By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jennifer Garner knows a little something about the specialness of being a parent, having given birth to three children with husband actor Ben Affleck. But she knows many couples who have trouble conceiving and having their own biological children, which is in part what attracted her to “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” a new Disney drama about what it means to be a parent. Written and directed by “Dan in Real Life’s” Peter Hedges, the drama is the former “Alias” star’s first feature film released since she gave birth to her third child in February.
Garner, 40, plays Cindy Green, who is devastated when she and her husband learn they cannot have children. Giving in to one last “what if” evening, the couple write down all the characteristics they would want their child to have and put their responses in a box and bury it in the background with the assumption they are putting away their dreams forever. Instead, a young boy mysteriously appears in their living room and declares himself their son. The couple don’t seem to mind that the child is a little different—he has leaves growing from his legs—they simply are overjoyed, and a little overwhelmed, to be instant parents.
Family and friends don’t seem to question the miraculous arrival of Timothy, who isn’t that great at sports and is a little shy when it comes to performing a tune on the piano at a family gathering.
Garner credits the filmmaker and novelist (“About a Boy,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”) for writing a screenplay that so many people can relate to or at least empathize with.
“Whenever Peter makes a movie or writes a book, he has something to say, he has a lot of things to say,” she continues. “The way that he weaves his ideas into story, he’s such a smart guy and such a passionate man, you can really see that in his writing, and the writing is the thing that I’m drawn to first and foremost.”
She recalls the first time she was pregnant feeling very nervous about what she was getting in to.
“I could definitely relate to the longing and relate to how much once you’re ready for a baby you are really ready right then, and you have this enormous fear that it isn’t going to work,” she says.
Garner’s co-star Joel Edgerton, who plays her husband, Jim Green, says he too was awed by Hedges’ touching story.
“I often think a lot of directors have a running thing about material that interests them, and when you think that an actor wants to get to a point where they have some form of luxury of choosing what they do, you can start to see that actors have a bit of a thing that draws them in,” he says. “On one hand that could be a genre thing, it could be, like, ‘I like to just do action movies, or I like to just do broad comedies,’ but on a thematic level, it’s interesting to think that (my previous films) ‘Warrior’ and ‘Animal Kingdom’ are all about family.”
Garner and Edgerton were excited to play parents to CJ Adams, who was just 11 when he was cast in the movie to play the title character.
“The kind of magic that Timothy Green has, CJ has,” Garner says, admiringly. “He seems like he’s from another planet, and he seems to kind of have been plopped down here with his eyes wide open and his heart wide open. I can’t imagine another little boy playing that role. We all fell so totally in love with CJ.”
Edgerton, who is single and childless, says it was fun playing a parent, especially to a youngster who seemed to really like him.
“He really looked up to me in a way that I found flattering and confusing,” the Australian actor says. “It’s amazing how children can really kind of worship you in a way that makes you look at yourself and go, ‘Am I really that amazing? And how can I be more amazing?’”
Hedges previously cast Adams in a small role in “Dan in Real Life,” a dramedy starring Steve Carell.
Having previously worked with the filmmaker, Adams, now 13, says he felt comfortable at his audition for “Timothy Green.”
“I knew the director and I knew everyone, so I was just, ‘Well, okay, I’ll just act out the part,’” he says.
After reading the script, he knew how to play Timothy.
“When I first heard of him, I kind of thought of him as a gift from God,” he recalls. “He sent down Timothy to teach these people to have children, to start another life.”
For Hedges, Adams seemed a natural to play Timothy.
“He was a great, he really was a standout kid,” he recalls. “He comes from a great family. I love his parents and his brother. When I heard he was coming in to audition, I thought, ‘Well, no way is he going to beat out these (more experienced) kids,’ but his first audition was pretty good, good enough to call him back. And each time he came back, he just got better and better and then he did a scene, and I just turned to my casting director and I couldn’t believe it.”
Hedges, who frequently delves into parent-child issues in his works, says there wasn’t a lot of rehearsal time, but his main trio of actors got a chance to bond before production started in Atlanta.
“We did a lot of improvs together,” he recalls. “Joel and Jennifer did a lot of stuff together and they played soccer with CJ. The truth is they didn’t really need a lot of time to rehearse.”
For Edgerton, the process of playing a parent has made him think about one day having children.
“There’s so much in this film that makes me think this is cool, because I’m not a parent, so maybe I could sort of put some lessons in my back pocket,” he says with a chuckle. “One of them that I find very potent in the movie is that a child is his own human. You can’t relive your life through a child. You’re there to kind of get in their way enough but not get in their way too much.”