TORONTO — David Schwimmer may be known as lovable goofball Ross on "Friends," yet he has gone back to his dramatic roots for his latest directing project on the searing rape story "Trust."
The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, chronicles a nightmare scenario for a couple (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) after they discover the nice boy their 14-year-old daughter, Annie (Liana Liberato), met on a Web chat room actually is a grown man who lures her to a motel room for sex.
Schwimmer has been developing the story for seven years, inspired by his work with the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, California. He hopes to land the film in theaters as a cautionary tale to parents about the dangers children face online, where sexual predators can stalk victims with anonymity.
In talking with families of victims and FBI agents investigating such cases, Schwimmer found that the men preying on children online often are husbands and fathers themselves.
"A lot of these guys are married, have families. It's more frightening than the predator that's usually depicted in films, which is this weird, greasy loner that lives alone or with mom," Schwimmer said. "The fact is that they are teachers, they are coaches, they're priests, they're professionals, they're pediatricians."
In the film, Annie's stalker uses her passion for volleyball to gain her trust, pretending at first that he's a 16-year-old volleyball player, then stringing her along as he gradually confesses he is 20 and later 25. By the time they meet, Annie has become so smitten that she is able to overlook the fact that her online boyfriend is old enough to be her father.
Owen found the story devastating, particularly since he has two young daughters himself, the oldest recently venturing online when she signed up for Facebook.
"I found it deeply upsetting, just as an idea. I think something like that happening to your daughter is like a death of some kind," Owen said. "I don't know how anybody would ever really, properly recover from something like that."
Schwimmer, 43, who directed episodes of "Friends" and other television projects, made his big-screen filmmaking debut with the 2007 comedy "Run, Fatboy, Run."
While his role as perpetually lovesick Ross on "Friends" made him a star and his best-known big-screen role is providing the voice of the nervous giraffe in the "Madagascar" animated movies, Schwimmer started out as a serious actor.
"I was actually surprised that I was cast in a sitcom, because all of my experience at university and in the theater company I started in Chicago was all drama," Schwimmer said. "I'd never really done comedy, so it was just ironic to me that now I'm known as that funny guy. But you know, I have no complaints. I had a great time."
Toronto International Film Festival: http://tiff.net