How Five Feet Apart Director Justin Baldoni Channeled Love for Late Friend Into Directorial Debut

PEOPLE.com | 3/15/2019 | Staff
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Jane the Virgin star Justin Baldoni admits that he “has no idea” how he convinced Hollywood to let him make his directorial debut Five Feet Apart —a romantic drama starring Haley Lu Richardson and Riverdale‘s Cole Sprouse.

“If this movie being made were a math equation, it wouldn’t add up,” he tells PEOPLE.

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That’s not technically true because Baldoni, best known for his work in front of the camera as reformed rich playboy Raphael on Jane the Virgin, was in the right place at the right time — with the right idea and genuine passion for the project.

Before Jane the Virgin, Baldoni, 35, worked on an inspirational docu-series called My Last Daysthis link opens in a new tab, in which individuals living with terminal illnesses are interviewed about their lives. Through that, he met a special young woman named Claire Winelandthis link opens in a new tab, whose story inspired Five Feet Apart.

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“I wanted so much to tell stories of people who were sick and dying in order to hopefully help inspire people to live better lives,” he says. “And through that I can point and reference every positive thing that’s happened in my life back to that decision to leave the glamour behind and to just focus on making impact.”

Baldoni says he can trace his film’s origin to a conversation he had with Wineland.

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“She told me about the six-foot rule [featured in the film]. I had a meeting with CBS Films as an actor to be in one of their movies and the day after Claire told me this, I called Mark Ross, the executive I was meeting with and said, ‘I have this idea that I just need to pitch you.’ And he said, ‘Come on in.’ So I came in, I pitched in the movie, showed him a little...
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