Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin Information

Temple Grandin is a 2010 biopic directed by Mick Jackson and starring Claire Danes as Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses.


The film starts off with Temple visiting her aunt for the summer and working on her ranch. She becomes interested in a cattle crush, a device that hugs the cows to "gentle them". One day, while having a panic attack, Temple places herself in the device and it helps to calm her down.

When Temple first attended college, she was very nervous when she moved into her college dorm. Temple had another panic attack in her room, but her mother gave her space by closing the door. Immediately after, her mother had a flashback to when Temple was little and had relentless tantrums. Before that, Temple was diagnosed with classic autism, a severe case of autism in which she seemed aloof, lacked eye contact, had no language, and avoided human affection and touch.

At this time, science classified autism as a form of schizophrenia, blaming mothers as the cause for the disorder and claiming that they were cold and aloof toward their autistic child, naming them "refrigerator mothers". The diagnostician suggested placing Temple in an institution. Temple's mother refused to listen to the diagnostician and helped Temple adapt to the everyday world. Her mother hired a speech therapist, who worked one-on-one with Temple and enabled her to acquire language.

During Temple's college years, she conceptualized the squeeze machine, which was designed for herself because she had a sensory processing disorder and disliked physical affection by people. The machine hugs both sides of her to calm her down, as she controls the pressure, and it makes her relaxed whenever she becomes tense.

Even though the machine worked, the school forced Temple to remove it, claiming that it was some kind of sexual device. Later after spring break ended, Temple and her aunt came back to school to persuade the school to let her use the device. Temple later proved through rigorous scientific study that the machine was only a calming device and, as a result, she was allowed to keep it. She uses this machine for self-medicating reasons ever since.

Later on, the movie flashes back to when Temple was just being admitted to Hampshire Country School. She was expelled from her previous high school because a child taunted her and she hit him with a book. There, she meets a supportive teacher, Dr. Carlock, who encourages her to go further into science as a career and to eventually attend college.

Temple does indeed graduate from college and becomes a worker at a ranch. She rebuilds a new dip, and alters a slaughterhouse for cows so that it is much more humane. The film concludes with an autism fair convention, which Temple and her mother attend.

Temple speaks out from the crowd and tells the audience how she overcame her difficulties and was able to achieve academically, as well as how her mother helped her deal with the everyday world. The people become so fascinated that they request Temple to speak in front of the auditorium.

Cast and characters

  • Claire Danes as Temple Grandin
  • Catherine O'Hara as Aunt Ann, Temple's aunt and sister of Eustacia. As a teenager, Temple often visited her Arizona cattle ranch during the summer.
  • Julia Ormond as Eustacia Grandin, Temple's mother. When Temple was younger, Eustacia was in denial over the doctor's diagnosis of Temple's autism. Eustacia was determined to have her daughter receive an education and lead a normal life despite the diagnosis.
  • David Strathairn as Dr. Carlock, Temple's boarding school science teacher and mentor. Carlock was aware of Temple's visual skills and was supportive in furthering her education.


The idea for a biopic of Grandin originated with its executive producer Emily Gerson Saines, a successful talent agent and a co-founder of the nonprofit Autism Coalition for Research and Education (now part of Autism Speaks). In the mid-1990s, Gerson Saines was a vice-president at the William Morris Agency when her 2-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. She learned about Grandin soon afterward, when her mother told her about seeing Grandin's book Thinking in Pictures in a bookstore and, around the same time, her grandmother independently sent her an article about Grandin by Oliver Sacks.

Reading about Grandin renewed Gerson Saines' "energy, motivation and spirit" in coping with her son's condition. "Temple's story brought me hope and (her mother)'s story gave me direction and purpose," Gerson Saines said in a later interview. "Parents of a child with autism everywhere need to hear it, functionally and spiritually. I knew this story had to be told and given my access as a talent representative in the entertainment industry, I felt it was my responsibility to make that happen." Through Grandin's agent, Gerson Saines asked to meet Grandin for lunch. "She came in wearing her cowgirl shirt"?-in her very Temple way, in her very Temple walk. I realized that there were people staring at her, and in a different lifetime I might have been one of them, but all I could think of was, 'I can't believe how lucky I am to be here. This woman's my hero.'"

Grandin was familiar with Gerson Saines' work with the Autism Coalition and granted her permission to make the film, but the endeavor"?first launched in the late 1990s"?would take more than ten years to come to fruition. Variety reported in 2002 that David O. Russell was attached to direct the film from a screenplay by Merritt Johnson (adapting from Grandin's memoirs Emergence and Thinking in Pictures). Russell later dropped out and was replaced by Moises Kaufman, who also left the project. By 2008, director Mick Jackson had taken the helm and Claire Danes was in negotiations to star as Grandin. Johnson's script had been replaced by one from Christopher Monger (both Johnson and Monger are credited as writers of the finished film).

One element Gerson Saines was sure about from the beginning was that she wanted to work with HBO, in part because of her longstanding relationship with the network through her work as an agent. "But I also knew that by going that route, more people will see it," she said. "When you're trying to make a movie like this," it's very rare that it reaches a wide audience." HBO was equally intrigued by the story, and Gerson Saines credits past and present HBO executives with keeping the project alive until it could be properly realized. "I made a commitment to Temple that I was going to make it and make it right...I never pushed to get it made until now, because now we got it right."

