The idea for "Gracie" began with Andrew Shue, an actor (TV's "Melrose Place," "The Rainmaker"), entrepreneur and soccer aficionado who had an idea to create a feature-film based loosely on the Shue family history.
"Gracie," while not strictly a biographical film, is heavily inspired by events in the real life of Andrew's sister, Elisabeth, famous for her roles in films such as "Leaving Las Vegas," "Adventures in Babysitting," "The Saint," "Hollow Man" and "The Karate Kid." But before she was an Oscar-nominated actress, Elisabeth was a teenager living in suburban New Jersey in the mid-1970s. At that time there were no girl's high school soccer teams. From the age of nine through 13, Elisabeth was the only girl playing soccer in the year-round town soccer leagues.
"In our family, like in Gracie's, the way you got attention was to score goals and to stand out as an athlete. I loved the game of soccer and although there were times when being the only girl on boys' teams was extremely lonely, I also loved the competition and challenge of always having to fight to be seen as an equal," says Elisabeth.
Soccer ran in the family blood. Their father captained the Harvard College team in 1958, and each member of the Shue clan wore his lucky number 7 on their jersey. Will, the oldest, captained the Columbia High School team and scored the winning goal in the 1978 State Championship. Younger brother John went on to become a Regional All-American while at Harvard College. Andrew played at Dartmouth, professionally in Africa and later in the United States with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In discussing the sport's impact on his family, Andrew says:
Soccer really was our lifeblood. It was the thing that defined us. It was the thing that helped give each of us our confidence. It also gave us a connection to our father who had played and gave us that real sense of a shared history and that connection between the generations. I think soccer is the sport most like life. It is free flowing. You have to work and work and work and if you are lucky you put the ball in the goal once. Sometimes that is enough to win.
An article in the family's local paper once touted, "The Shues Get Their Kicks," explaining how there was a Shue in every single division of their soccer league, from Andrew and Elisabeth's father down to their younger brother John. But perhaps the real catalyst for the film was the unexpected loss of brother Will in 1988.
"It's been nearly 20 years since he died, so it's almost just enough time where you can actually start to talk about it without getting overwhelmed," says Andrew. "He was just this incredible person who taught all of us about what's most important in life; your relationships, how you treat each other and how you never give up no matter what the odds are."
Says Elisabeth, "Will was the one who was always most proud of us when we accomplished anything. He was such a kind spirit. The bird in the film was based on a baby hawk named Amber that he found in Maine and kept in his room, even sleeping with it at night to nurse it back to life." Adds John Shue: "In a conversation with our father a year before he died, Will said, 'You feel as if everyone should write a book before they die, but their book is already written...the pages live within those they've touched'."
When Andrew announced he wanted to make a film honoring his brother, the family sport and his sister's trailblazing efforts, his family rallied around him to help get the production off the ground. Elisabeth joined him as co-producer and co-star of the film. Her husband, Davis Guggenheim, a seasoned film and television director (and an Academy Award winner for "An Inconvenient Truth"), agreed to direct the movie. Brother John helped create the business model behind the movie.
In the next section, we'll find out how the filmmakers cast the movie.