When CW viewers tune into “My Last Days,” a three-part special airing this Wednesday through Friday, they will recognize the host of the program as “Jane the Virgin” star Justin Baldoni. But Baldoni is also the creator of the docuseries, which showcases individuals coping with terminal illness.
Baldoni takes filmmaking seriously. In fact, he never intended to be in front of the camera at all.
“I never saw myself as an actor because as a kid, I was really an ugly duckling,” he says. “Everything grew at the wrong time. I had massive eyebrows and really bad acne. I never got the girl. I was never that guy. (But) I was always very creative. It’s funny that my entry point into the business was reverse, and took me starting as an actor.”
Baldoni landed his first acting gig in 2004 with a guest role on “The Young and the Restless,” which was followed by small parts on “Charmed,” “CSI” and then larger recurring roles on “Everwood” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
But despite his growing list of credits, Baldoni found being an actor was more difficult than he anticipated. So he turned his focus back to filmmaking, which consisted of making music videos and commercials — plus a passion project: his proposal to his wife, Emily, which unintentionally became a viral sensation with more than 11 million YouTube views. “It was never supposed to be released,” he says. “But after our wedding, we made a private link and sent it to people at our wedding and they said, ‘Please release this!’” (In February 2015, Baldoni created an online video announcement of his wife’s pregnancy, which also went viral.)
“My Last Days” launched as a digital docuseries in 2013 for Rainn Wilson’s media and production company, SoulPancake, which boasts the tagline, “We make stuff that matters.”
“I wanted to create something that could really make a difference and impact people in a real way,” Baldoni says. “What I found is that everywhere I looked, there was so much content about making us feel better about being worse people, and I wanted to create something that inspires us to be better people.”
The docuseries follows six different people, all with different terminal illnesses, ranging from brain cancer to cystic fibrosis. Despite the heavy subject matter, the project proves to be an uplifting storytelling vehicle about living life to the fullest.
Like his proposal videos, “Last Days” found a tremendous audience, becoming one of the most-watched documentary series online. Baldoni wanted to continue with his behind-the-camera mission, so he started his own production company, Wayfarer Entertainment. His catchphrase: “Choccoli” (chocolate-covered broccoli).
“How can we make something that is digestible and has inherent commercial value, but at its core is good for you?” Baldoni says. “We’re used to the junk. Networks are so quick to make what’s bad for us, but we want to challenge that. We want to create things that are new and different and that are actually good for you.”
Baldoni applauds the CW for putting the second season of “My Last Days” on air, as the project was originally intended just to stream on CW Good, the network’s new vertical on CWTV.com, which features purpose-driven work and causes.
“They’re not expecting this to be watched by 20 million people,” he says of the network. “What they said is if it can change one person’s life who’s watching it, help one person with depression, or stop one person from killing themselves, then it’s worth it.”
Next on Wayfarer’s docket: Baldoni is directing and producing the upcoming Warner Bros. film “Fly A Little Higher,” which focuses on the late Zach Sobiech, whose story about his rare form of bone cancer was featured on SoulPancake’s first go-around of “My Last Days.” Baldoni also has another unannounced feature film in development, plus a television project in the works.
But no matter what form his next projects take, Baldoni says they will always “connect with a viewer in an emotional way to help them learn something or advance a cause,” he says.
“Our mission is to create meaningful content that helps us remember how important life is,” Baldoni says. “We’re in the reminder business, not the movie business.”