Greg Kinnear is Mesmerizing as Pastor Todd Burpo
Academy Award® nominee and Emmy winner Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, You’ve Got Mail, Little Miss Sunshine) stars as Todd Burpo, a pastor who wrestles with his faith in Heaven Is For Real. As a longtime fan of Kinnear’s work, I had a blast chatting with him during the mommy blogger Q&A.
MB: So you got such a great rapport with little Connor when we spoke with him today. Your co-star may not understand such big topics like death and miscarriage. When it came time to do those more emotional scenes, how did you handle it with him? Did you let Randall to handle it more? Did you talk with Connor?
GK: No, I think it’s important that you write this down. (Humorously) All the credit should go to me. Very little to him. You know we talked about it. Randy and I kind of talked about each scene before we did it and kind of how we would handle the Connor issue. And, the truth is he’d coming walking. As he’d left his trailer, it’d be like “Elvis” is coming. We called him Elvis. (Cuffs his hands) “Elvis has just left. He’s coming across the lawn. He’s approaching the house. Standby.” (Everyone laughs)
But, Randy and I would kind of usually have a game plan down pretty much on how that would that would work out. It was something that I was not expecting. It was something I wasn’t really expecting in the job. And, it turned out that I turned into “The Child Whisperer.”
MB: Acting coach.
GK: It wasn’t really a coach because he doesn’t need any coaching. He just has this authentic, natural ability to just make everything natural. You know, and he’s all-boy. As you might’ve seen, he has no shortness, lackness of energy. So, there were times where he had to get him to do his thing. But, it was always there. And, sometimes I would be off-camera with him. And, working with him, there were a few times, where Randy would be, “Get out of here, you’re blowing this.” (Laughs)
And, I’d say, “Let me try! Let me try!” (Laughs) But, you know. But, there were very few scenes, or places that Connor didn’t really know how to bring it. And, Randy had an incredible way of just kind of centering him, and calming him down. You know, Randy’s a, if you’re looking if you’re a boy this tall, and you’re looking up at Randy, you’re definitely listening. So, he was pretty good about that.
MB: What compelled you to take this role?
GK: Well, I’d worked with Randy before in We Were Soldiers. You know, he’s just this great standup guy. Obviously an excellent writer and director! And, I just thought when he told me the story… I hadn’t read the book and wasn’t familiar it. I was instantly, whether it was based on a book or not, I thought, “That sounds like an interesting movie!” I knew he’d find a good way into it. And, he really did! I mean he really does a yeoman’s job in the script of giving you a real front row seat as to how it must of have felt. To see the experience of this family was when this young boy comes this close to death; and comes back with this news, and how they dealt with it! And, what conclusions they came to. That’s a very tricky thing.
Heaven Is For Real is a fairly non-negotiable title. And, yet I find the movie is very fascinating in its exploration of Todd even as a pastor’s own struggle and questioning, uncertainty of what he was dealing with. And Kelly Reilly, you know, is wonderful in the movie: her own fears of where Todd is going with this. And why the church deals with it through Margo and his friends with Thomas (Jay). All those elements with much more conflict than I ever would have thought. If you would have ever told me about a script called Heaven Is For Real, I just wouldn’t have ever thought I would find all of this in there and he did.
MB: That’s what I had mentioned with Randall. I thought was really good about the movie: how they showed the church was in conflict with the pastor. Because that’s what does happen nowadays with a lot of churches. And, I loved the fact that you as your character was also in conflict with your own faith.
GK: That’s right! Yeah. I did, too! And, I felt like Randy was the guy to make this movie. ‘Cause I think there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t understand: who would be afraid to show you that: be afraid to go there. For fear that, that means (Chides) “Well, then that means he’s not a preacher. He must not be a good preacher if he has questions and struggles.” And Randy obviously moved this to a much smarter place. And, allowed for that struggle. He allowed to show it. He allowed to show the conflict within the church. It didn’t make the church weaker or worse. It makes it real! That certainly was the journey.
MB: Do you believe there is an afterlife?
GK: Do I believe there is an afterlife? That is the big elephant in the room…Let’s get it out of the way.
MB: (All laugh)
GK: Let’s get that out of the way. (Jokingly) What’s Greg think? Well listen, I’m reluctant to get into the soundbite business of my own convictions or faith. But, I will say that I really thought that the script did a nice job: of allowing you regardless of where you’re at on the spectrum of spirituality. If you believe it or you don’t: Of kind of having a front row seat of what happened with this family, and, getting a sense of their story. And, I really felt that was the more important job here. And of the story we tried to tell. Is that too evasive? Sorry. I’m avoiding your question.
Connor Corum making his film debut as Colton Burpo
6 year-old, Connor Corum, who made his film debut as Colton Burpo participated at the round table. Selected after a nationwide casting hunt, the Cleveland native auditioned several times before landing the lead role. Connor is a natural onscreen portraying Colton, the nearly 4-year-old that has a near-death experience. He was accompanied by his mother, Shannon to the interview. His mom also chimed in on questions too difficult for Connor.
Mom Blogger = MB Shannon Corum = SC Connor Corum = CC
MB: Did you talk to the real Colton? And, if so, what kind of questions did you ask him?
SC: They only got to meet each other briefly, originally. And it was more, I think Colton trying to learn a little bit more about Connor who plays him.
MB: What did you think about heaven in the film?
CC: I thought it was really beautiful.
SC: He didn’t have to completely imagine heaven. When he came into the church scene, there were real angels he saw that sang. And Jesus was in full dress. So, it wasn’t as imagined as it came across in the film. And the park? What little boy doesn’t think a park is great!
MB: You got some pretty emotional scenes in the movie that you share with Greg and Kelly. How did you handle doing those scenes with them that they had to handle cry and stuff? Did you just do your lines? Did Randall talk to you?
SB: That’s probably a little bit of a hard question for him to understand the emotion behind it. But, what we would do the night before is we would talk about different things and have conversations. And certainly, this movie did bring out some questions that were not there before. And so we talked about a baby and a baby passing away in a mommy’s tummy. And, would a mommy be happy or would a mommy be sad about it. And he said, “A mommy would be very sad.” So, he knew that that was going to happen. And so, just even talking a little bit about it even beforehand, allowed him to show that emotion onscreen. But, you gotta put it in a simplistic way for him. And then, he was able to do his thing very naturally.
Heaven Is For Real opens nationwide April 16.
Run Time: 100 Minutes