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New Jersey actor with autism stars in "Ezra," movie depicting boy with autism and his family

With new HBO show, why Delaware County is popular for TV shows, movies
With new HBO show, why Delaware County is popular for TV shows, movies 02:05

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new Hollywood film features a teenager who is living with autism.

The film "Ezra" tells the story of a young boy with autism and what that means for his family. 

Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne play his divorced parents, and the star is 15-year-old William Fitzgerald, a New Jersey native. 

"If this does get nominated for an Oscar, I might be too overwhelmed to attend. I might just, I might just say, 'hi' via Zoom meeting," Fitzgerald said.

The producers said they worked hard to make the set more inclusive and sensitive to the special considerations needed for people who have autism spectrum disorder.

Determined to find a neurodivergent actor, director Tony Goldwyn cast Fitzgerald after a nationwide search.

"I wanted the autism community to see this movie and be like, 'Yep, you guys got it right,'" Goldwyn said.

Because Fitzgerald has autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, it was a priority to make the set comfortable. His parents David and Laura Fitzgerald worked closely with the crew. 

"They had training for the cast and crew. They always had a quiet room on set so if William needed to take a break, he could step aside and just have a quiet place to regroup," Laura Fitzgerald said.

The movie's producers also hired a neurodivergent producer and crew members to work behind the scenes.

More than 5 million adults in the U.S. have autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By some estimates, their unemployment rate is 85%.

Making workplaces and hiring processes more inclusive can help open doors to people ready to contribute.

William Fitzgerald said he may share a diagnosis with his character, but their personalities are very different.

"This kid's like the opposite of me," he said. "He doesn't like hugs. … All I know is I gave hugs every two minutes to the cast."

"Ezra" embraced William Fitzgerald — and showed everyone what's possible.

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