Rutgers Writer’s Book Subject of Forthcoming Movie Starring Penelope Cruz

By Tom McLaughlin

Director Toni Kalem to give talk on film on Sept. 28 at Rutgers–Camden

Since Layover first captured the hearts and minds of readers in 1999, plans have been in the works to bring the critically acclaimed novel to the silver screen.

The bestseller – written by Lisa Zeidner, a professor of English at Rutgers University–Camden and a Cherry Hill resident – has been under option for development by five different writing teams, with Zeidner even penning the screenplay for the first team.

Lisa Zeidner

“Most independent film projects fail to get off the ground and the fate of the three production companies that attempted to do so was no different,” says Zeidner, the celebrated author of five novels.

With any luck, fans won’t have to wait too much longer.

The much-anticipated project is now in the final stages of development, as Penelope Cruz is set to star as the heroine, Claire Newbold, in a drama written and directed by screenwriter, actress, and director Toni Kalem.

Specializing in adapting novels, Kalem had her eye on Zeidner’s fourth novel since it came out. She was particularly taken with the lead character, a female protagonist unlike any she had ever seen before.

“Unhinged by grief, she still manages to be fierce and funny as she goes off the deep end,” says Kalem, perhaps best known for her role as Angie Bonpensiero, the long-suffering wife of Big Pussy on The Sopranos. “Her journey towards recovery and redemption was something I immediately understood. I knew I could portray her ‘unacceptable’ behavior without judgment. Like her, I’d survived grief by going off the deep end: both as a swimmer and by a secret life that brought me back to myself.”

Kalem maintains that that there has been a lack of such leading roles for women – especially those past a certain age – to behave in ways that are traditionally reserved for men.

“There are far too few roles where the woman stands at the center of the story and is able to take the full journey to the bottom of her life and come back up again,” says Kalem. “Claire Newbold is one of those few. I knew it would be a tour de force role for an actress.”


Toni Kalem

Kalem will give a free, public talk about the Layover film project from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the Multi-Purpose Room, located in the Campus Center.

An expert on film production, Kalem will also shed light on careers in acting, screenwriting, and directing; the challenges of adapting novels for the screen; the challenges for women in Hollywood; and the realities of making independent films. Clips from her acting and directing careers will be shown.

“This will be a unique opportunity for Rutgers audiences to hear all about the development process, what is happening now on the film, and what will happen once the movie is released,” says Zeidner.

Prior to working on her latest project, Kalem also wrote the screenplay and directed A Slipping-Down Life, starring Lili Taylor and Guy Pierce, based on Anne Tyler’s 1970 identically titled novel. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Born in Springfield, Kalem began her acting career in the late 1970s, with her first prominent part in the 1979 film The Wanderers. She later appeared on soap operas and, in addition to her role as Angie Bonpensiero, wrote for “The Sopranos” and “The Big C.”

For more information on Kalem’s talk or to register, visit

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