When people ask me how it feels to have Helen Hunt portray me in the movie The Sessions, I say there aren't any words in my vocabulary to truly describe how I feel. I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen in my life.
Ever since April 9, 2007, when Ben Lewin and I first met, my life has not been the same. Months before, while browsing the 'Net, Ben encountered Mark O'Brien's story "On Seeing A Sex Surrogate," which moved him deeply and inspired him to research and develop a screenplay based upon it. Initially skeptical, I soon realized how serious and talented an artist Ben is. We stayed in touch and three and a half years later I received a copy of a script he was most proud of called The Surrogate (the original title of the film). He asked me to change things that might not be accurate or with which I might be uncomfortable. For instance, there was some dialogue between my son and I that would never have happened, as well as a scene where I was taking a bathroom smoke break. Ben heard my concerns and quickly made modifications. He was very obliging.
Then one day Ben called to tell me that Helen Hunt liked the script and wanted to play me. I'd always felt she was very talented, and loved her in As Good As It Gets, for which she earned a Best Actress Oscar. When she officially signed on to take the role I was told to expect a call from her. I was blown away. Helen Hunt was going to call me!
A few days later my daughter and I were driving on the freeway when my cell phone rang. I answered and heard a woman say, "Is this Cheryl?" "Yes," I responded, and the voice said, "Hi Cheryl, this is Helen Hunt." I said her name out loud and my daughter quickly said, "Pull over before you drive us off the road." Explaining to Helen where I was, we arranged a time later that day to continue our conversation.
A few weeks later I was in Santa Monica to consult with both Helen and John Hawkes, who had been signed on to play the poet/journalist Mark O'Brien. I spent considerable time with each of them discussing my Surrogate Partner therapy sessions with Mark. They are both consummate artists -- talented, intelligent and curious in their attention to details. The passion they feel for their chosen craft came shining through. It was such a pleasant experience for me to interact with such friendly, down to earth and unpretentious people.
This was just the prelude to what has turned out to be an amazing two years for me. I attended the Sundance Film Festival where the film premiered in January 2012. And my long-gestating memoir An Intimate Life, describing my 40 years of working as a surrogate partner in sex therapy, was published in November 2012. The book has started a dialogue about the importance of sexuality in one's life, in addition to opening up conversations about how to discover true intimacy though better communication between partners. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Except perhaps to attend the Academy Awards.., and by Goddess, as I write this, I'm actually preparing to do that too!
The Sessions is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.