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'Ice Dreams' Strikes a Chord With Jerry Stiller

There are undoubtedly ice dreams aplenty in these last few weeks leading up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Medals, skates and costumes — this is the stuff of which such dreams are made for so many fans at this time in the Olympiad.

This dream bug has bitten many throughout the years and, from it, stories of pain and victory are born. We’re sure to see some this February in Vancouver. But February seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Good thing then that the Hallmark Channel has a little something to tide over the dreamers until the Games kick off. Because, really, a lot of us want to see some skating stories already.

“I love the Olympics!” said Noelle Bruno, the actress and former figure skater who stars in “Ice Dreams,” which will premiere on the Hallmark Channel on Jan.23 at 9 p.m. ET. The movie tells the story of a 17-year-old figure skater named Nicky, whose personal ice dream is hindered by lack of funds until ex-Olympian Amy Clayton, steps in to bolster the teen’s career and, in so doing, recovers herown sense of joy.

Bruno, who will be watching the 2010 Olympic Games, was excited to be cast as the Nicky. “The story is like my story,” she said. Bruno trained as a figure skater from age 10 to her mid-teens, but was never able to afford the kind of skating regimen required of competitive skating. There’s an audible exclamation point in her voice as she continues talking about her thoughts when she learned the story to “Ice Dreams.” She thought, “My Mom will just die! It’s a lot like my life. It was my part from the beginning.”

In the movie, Nicky’s mother is divorced, mirroring Bruno’s experience as a girl. As the fictional mother makes phone calls from the boards at the local rink in attempts to find affordable coaching for her daughter, an idea is born to the eavesdropping rink manager named Skipper (Jerry Stiller) and the rink owner Tim (Brady Smith).

“The ice rink was very much a gathering place for the people in the community,” said Stiller. His character runs the rink with Tim, who inherited the facility from an uncle.

One visitor to the rink is Amy Clayton (Jessica Cauffiel), an ex-Olympian who skates only privately after tragedy struck her family years earlier just before her shot at Olympic glory. She brings figure skating expertise to the small rink and Nicky’s training.

Cauffiel was herself an avid skater until about age 16, “The rink is actually the lead character in the film,” she said. “The dream, the hope, the wishes, the crux of every character unfolds on the ice.”

Cauffiel recalls reading the script for the first time. “I cried the whole way through,” she said. She then added, “I thought, ‘If the script makes me this emotional, I’ve got to do the film.’”

And that’s why she found herself cramming in a couple of hours of refresher classes in a California rink the day before she skated for Hallmark officials who were trying to cast a convincible Amy.

“It’s hard to find actresses who could skate,” she said. “They couldn’t find a skater who was dramatically trained for [Amy’s] emotional journey.”

Cauffiel found out two hours later that she had won the part. As a child, skating competitively “was the biggest dream in my heart,” she said. “[Now] I actually got to live out my dream.”

Helping to make the dream as realistic as possible were skating doubles for both Cauffiel and Bruno. In Bruno’s case, the actress set up a jump by doing a single, which was then replaced by Danielle Kahle’s double for the movie. Bruno did all the moves in between.

Believability in the movie was important to writers James Bruner and Elizabeth Stevens. “We researched it by going to a skating rink,” said Stevens. Bruner lists coaches, students and rink workers as people in the skating community they talked with to develop a feeling of authenticity in the movie.

The rink in “Ice Dreams” has its own community with one very important member being Stiller’s Skipper.“[Skipper] helped pull the different threads together [in the movie],” Bruner said.

In one scene, Skipper watches a televised skating competition with the enthusiasm that is so familiar to anyone who has ever cheered a hometown favorite. It’s easy to see that

Stiller is a skating fan himself. “I love watching it,” he said referencing the “combination of ballet, dance and athleticism – everything I can’t do” that makes up the sport. He remembers watching Sasha Cohen, Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan at one competition. “Everyone who went out was so terrific and the pressure was so intense. [They] couldn’t make one false move,” Stiller reflects. “In this kind of thing, there should be no losers. When they fall, my heart drops.”

Stiller has always loved skating. He recalls watching a hockey game as a young boy at Madison Square Garden where the Montreal Canadians played the New York Rangers. He fondly remembers a New Year’s Eve game that ended just before midnight when, after all the night’s fist-fighting, a rendition of Auld Lang Syne was played and followed by the rival teams hugging one another.

He remembers, too, telling his high school sweetheart of his acting dreams during intermission at the Center Theater’s Ice Capades where he’d purchased the 55 cent seats. (It didn’t go well and the teenage Stiller launched into a Jimmy Durante impression to smooth things over, a memory that makes Stiller chuckle now.)

Through the years, trips to Rockefeller Center during the holidays and to the Wollman Rink in Central Park with daughter Amy and son Ben offered more opportunities to enjoy the sport.

Bruno and Cauffiel continue to skate recreationally and all will be watching when the Olympic Games in Vancouver commence.

For now, the rest of us can tune in to watch “Ice Dreams,” as its pretty clear these kinds of dreams are shared by all. As Cauffiel stated, “You don’t need to be a figure skater to enjoy [the movie]. You only need to be human.”


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