SALT LAKE CITY — Katie Price, the main character in the new film "Midnight Sun," is something of a modern-day Rapunzel.
The film, directed by Scott Speer, opens with an isolated Katie, played by former Disney star Bella Thorne, longingly looking out her tinted bedroom window day after day as high school athlete — and her longtime crush — Charlie Reed whizzes by on his skateboard. Katie has an incurable genetic disease, Xeroderma Pigmentosum — a grim diagnosis that has caused her to experience life within the confines of her home, as any exposure to sunlight could prove fatal.
To prepare for her role, Thorne learned as much as she could about the rare disease, which affects about 1 in 1 million people in the United States and Europe.
“There’s not much research, unfortunately, about it online, so mostly I looked up YouTube videos about people with the disease, talking about it and just how they feel and how they live their lives on the daily,” Thorne told the Deseret News at a recent press event in Salt Lake City.
For Katie, life during the day mainly consists of writing music on her guitar and singing alone, but one night, she slips off to a nearby train station to sing her tunes — but not, it soon transpires, to an empty platform. When Charlie, Katie’s longtime crush, overhears her, he admits that he has no idea who she is.
“I don’t understand how we’ve never met,” Charlie tells her. “I’ve probably skated by your house every day.”
As a romance between the pair develops, Katie keeps her disease a secret, always evading the subject by telling Charlie, “I’m really busy during the day … but I could be free at night.” This line works until one date keeps Katie out dangerously close to sunrise — revealing her secret, unsettling her relationship with Charlie and threatening her life.
Taking on the role of Charlie is Patrick Schwarzenegger, the oldest son of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Midnight Sun” marks the 24-year-old’s first leading role in a major film, and the actor expressed gratitude to the many people who helped him tackle this role, including Thorne and his father.
“Working with someone like (Bella), she helped me be really comfortable and helped me a lot through the process,” he said. "For her to take time out of her day … and help me feel comfortable and make me a better actor … was so nice of her. She didn’t have to do it at all, and the fact she did is a testimony to herself and it helped me so much.”
"Unbeknownst to the director, also," Speer noted of Thorne's dedication to the film.
Schwarzenegger, who joined the set of “Midnight Sun” during the fall semester of his senior year at the University of Southern California, also received valuable advice from his veteran actor father.
“He’s not someone that’s done many romantic films like this one, but (he told me to) never give up and (to) not pay attention to the naysayers and people that are putting you down,” he reflected. “Just to believe in yourself and have the confidence that you’re going to make it, and do everything you can to get to that dream.”
Although Schwarzenegger and Thorne knew each other before working together on “Midnight Sun,” the two grew closer on the set in Vancouver. During their free time, the pair would go on bike rides and eat a lot of food — including fluffernutters on a nightly basis.
“I’m obsessed with bananas and peanut butter and pretty much any sweets, so (Thorne) would make me this sandwich with a layer of peanut butter, a slice of bananas and then a chunk of marshmallow fluff,” he said. “It’s so good. And … (we ate them) almost all the time.”
Bonding over gooey sandwiches only helped Schwarzenegger and Thorne’s onscreen relationship grow even stronger.Comment on this story
“(Charlie) falls in love with who (Katie) is, and even after he finds out about (her disease), his love only continues to grow for her, and their bond gets stronger and their relationship continues to flourish,” Schwarzenegger said. “And he’s not someone that loves her out of pity or something like that, he really loves her for who she is … and that’s a really beautiful part of the arc of their relationship.”
“(The offscreen bonding) really spoke to their chemistry,” Speer added. “You can see they just have this easy sort of way. We got so lucky — there’s something about (those) two that’s very natural.”