Interview: Writer/Director Peter Hedges, The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Posted December 4, 2012 10:38 PM by Webmaster
Filmmaker Peter Hedges doesn't have dozens of film to his name. The scripts he pens and the projects he chooses are far too personal. Since earning his first feature film screenwriting credit with What's Eating Gilbert Grape, the Lasse Hallström movie that scored Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination, Hedges has written A Map of the World and About a Boy, and both written and directed Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life and, most recently, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which comes home to Blu-ray this week.
Your films, both those you've written and those you've directed, revolve around family dynamics. What is it about family that speaks to you?
Director Peter Hedges: Growing up, my family shaped me. I came from a very interesting family. There was a lot of heartbreak and a lot of love. Now I have made a family with my wife that is more important to me than anything. You write about what you love, what you think about, and what you care most about. For me, that's family. The good thing about family is we all have them and there are so many different kinds of families.
About A Boy was about making a family from a broken family. What's Eating Gilbert Grape was about a family just trying to get through life. In that movie, the kids were dealing with a very tough life with parents that were not able to parent too well. Pieces Of April was about a broken family running out of time. Dan In Real Life was an attempt to write about a very happy family that had a dark cloud hanging over one person. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green is about a couple who want what comes so easily to most people; to be able to have a child.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green centers around infertility. What is it about that struggle that drew your attention?
I know many people who are very close to me that haven't been able to have kids. I've watched them practically bankrupt themselves trying to get pregnant. In some cases, I've also watched them happily adopt. In other instances, I've watched them be torn apart f by what they had to endure to try to have a child biologically – and then face so many questions when they try to adopt. They were put through so much scrutiny that they threw up their hands and said, "No. We'll get a cat instead." I go to a lot of movies, but the movies I go back to time and time again are the ones that help me navigate life and help me move through the world. These are the movies that make me see differently or see what I haven't seen, or what I take for granted. I felt like here was an opportunity to make one of those films with all the themes that matter the most to me.
What else inspired the project?
Selfishly, I wanted to throw myself in and take this wonderful, magical concept to create a film with the help of a lot of people – and in so doing, I knew I would be changed. I irrevocably altered as a parent. The door is closing quickly for me because my kids are now 15 and 18, but they were 12 and 15 when I started this project. However, when I started work on the project, I felt like there was still time for me to make some adjustments and maybe do it differently.
What made young actor CJ Adams your perfect Timothy Green?
CJ was a standout kid. He's a great kid and he comes from a great family. I love his parents and his brother. We worked together on Dan In Real Life, but when I heard he was coming in for an audition, I said, "I'm so excited to see him, but no way is he going to beat out these other kids." Well, he came in and his first audition was pretty good. It was good enough to call him back. Each time he came back, he got better and better – and then eventually I knew he was the one. He's a very special guy and I only want good for him.
What about Odeya Rush, who plays Timothy's young girlfriend, Joni?
When Odeya walked into the casting room, I said, "No. She's too beautiful. Next." But then I said, "Read." And she was great. Then I put her with CJ and it was amazing. She's a remarkable kid. I knew that she and CJ were going to be great together; I'm happy to say I was right. The inspiration for that love story was my own love of a girl when I was in second grade. She was in fifth grade and she never knew I loved her, but I followed her around. I used to hang upside down on the jungle gym as she passed by going to school. The last day of school, I followed her home wearing a catcher's mask thinking she wouldn't know it was me. To this day, she has no idea that I loved her. I called her once on the phone and just hung up!
I wanted [Joni] to be older. I didn't want them to be the same age because there is a wonderful thing with girls when they're still open to being friends with boys younger than them. This is not a fact-based comment; it's just my experience as a young man. I had a lot of girl friends who were my friends, but then there came a moment when the only boys that were interesting to them were much older. They were the boys who could shave and had low voices. However, I think this is a really sweet window where there is a kind of innocence.
How did you come up with the traits and qualities Jim and Cindy write down and place inside the box?
When I first started work on the project, the concepts were very general; the qualities were things like love and truth. However, I started to think that they needed to be more specific and achievable. Jim and Cindy don't want one of those annoying, perfect kids. They are more reasonable than that. They want a kid who would be honest to a fault, which means he may say things that you don't want to hear. They didn't say, "We want an Olympic champion." Or, "We want a math genius." Instead, they just want an ordinary kid. That's why he's got qualities like Cindy's good heart. Instead of asking for a great athlete, they ask for a kid who scores the winning goal because they want their kid to know that feeling.
Do you consider the eventual Blu-ray release when shooting a movie?
I think a lot about the Blu-ray release because the first film that I wrote, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, was not seen by many people in theaters; I understand that in some instances a film is seen by many more people on Blu-ray and DVD rather than in the theater. The first film I directed, Pieces Of April, had a big DVD life. I think about it enormously because in this economy, a lot of people can't afford or don't want to go to a theater. They like to watch the movies at home. Also, people now have amazing televisions and amazing home theaters. That's why I never shoot in 2.35:1. I always shoot 1.85:1. It's a narrower range because the minute it goes on TV, they're going to start lopping off the sides of the image. I don't want half the movie not being seen.
What's in store for fans who pick up the Blu-ray release of The Odd Life Of Timothy Green?
Specific to the Blu-ray release, I've done a director's commentary, a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of the film itself, and a feature on the music which looks at the relationship of the music in the film. And then, I've also chosen a few deleted scenes that you can find on both the Blu-ray and DVD discs.
Do you enjoy recording director's commentaries?
I really enjoy doing commentaries, but the most nerve-wracking aspect is that you can't say everything you want to say. In my case, it means I can't point out all the instances where people working on the movie have made my work better and changed the film irrevocably. I try to use my commentaries to talk about what we were trying to do as artists in making the film. Whether we succeeded or not, I'm not going to determine, but this is what we were intending to do. I try to be pretty honest, but I also try not to burden people down with my own neurosis and my own disappointments. It's a challenge. You get a little tired hearing yourself talking, but I also know that I learn a lot when I listen to a good commentary.
I get choked up doing commentaries. Usually, it's when the credits roll. Next to every name I can vividly remember a face and I can tell you what they did on the project, and I can also tell you how hard they worked. There is a moment where it's overwhelming. You're looking at all these names and you think to yourself, "I can't believe all these people broke up their families for a certain period of time, travelled all this way, and worked that hard to make this happen." That's the best part.