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Local actress gets chance to shine on the big screen

Wednesday November 24, 2010

9News.com - Lucy Roucis story is a tale persistence, hope, and never giving up.

In the mid 1980s, she was a fresh-faced young actress from Colorado perusing a dream in Los Angeles. Then she was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's disease when she was 27. She returned to Colorado to find success on the local stage with PHAMALy: The Physically Handicapped Musical Artists League. She also turned her illness into a subject for her comedy routine.

By the summer of 2007, the disease had totally robbed her of any self sufficiency. She traveled to the Cleveland Clinic for surgery on her brain. Deep brain stimulation can help some patients with the symptoms of Parkinson's, but it is not a cure.

Roucis' surgery was successful and she returned to Colorado and continued to win the hearts of audiences through her local stage work. In the summer of 2009, she received a phone call from an acquaintance in Los Angeles. A casting notice for a major motion picture had caught the friend's eye.

"'They are looking for a woman, 40 to 60, with real Parkinson's to do stand up comedy,'" Roucis recalls her friend telling her. "I said, 'What? You are kidding me!"

The film "Love and Other Drugs" is a romantic comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. In the film, Hathaway's character is diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's.

Roucis quickly put together an audition tape and sent it to the casting office. Then, for three months, she waited.

"One night I got so frustrated I threw out the casting director's phone number, thinking they have obliviously hired someone else," she said. "Then when I let it go, it came to me."

The next day, the phone call came: she had gotten the part. It is a small but pivotal role in the movie. Two weeks later, she was on the set in Pittsburgh shooting her scene.

"When it came time to shoot, that's when it gets good!" she laughed, her hands beginning to shake. "I'm shaking talking about it right now because it means so much to me. After I did my takes, I've never heard laughter like that from all the crew. I can't repeat my lines because there is some swearing."

"When I told my mother, she about fell over," Roucis said.

She was also encouraged to ad lib and use material she had written in her own stand up comedy routine.

More than a year later, she found herself on the red carpet at the premier of the film in Hollywood.

"My friend in Los Angeles let me go through her closet to find a dress, but I ended up liking the one I had brought with me," she said. "It was $10 at Ross."

"A publicist met me and then it was time, all of these photographers were yelling, 'Lucy! Over here! Lucy!' And lots of flashes!" she remembered.

Next came watching the actual movie.

"I really, really liked it. Anne Hathaway nailed it!" Roucis said.

Then came the moment she had been waiting for her entire life: her scene up on the big screen.

"I heard my voice, and I will tell you something, I don't really remember much of it, because I was so in the moment, but I do remember the laughter from the audience, and feeling very small compared to how big I was on the screen," she said. "I felt really accomplished and I was crying and the casting director of the film who was sitting next to me held me as I wept."

"That was not a Hollywood moment. It was a person-to-person moment," she said.

She hopes people see the film and leave knowing a little more about Parkinson's disease and knowing more about relationships in general.

Roucis plans to see the film, which opens on Wednesday, again with a group of friends. She also continues an outreach program for PHAMALy, educating people on her disease. She is hopeful Hollywood will do a better job of hiring people with disabilities in the future.