Fantasy-drama ‘Nathan’s Kingdom’ Explores World of Autism

A new film explores the bond between a young man with autism and the sister who cares for him.

Nathan’s Kingdom stars Jacob Lince, a 24-year-old actor who has autism. Cast members say the fantasy-drama was a journey of discovery much like the odyssey of the movie’s characters.

As a child, Lince was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, a condition that hampers the ability to communicate. He developed a talent in acting and became part of a program called Performing Arts Studio West, which provides training for people with developmental disabilities.

“I literally went there, introduced myself and got to really know what they’re all about,” said the film’s writer-director, Olicer J. Munoz. “That’s where Jacob and I discovered each other,” he said.

On a quest

Lince has faced challenges, but none as severe as those faced by the character in the film.

“He is a very complex human being,” Lince said of Nathan, who is battling imaginary demons, embodied through graphic visual effects. “He’s been through a lot in his life, and he’s had this idea in his head since he was very young about ‘the kingdom,’” said Lince, “where he feels he can be safe, and where he can escape all the darkness out there and inside of him.”

The character takes his reluctant sister, Laura, played by Madison Ford, on his quest for the mythical kingdom. Laura is Nathan’s caregiver who is battling a demon of her own — opiate addiction. Together, they embark on a road trip through the Mojave Desert.

An adventure

Ford said that Lince is calm and optimistic, unlike the character in the story.

“Filming this was an adventure in of itself,” she said, “and it was so cool to have an adventure partner there with me,” she said. “Jacob is funny, but he takes his (acting) job seriously, as well,” she added.

The film was a labor of love for Munoz, who had trouble getting funding. He said studios liked the story, but none would offer financing. So, he raised the funds himself with his producers.

“We shot a little bit, ran out of money, raised more money,” he said. “Then we spent all that money for our next block of filming, and then we raised more money. And little by little, we were able to make this film a reality in the course of about 3½ years.”

Fulfilling journey

Nathan’s Kingdom was screened at the historic Grauman’s TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood as a selection of the Dances with Films festival. About 200 films were selected from more than 2,000 entries.

“We want unique, fresh voices,” said festival co-founder Leslee Scallon. “We want it [the festival] also to have great performances.” Nathan’s Kingdom has both, she said.

Cast members had a hard but fulfilling journey, like the characters in the film, Lince said.

“We made a lot of friends, and at the end of the day, I think we all did a great job. And it was a fantastic experience,” he added.

Lince is studying filmmaking in college and hopes to make a career in the movie industry. He also hopes to see more roles for actors on the autism spectrum like him, and more stories like Nathan’s Kingdom on the big screen.

About 1 in 59 children in the United States has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition is about four times more common among boys than girls, the CDC notes.

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