In the new fantasy family film “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” married couple Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner), who are unable to have kids, are surprised when a little boy magically appears in their backyard after a rainy night. “Odd Life” is written and directed by Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life”). During an interview with me last week, he and actor Joel Edgerton spoke to me about how the film developed and how Hedges was able to keep all the fantasy elements of the film from becoming too silly.
Peter, how is a story like “Timothy Green” pitched to you and why did you decide your next film to write and direct would be one with fantasy elements?
Peter Hedges: Well, I woke up in the middle of the night and told my wife, “I want to make a classic.” I was dreaming I was making a film. And she was like, “What do you mean classic?” And I said, “You know, ‘E.T.,’ ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’” Then I said, “There’s a problem. I don’t come up with those ideas.” True story, a couple of days later, I was having lunch with producer Scott Sanders and Ahmet [Zappa] (credited for the story of “Odd Life”), who I had never met. Scott said, “Ahmet has an idea he’d like to share with you.” He started to tell me the story and I realized this could be the jumping off point for the film I was hoping to make. The story is about family, about parents. Those two things mean a great deal to me, but I never had a magical component in my writing. It was something I could never have come up with, but wish I had.
Joel, do you think “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” will become a classic?
Joel Edgerton: First and foremost, I think you make the best version of the story you want to make.
PH: What I should’ve said is I’d like to make one of those movies you watch again and again and again. Classics are decided 20 or 30 years from now. I wanted to make a movie that you just had to keep going back to.
JE: Well, wouldn’t that be a classic?
PH: I guess it could be called a classic, but that’s for someone else to determine.
JE: You know, kids today have so much more choices in movies that we ever had. But there were movies that came along for us when we were kids that were like signposts of the history of my life and the history of my imaginary world. There were characters that I dressed up as and fantasized about playing. I’m talking about “E.T.” and “The Goonies,” movies that spoke to me. It only really dawned on me recently that if I was about 9, [“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”] would be a movie like that. It would be a movie that would make me run around in the garden.
Was that the reason you wanted to be a part of the film?
JE: Yes, that and because the film spoke on another level. It spoke about the parents and adults of the world who I think this film is more for. You learn so much about what it is to be a parent and what it is to look up to a parent and expect so much out of them and realize they are not perfect and don’t have all the answers.
Joel, in the last few years you’ve starred in some films with very heavy themes like those in “Animal Kingdom” and “Warrior.” Was another reason you chose “Timothy Green” because it was a bit lighter?
JE: I mean, I usually just respond to something on a project-to-project basis. I hear a story or I read a script. For “Timothy Green” I was interested enough to chase Peter around town to see if I could get my hat in the ring. It wasn’t necessarily an easy process for me to say I wanted to do this movie. Peter really fought for me, actually, and I really fought to be a part of it. I really wasn’t looking to react to something I had done in the past. I do choose jobs to get different experiences, but ultimately I look at a project and it’s relative merits and how much it excites me.
Peter, while you’re writing a script that has fantastical elements like this, how do you stop from crossing the line and making things too silly?
PH: One thing you have to do is make sure you start your story deep in the ground. We framed this story around a couple who really wanted to adopt a child. The first time we see them, they are being told they will not be able to have children. That gives the film depth. The one thing to do to keep the movie from becoming too silly is to make sure it’s emotionally true. My goal is to try and find as much humor as humanly possible, especially if it’s a story that’s going to try and break your heart. For me, the magic gave me permission to go further and go more places. It’s about emotional truth, not about whether something can actually happen in real life. I’m not really interested in watching real life on film. I’m interested when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Peter, do you have kids?
PH: Yeah, I have a 17 year old and 15 year old. It’s very much why on a personal level this film meant so much to me. When I started writing it, my kids were 14 and 12. I felt my time running out as a parent. I felt maybe I would learn some things and that I could take some of my bigger mistakes as a parent and exploit them and have fun with them. I’ve been that parent who gets over invested in my kids’ activities and I’ve made a fool of myself. It was really therapeutic to take that and put it up on screen in a way that is like putting up a mirror to myself and to a lot of parents I know. Often time in kids’ movies, the parents are bad or one-dimensional. But in this film, there is nothing one-dimensional about Jim and Cindy.
Joel, in the future, if you do decide to have kids, would you like to be able to pick their personality traits like the parents do in this film with Timothy?
JE: No way. I’d be terrible at something like that. If you gave me a list of things to build my child with, I’d surely mess it up. But, yeah, I would love to have children. I would love to be a part of something like that. I’d like to think I would be a good dad, but I reckon I would be a big pushover.
Which of your characteristics would you like to pass along to your son or daughter?
JE: It’s an interesting thing because I am so good about analyzing the people around me, but I would have a terrible time throwing out a character description of myself. I think if I had a child I would want one who was very sociable and good with people and had a real warmth and sense of humor.