orient. Together, they co-founded MFI and reopened the Greenport movie theater for a winter film series in 2018. Three and a half years ago, they relocated from Los Angeles to the North Fork to become full-time residents. 

They both said the idea for the film had been developing for several years, first surfacing when Dimitri was young. 

“I am beside myself excited,” Gillooly said. “To see this story finally come to life, it’s a dream come true.”