21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards - Arrivals"This show came from a quote in the Baha'i writings," says actor and filmmaker Justin Baldoni, whose extraordinarily poignant but uplifting three-part docu-series "My Last Days" airs on The CW over the next three nights, chronicling the inspiring journeys of everyday "superheroes" who are living out terminal illnesses with grace, purpose and vitality. "The quote was, 'I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?' And I thought, 'How the hell can death be joyful?'"

"I'm very spiritual," says Baldoni, best known for his role as the inadvertent baby daddy Raphael Solano on "Jane the Virgin." "And I'm religious in my faith, but I have a fear of death, I'll be very honest. I have a fear of it, and it caused me to go in and really examine what that was. And I realized that death is really scary because we have attachments to things. And more than that, it's scary because you know that you're going to be leaving behind something, and you don't want to leave behind a life full of regrets."

Exploring the thematic notion through his filmmaking, Baldoni, in various incarnations of "My Last Days" before its debut as a full-fledged series, has been focusing his lens on people of varying ages and from all walks of life who, after their terminal diagnosis and however healthy or ill they appear at first glance, are looking their mortality straight in the eye, living in the moment and finding and spreading light wherever they can. It's a way of being, he says, that should apply even to those whose lives appear to stretch out for decades to come.

"Technically, in my mind, it's joyful if you're living every day like it's your last," Baldoni tells Moviefone. "If you're doing everything you can to leave a legacy, to spread goodness and be of service to everybody you meet, and if you're just making sure that you're having a good time. It's like a vacation. If you go on a vacation, and you do everything and you're ready to go home."

"That's not the way we think about life," he adds. "And that's something that I'm practicing. I'm practicing living in the moment, I'm practicing being happy despite being in pain, and I'm learning it from these people, who have been through insurmountable pain and crazy obstacles, and yet they choose happiness. They choose to get up every morning and persevere, despite all of it. And at its core, that's what 'My Last Days' is about, and that's why we're making it."

At a premiere event for the series, Baldoni was joined by the subjects of the new season, including a man diagnosed with leukemia who has chosen to go by the name "Darth Vader," as a tribute to the famous screen villain who at the end of the "Star Wars" saga reclaims his humanity and redeems himself in his final actions. A veteran of scores of Tough Mudder competitions and other physically challenging, willpower-testing contests, Vader says he's committed to finding positivity in his life.

"If you live that life, then there's no question or no doubt in the type of person that you are," says Vader. "The way that you raise your children, the type of friend you are to the people that you meet, to strangers, a lot of that just comes to who you are as a person. For me, there was no doubt that the film was going to kind of translate how I am as a person. No pride, no prejudice, no ego, just being a good person -- and never be defined by your circumstance or your situation, but to be defined by who you are as a person, and your hard work. And to me, that's the legacy that you want to leave behind."

"I've made 14 documentaries so far about people that have terminal illnesses," says Baldoni. "My biggest surprise was that every single time, my mind will be blown by each of the different people. All of their stories are completely unique and different. When you watch their films tonight, you'll see that the storytelling is different, because we make these films for them." After each encounter, he says, "I'm left with a feeling of knowing that I can be better. I can be more. Whatever happens to me is happening for my benefit, and it changed my outlook on life."

"Something I was really, really hoping for is a way to really humanize people who are sick," says another of the series' subjects Claire Wineland, a vivacious teenager dealing with cystic fibrosis who posts about her approach to "Dying 101" on her YouTube channel The Clairity Project. "How do we take health off the table, and death off the table, and really show that someone can be sick, and still live a really complex, and interesting, and full life?"

"At first I was like, 'There's no way in hell I'm doing something called 'My Last Days,'" she laughs. "'It sounds horribly depressing! You're not going to get a depressing story out of me.' I've been so surprised at how beautiful and respectful it is to be with those lives and those stories, and how much life you can squeeze in in such a short amount of time."

Wineland says she's been impressed by Baldoni's dedication to creating meaningful, impactful portraits of the "My Last Days" subjects. "I think the stories we tell and the narratives we have about people sets the tone for how everyone relates to the, and the way that they live their own lives," she says. "Especially when it comes to people who are sick, the stories that are told about people who are sick are either sob stories, or just about death, about how do we get them healthy, and that's kind of it.

"Justin is so dedicated to telling this other side, and it's beautiful," she says, "and I don't know where it came from, because I know that he's not sick! I don't know where this beautiful idea came from in his heart of his life. I'm truly inspired by him. It's rare that I people that I'm inspired by."

For more information about "My Last Days," the people it profiles, and the causes they are championing, visit its GoFundMe page.Justin Baldoni Discusses "My Last Days"
categories Interviews, Tv News