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HA

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HOMELESS TO HARVARD: THE LIZ MURRAY STORY

While other kids grow up focusing on things such as video games and hanging out at the mall, Liz Murray spent her early years worrying about whether her parents were going out to score drugs late at night and when she'd eat her next meal. Murray (played by Thora Birch) and her family lived in a filthy, impoverished environment. Worse still, Murray's mother (played by Kelly Lynch) was schizophrenic, legally blind and afflicted with AIDS. After her mother passed away, Murray, then age 15, lived on the streets alone ? eating from Dumpsters, sleeping on subway cars and depending on her street smarts for survival.

Somehow, the naturally bright but uneducated teen found the strength and courage to see beyond the bleakness. "I always knew there was something inside me worth exploring," says Murray. The troubled teen invested a lot of energy in pursuing her education; she miraculously graduated from high school in two years and eventually won a New York Times scholarship to Harvard University. Murray did all this while still homeless! This real-life story, starring the talented Thora Birch, will inspire you to pursue your dreams, no matter what obstacles lie ahead!


Interview by Rachel Cohen

She was homeless at 15, but by the age of 19, Liz Murray was attending an Ivy League school. And by 22, she was helping to create a TV movie based on her life. Yet in spite of her awe-inspiring accomplishments ? and the fact that celebrities such as Thora Birch and Kelly Lynch are singing her praises ? Murray couldn't be more humble or friendly, making her that much more amazing. So imagine our excitement at snagging a lunch date with Murray and sitting down for two hours of great conversation. Read what she had to say about watching "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story," writing an autobiography and her dreams for the future.


Lifetime: Have you seen "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" yet?

Liz Murray: Yes. Thora and Kelly's acting is so believable. I actually cried during one of the scenes where Thora is giving Kelly [who plays Murray's mom] a bath. Most of the dialogue is pulled from real life, so watching it really struck a chord with me. I also liked how the film didn't make me into some hero. It just shows the matter-of-fact circumstances I was dealing with, and that my life ? like everyone else's ? is under my own control.

Lifetime: How did you feel about the casting of the Lifetime movie?

Murray: My friends made a list of actresses who they thought might play me. Julia Stiles, Jena Malone and Thora Birch were all on the list. When they told me that Thora had said yes, I was really excited. I spent two days with her in L.A. and I could see her trying to study my mannerisms. She was so kind ? she went out of her way to connect with me. Kelly is wonderful too. I wish she were my mother. She really cared about portraying my mom in an accurate way. She read me a line of the script and said, "Read this back the way your mother might have said it."

Lifetime: What was it like being on the set?

Murray: The strangest part was walking onto the set for the cameo I perform [in the movie]. I was dressed like a social worker coming in to take myself away as a 12-year-old. It was weird. I had to hold back from laughing a few times.

Lifetime: Have you been bitten by the show business bug?

Murray: I've always been in love with the medium. I've sketched out screenplays and taken film classes. I'd like to make films ? not big Hollywood blockbusters, but films with real thought to them. Some of my favorites are "The Color Purple" and "Forest Gump."

Lifetime: Speaking of writing, you're also writing a book about your life?

Murray: Yes. It's been an intimate experience. When I close the door, I can cry my eyes out writing passages ? it's wonderful and so cathartic. There is so little opportunity in life to really mourn, because life has such a fast pace to it and you don't want to be left behind. The book is my license to sit by myself and dwell on this for a while. I needed to put my story down in order to not forget it, so it counted for something.

Lifetime: Does writing down your memories make you yearn for your family?

Murray: Lots of things do, like hearing a friend call out to her mom. I think to myself, I'll never do that again. The little, kind gestures you see a mother extend to her child, I've watched them a million times and it's like something inside me hurts. There is something about a parent's love that determines the size of the world for you; it's your foundation. In the deepest, most important sense there are no adults there for me.

Lifetime: Have your friends become like family?

Murray: Definitely. I met most of them in junior high school. The friend who really became the most like family was Chris. She's portrayed in the movie. She was out in the streets with me. She left home when she was 13. Now, she's 21 and she's still living on friends' couches. It's sometimes hard sharing with my friends all the things I'm doing now. I'm always on an airplane going off to do something, giving speeches and meeting people. I'll come back and some of my friends are playing video games, and I come in and say, "I just gave a speech with Gorbachev." It's especially hard with Chris, since we had a parallel journey at one point in time.

Lifetime: What are you up to now?

Murray: I'm doing speaking engagements. I've been telling my story to different audiences. If I'm in a corporate setting, it's all about determination and fortitude. My favorite place to go is classrooms, especially high schools where I can just be honest and say, "Look, it's hard ? it takes some of this and watch out for that and no one is perfect but this is what I've learned." Also, I want to finish college and to take a lot of film courses. Maybe graduate school. I very much want to leave the story behind...it's kind of haunting me. I'll be glad when it settles down and I can move on ? so I can be normal and anonymous. I don't want to have to live up to anything. I just want to pursue my interests and put myself out there and see where life takes me.
 

Halo

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Thanks for posting this HeartArt, it sounds like a good movie. I wanted to know if it was out on DVD for rent or buy and this was an interesting tidbit I found:

Did you know?: "Homeless to Harvard" is the recipient of three Emmy? Award nominations.

"Homeless to Harvard" is available on DVD. Buy It Now!
 

Gemini

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It does sound like a real inspirational movie. I will have to go look for it. What an inspirational young woman.
 

HA

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Thanks, Nancy.

I found the Canadian Amazon version here. I have not seen the movie but I'm going to buy too. The shipping and exchange may be more expensive to buy from Amazon.com than Amazon.ca.
 

David Baxter

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I have not seen the movie but I'm going to buy too. The shipping and exchange may be more expensive to buy from Amazon.com than Amazon.ca.

I haven't found that to be true. In fact, I think the prices are often better at Amazon.com, especially if you're willing to buy used.
 

HA

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I have found that with some books I have purchased, too Dr. Baxter, but with this DVD I think the difference is $8 US and $11 Canadian.

Cheers
 

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