Temple Grandin (film)

Temple Grandin is a 2010 American biographical drama film directed by Mick Jackson and starring Claire Danes as Temple Grandin, an autistic woman whose innovations revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses.

Temple Grandin
Film poster
Based onEmergence
by Temple Grandin
Margaret Scariano
Thinking in Pictures
by Temple Grandin
Screenplay by
Directed byMick Jackson
Music byAlex Wurman
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Editor(s)Leo Trombetta
Running time107 minutes
DistributorHBO Films
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • February 6, 2010 (2010-02-06)

The film won several awards including five Primetime Emmy Awards, and Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild prizes for Danes.


Temple Grandin (Danes) is an uncommunicative child who is prone to tantrums and is diagnosed with autism. The medical consensus at that time was that autism was a form of schizophrenia resulting from insufficient maternal affection. Despite recommendations to place her in an institution, Grandin's mother (Ormond) hires therapists and works to help her daughter adapt to social interaction.

As a teenager, Temple travels to her aunt (O'Hara) and uncle's ranch to work. She observes cows being placed into a squeeze chute to calm them, and, during an anxiety attack, she uses the chute to calm herself. Inspired by her teacher, Dr. Carlock (Strathairn) to pursue science, she is admitted to Franklin Pierce College where she develops an early version of the squeeze machine to calm herself during stressful times. Her college misinterprets the use of the machine as a sexual act and forces her to remove it. In response, she develops a scientific protocol to test subjects' reactions to the machine, proving it to be a purely therapeutic device. Grandin graduates with a degree in psychology and pursues a master's degree in animal science.

Temple faces sexism while attempting to integrate into the world of cattle ranching but ultimately designs a new dip structure designed to allow cattle to voluntarily move through rather than being forced. Initially, the device works as intended, and garners favorable coverage in local press, but ranch hands, not understanding her design, dismissively alter it, resulting in the drowning of several cows. Angered, Grandin visits Carlock, and leaves the meeting encouraged to continue her efforts to improve the industry.

The conclusion of the film depicts the 1981 National Autistic Convention that Temple and her mother attend. Given the rudimentary state of autism research, the speaker cannot answer many questions from the audience, but Temple speaks out from the crowd explaining how she has adapted. Temple also describes her mother's contributions to her success. Excited by the opportunity to hear from someone with real experience, the audience calls her to the podium, marking Temple's transition into autism advocacy.


  • Claire Danes as Temple Grandin
  • Catherine O'Hara as Aunt Ann, Temple's aunt and sister in-law of Eustacia. As a teenager, Temple often visited her Arizona cattle ranch during the summer.
  • Julia Ormond as Eustacia Cutler, 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.
  • 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.
  • Charles Baker as Billy, a worker at Aunt Ann's farm.
  • Barry Tubb as Randy.



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.[1]

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.'"[1][2]

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.[1][3] 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).[4] Russell later dropped out and was replaced by Moisés 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).[1][5]

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."[1][5]

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.[6]


Temple Grandin began shooting in October 2008 at Austin Studios in Austin, Texas.[3][7] 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.[8]

Gerson Saines brought Grandin to observe the last day of shooting, which was a scene involving a cattle dip tank that Grandin had designed.[1][6] 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."[6]



The film was previewed on January 27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, in a screening attended by Grandin.[9] 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."[10]

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.[11]


Upon its February 6, 2010 debut, Temple Grandin received a Metacritic score of 84/100 based on reviews from 19 critics.[12] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 100% approval rating based on six reviews.[13]

Entertainment Weekly's Jennifer Armstrong wrote:

Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times called it:

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."[16]

The A.V. Club's Noel Murray, himself the father of an autistic son, wrote:

Murray gives the film a grade 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."[17]

NPR's David Bianculli unambiguously named the film:


Organization Category Nominee Result Reference
Primetime Emmy Awards
Outstanding Made for Television MovieEmily Gerson Saines
Gil Bellows
Anthony Edwards
Dante Di Loreto
Paul Lister
Alison Owen
Scott Ferguson
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic SpecialMick JacksonWon
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a MovieClaire DanesWon
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieDavid StrathairnWon
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a MovieCatherine O'HaraNominated
Julia OrmondWon
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic SpecialChristopher Monger, William Merritt JohnsonNominated
Creative Arts Emmy Awards
Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a MovieLeo TrombettaWon
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a SpecialAlex WurmanWon
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries, Movie or a SpecialRichard Hoover, Meghan C. Rogers,
Gabriella Villarreal, SDSA
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a SpecialDavid Rubin, Richard Hicks, Beth SepkoNominated
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a MovieGeorgie Sheffer, Charles YuskoNominated
Outstanding Main Title DesignMichael Riley, Zee Nederlander, Dru Nget,
Bob Swensen
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic)Tarra Day, Meredith JohnsNominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a SpecialBryan Bowen, Vanessa LaPato, Paul Curtis,
Petra Bach, Bruce Tannis, Ellen Segal,
David Lee, Hilda Hodges
Golden Globe Awards
Best Miniseries or Television FilmNominated[20]
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television FilmClaire DanesWon
Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmDavid StrathairnNominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieClaire DanesWon[21]
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieCatherine O'HaraNominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieJulia OrmondNominated
Satellite Awards
Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture Made for TelevisionWon
Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television FilmsClaire DanesWon
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Television FilmsCatherine O'HaraNominated
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Television FilmsDavid StrathairnWon

Temple Grandin also won a Peabody Award in 2010 "for turning a superbly acted, inspirational film biography into an experiential event as well."[22]


  1. LaScale, Marisa. "Emily Gerson Saines of Larchmont mixes her career and her life's work for her new HBO film." Westchester Magazine, 22 January 2010.
  2. "Emily Gerson Saines: 'I Live With Autism 24/7.'" Celebrity Baby Scoop, 2010-02-05.
  3. Austin Screens: Film News. AustinChronicle.com. Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
  4. Animal magnetism at HBO.(Brief Article) – Daily Variety | HighBeam Research – FREE trial. Accessmylibrary.com (2002-03-13). Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
  5. James Hibberd (January 14, 2010). "Claire Danes circles autism biopic". Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  6. Lyman, Rick. "No More Crushes; This Is Serious." The New York Times, 29 January 2010.
  7. Print an Article. Austin Chronicle (2008-12-26). Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
  8. Archived March 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  9. suntimes. suntimes. Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
  10. "HBO high on fantasy 'Game of Thrones'". Archived from the original on January 18, 2010.
  11. "'Temple Grandin': View a trailer from the upcoming film". Drovers.com. 2010-01-18. Archived from the original on 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
  12. "Temple Grandin". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  13. "Temple Grandin". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  14. Armstrong, Jennifer. "Temple Grandin." Entertainment Weekly, 27 January 2010.
  15. Stanley, Alessandra. "Peering Into a Mind That's 'Different, but Not Less'." The New York Times, 4 February 2010.
  16. Bianco, Robert. "Claire Danes grand in HBO's 'Temple Grandin' biopic." USA Today, 7 February 2010.
  17. Murray, Noel. "Temple Grandin." The A.V. Club, 6 February 2010.
  18. Bianculli, David. Temple Grandin: The Woman Who Talks to Animals NPR, 5 February 2010.
  19. "AWARDS & NOMINATIONS". Emmys.com. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  20. "Golden Globe Awards for 'Temple Grandin'". Goldenglobes.com. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  21. King, Susan (30 January 2011). "SAG Awards: Claire Danes wins for 'Temple Grandin'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  22. 70th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2011.
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