(KGET) — It was easy for the three screenwriters for the feature film “The Last Champion” – available through digital platforms starting Dec. 8 – to deal with the family elements of the story. The three writers are all related. Along with director Glenn Withrow, the tale of a disgraced athlete returning to his hometown was co-written by Hallie Todd (his wife) and Ivy Withrow (their daughter).
“It’s been a wall-to-wall experience for however long we have been working on this,” Todd says. “It is our baby. We would go to bed talking about it and wake up in the morning talking about it.”
The elements Todd, her husband and daughter would discuss started with the family elements. That was mixed with sports action (sparked by the director’s own high school wrestling days) and a love story. The result is the journey of John Wright (Cole Hauser), a hometown hero who found fame through high school wrestling. One bad decision ends is athletic dreams.
A tragedy brings him home 20 years later and to the one place where he might find redemption. Wright must deal with a lot of variations on what it means to be a family if he wants to find the help he needs.
Todd says, “There are different examples of healthy and not-so-healthy families in this movie. But, it is the community that ends up being the main family.”
Todd and Withrow have been married for almost three decades. Before “The Last Champion,” the husband-wife team wrote and produced the suspense thriller “The Mooring.” Todd explains that when they started talking about making a second movie, they knew that they didn’t want to do another horror. They decided their second offering needed to be an inspirational story and that became “The Last Champion.”
Writing the script proved to be a very collaborative effort.
“Ironing out the story and who everybody was and how the interacted was something we all had to work on in the initial phases,” Todd says. “Then if one of us had a bead on something they would run with it and see where it goes.
“Then they would bring it back to the group where we would pick it apart and change it. We did that a lot and to the point I really don’t know who wrote what.”
The only parts of the film Todd’s certain were written by her husband were those dealing with wrestling. Withrow had long wanted to make a movie that offered a real look at high school wrestling because of his passion for the sport that goes back to his days as a competitor.
Todd not only co-wrote the script and acted as one of the producers but she also plays the broken mom Melinda Miller in the film. One of the advantages of being a writer and producer (and married to the director) is that while they had no idea who would be cast in the majority of the roles, Todd knew from the start Miller was a role she wanted to play.
When it’s pointed out she took on a character that is incredibly difficult to like, Todd laughs and says that she would be worried about anyone who liked the character.
“It’s good that you hated her,” Todd says. “It was a fun part to play and I had not played a role like that before. I just really saw her as someone who was under-developed and never felt like she ever got her shot.”
The role in “The Last Champion” is the latest work for Todd is best known to audiences for playing Jo McGuire in the Disney Channel series “Lizzie McGuire.” That work earned her the recognition of being named one of the “Top Ten TV Moms of All Time” by CNN Entertainment.
Her previous credits include the comedy series “Brothers” plus playing Lal, the daughter built by Data on the sci-fi series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Both those projects dealt with family, a recurring theme in Todd’s acting life. She even comes from an entertainment family as she’s the daughter of character actress Ann Guilbert (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”) and producer/writer George Eckstein.