Metro Weekly

Fisher Stevens based Palmer’s gender non-conforming child on his nephew

For Palmer's Fisher Stevens, the story of an ex-con who bonds with a gender non-conforming kid was one that needed telling

Fisher Stevens, palmer
Palmer: Fisher Stevens

“There were two main things that drew me to this story,” says Fisher Stevens of his new film Palmer, which debuted on Apple TV+ last weekend. “One was that the character of Sam was similar to my nephew Max, who at seven played with dolls, wore dresses, and whose friends were all girls. He had this incredible depth and wisdom for a seven-year-old.

“The other thing is that Trump had just been elected, and I was very concerned about my own lack of understanding of America [in 2016]. And here was a movie that took place in the rural South that overwhelmingly elected Trump. I thought it could be interesting to get out of my New York bubble.”

Stevens is a highly recognizable and regarded actor, having appeared in too many movies and TV series to list here, with The Good Fight and Succession among his recent appearances. He’s also notable for having been part of the original Broadway cast of Torch Song Trilogy in the early ’80s, playing Harvey Fierstein’s adopted son, David.

Stevens is also an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, and Palmer is one of his few forays into feature filmmaking. “It’s very different going into a narrative space,” he says. “You’re writing documentaries during the editing. But the thing that’s great about the narrative space is I already have my script. And I love working with actors because I am an actor and I love creating that feeling of a company.”

Ryder Allen in Palmer
Ryder Allen in Palmer

Palmer tells the story of a southern man (Justin Timberlake) who, upon his release from jail, connects on a profound, emotional level with a gender non-conforming seven-year-old. The film also tackles the issue of convicted felons who, upon release, have a nearly impossible time reintegrating into society. Palmer creates a redemptive space for its protagonist that is at once unusual and genuine. The film is as compelling as they come, in part due to Timberlake’s potent, centered performance and his chemistry with eight-year-old co-star, Ryder Allen, a revelation as Sam.

“Ryder wasn’t the first choice in my mind,” admits Stevens. “I had five kids I thought were pretty good. But as soon as he got in the room with Justin [at the audition], it was pretty clear we had no choice. He’s magical and wise beyond his years. We struck gold discovering him.”

Though Ryder isn’t gender non-conforming, the young actor stepped into the role with ease. “We tried to let Ryder be Ryder and keep to his authentic self during shooting. He had no issues at all with anything. The one who had issues was Carson [Minniear], who played a character who had to bully Sam. Carson felt really nauseous after the scene — he felt like he had to throw up. He was the one I had to talk off a ledge because he felt so guilty about the bullying.”

Palmer is available for streaming on AppleTV+. Visit

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