Cameron Boyce, the bright young actor known for his roles in the Disney franchise Descendants and TV show Jessie, died in July 2019 at 20 years old from a seizure caused by SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). Today, with the Oct. 19 streaming release of Runt, a 2020 indie thriller directed by William Coakley, fans can see him in his last — and most edgy — role yet.
During his lifetime, Boyce was known first and foremost for his comedic, lighthearted work for Disney, which his father Victor Boyce says wasn’t really a targeted goal or aspiration of his. As a child, Cameron started his career in entertainment via modeling in print advertisements, and “Disney just happened to be the first one he ever booked,” Victor tells The Hollywood Reporter. That early booking was for a Halloween catalogue, and Cameron so enjoyed his time on set (and left such an impression on the team) that it became an organic launchpad into acting on the network.
Runt, however, signaled a pivot to more mature roles, and Cameron’s character Cal — a tortured, self-destructive teenager with a shoddy moral compass — was important to him personally due to his passion for tolerance and anti-bullying organizations.
“He wanted to dig into a character that could really challenge him, because the whole Disney formula had gotten very, you know, it wasn’t challenging anymore to him,” says his mother, Libby Boyce, in a phone interview. “Runt [has] a lot of dark issues, it’s very clear that the message is: you need parental guidance, you need support, you need role models in order to make good decisions. And that kids that don’t have that are on a slippery slope. That’s why Cameron was so interested in helping kids find creative outlets, because he knows and knew that creative outlets are a way toward positivity and the light, as opposed to negativity and violence.”
Cameron was so immersed in the role that he distanced himself from his family during filming to mirror the abandonment Cal struggles with in the film. “I’m glad that Cameron warned me that he wasn’t going to be his usual self because he wasn’t. He was just kind of dark and came in and avoided us; Cameron was usually really goofy and fun and thoughtful and sweet and kind, and he just wasn’t like that during the filming,” Libby says. “I didn’t know what method acting was and he never said method acting — he just told me that the role he was going be playing had no relationship with his mom and his dad had passed. It was hard. But I mean, nothing like our life now.”
Runt — which is available on such platforms as Apple TV, Prime Video and Vudu — is dedicated to Cameron, who died while the film was in post-production. And as an extension of that dedication, 1091 Pictures (which acquired North American distribution rights to the film) is partnering with The Cameron Boyce Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the Boyce family. The group’s goals are to raise awareness and funding to help cure and eliminate SUDEP; to reduce gun violence (inspired by a social media campaign called “Wielding Peace” Cameron developed after his experience filming Runt); and to supporting other causes Cameron was aligned with in his lifetime, like the Thirst Project which works to provide safe drinking water to communities in need around the globe.
“It will be helpful if [the film] does well because it will help the foundation and we can continue working on financing for epilepsy and especially SUDEP — that’s very important to us. Carrying on Cameron’s legacy is our top priority, and continuing the foundation is what we want to happen. So hopefully this will help us to do that,” Victor says.
Adds Libby, “Our main focus is bringing epilepsy out of the shadows; one in 26 People have epilepsy and we don’t talk about it and that’s why we don’t have enough research going into it. So we feel that for the love of [Cameron], we need to work on that given that he had a platform that we’re just trying to kind of continue using in an effort to really make him not have died in vain basically. And so we are learning a lot about epilepsy, we have an amazing board of MDs who specialize in epilepsy and additional people that have really become like family to us, and we’re working with them to bring in research dollars, and to focus our research dollars on SUDEP, which is what took our son’s life, so that we can ensure that no other parent has to deal with this ever.”
Before his untimely death, the poetry-writing, guitar-playing actor and singer was exploring screenwriting as well; Cameron was working with his uncle on “a comedy about being a young Hollywood actor,” Libby says. Runt, and the foundation it is helping support, are sober and powerful bookends to a successful career (and a life) marked by joy and levity.
“Anytime we see Cameron it’s hard to watch because we can’t talk to him, we can’t touch him, we can’t tell him we love him, we can’t do anything with him.” Victor says. “I like to see him here because I can’t anymore, any other way than watching his work.”