Jackson knew early on that Danes was his first choice to portray Grandin, believing that Danes' seriousness and dedication would help her to capture Grandin's mercurial mental and emotional shifts without veering the film into disease-of-the-week melodrama. Danes herself was coming off a string of more lightweight roles (whose "primary job and experience [was] to become gaga over a man," she described) and eager to take on a more demanding part. Although she was only vaguely aware of Grandin at the time, Danes dove into research, including watching documentaries about Grandin and studying Grandin's books and recordings. "It was really daunting, because she's alive and has a great eye for detail," Danes said. The two women spent about six hours together in Danes' apartment, ending with a hug from Grandin ("For her, that's not easy," Danes observed), which Danes was glad to take as validation that Grandin approved of her for the role.


Temple Grandin began shooting in October 2008 at Austin Studios in Austin, Texas. The film was noted for filming in Texas at a time when TV and film production had grown scarce in the state, and legislators were seeking to expand financial incentives to draw more film crews. Grandin producer Scott Ferguson said that Arizona, New Mexico and Canada had all been considered before producers had chosen Texas, in part because different areas of the state could be used to represent the rural West and New England. Ferguson also credited the abundance of trained film crews in the Austin and Dallas regions as a significant benefit to shooting in the area.

Gerson Saines brought Grandin to observe the last day of shooting, which was a scene involving a cattle dip tank that Grandin had designed. Although Grandin said that she tried to stay away from Danes to avoid impinging on her performance, she was quite concerned about the proper construction of the tank and about the breed of cattle being used in the scene. "I thought, we can't have a silly thing like that City Slickers movie, where they had Holstein cattle out there," Grandin said. "If you know anything about cattle, you'd know that was stupid." She said watching Danes on the monitors was "like going back in a weird time machine to the '60s."



The film was previewed on January 27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, in a screening attended by Grandin. A trailer was previewed for critics during their winter press tour on January 14; critics responded positively to "the film's bright palette and inventive direction."

HBO and bookstore chain Barnes & Noble partnered to promote both the film and Grandin's books, displaying information about autism and the film in all Barnes & Noble stores and creating a free downloadable coloring book about Grandin, using illustrations by autistic artists. Grandin appeared for a special book signing, discussion and preview of the film at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble on January 25.


Upon its February 6, 2010 debut, Temple Grandin received positive reviews from critics, including a Metacritic score of 84/100 (averaged from 19 critical reviews). Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 100% approval rating, based on 6 reviews.

Entertainment Weekly's Jennifer Armstrong wrote, "The beauty of [the film] is that it makes the title character's autism "? and the unique insight it gave her into livestock psychology "? relatable to anyone with a heart, and fascinating to anyone with a brain. The fact that it does so with such a singular story only makes the movie that much greater." Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times called it "a made for-television biopic that avoids the mawkish clichés of the genre without draining the narrative of color and feeling. Ms. Danes is completely at ease in her subject's lumbering gait and unmodulated voice. She makes Temple's anxiety as immediate and contagious as her rarer bursts of merriment... And as the character ages and learns more social graces, Ms. Danes seamlessly captures Temple's progress."

Robert Bianco of USA Today wrote that unlike many other HBO productions, "Temple is an incredibly joyous and often humorous film." While praising the direction and the strong supporting cast of Catherine O'Hara, David Strathairn, and Julia Ormond, Bianco declared that "as good as everything is around them, Temple Grandin belongs to two women: the real Temple, who appears to be a spectacular human being, and Danes, who is clearly a spectacular actor." The AV Club's Noel Murray, himself the father of an autistic son, wrote that "some of the movie's aesthetic choices border on the cliché. The pulsing minimalism of Alex Wurman's score has become as much a shorthand for 'intellectual mystery' as Arabic wailing has for 'Danger! Terrorists!,' and Temple Grandin's illustrative animated sequences run a little too close to A Beautiful Mind for my taste." However, Murray gave the film an A-, in part for Danes' success in portraying Grandin as a full-fledged personality instead of "a checklist of symptoms gleaned from a medical journal."

NPR's David Bianculli unambiguously named the film "the best tele-movie of the past several years... I can't praise this movie highly enough. It's not maudlin or sentimental, but it is excitingly inspirational. It scores big emotional points with very small touches, the sound of a heartbeat, a tentative touch, a victorious smile. The acting, writing, directing, production values, every sight and every sound in HBO's Temple Grandin is perfect."


Primetime Emmy Awards

Category Nominee Outcome
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Mick Jackson
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Claire Danes
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie David Strathairn
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Catherine O'Hara
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Julia Ormond
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Christopher Monger, William Merritt Johnson

Creative Arts Emmy Awards

Category Nominee Outcome
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie
or a Special
Leo Trombetta
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie
or a Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Alex Wurman
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Richard Hoover, Meghan C. Rogers,
Gabriella Villarreal, SDSA
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Beth Sepko
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Georgie Sheffer, Charles Yusko
Outstanding Main Title Design Michael Riley, Zee Nederlander, Dru Nget,
Bob Swensen
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic) Tarra Day, Meredith Johns
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Bryan Bowen, Vanessa LaPato, Paul Curtis,
Petra Bach, Bruce Tannis, Ellen Segal,
David Lee, Hilda Hodges

Golden Globe Awards

Category Nominee Outcome
Best Miniseries or Television Film
Best Actress " Miniseries or Television Film Claire Danes
Best Supporting Actor " Series, Miniseries or Television Film David Strathairn

Screen Actors Guild Awards

Category Nominee Outcome
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Claire Danes
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Catherine O'Hara
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Julia Ormond

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