"[Heaven Is For Real] does a really nice job of honestly giving you a front row seat to watch this family deal with these extraordinary events."
- Greg Kinnear
Actor Greg Kinnear on Heaven Is For Real
By Hannah Goodwyn
- Ghost, motivational speaker, Vietnam War soldier, journalist, the loveable David Larrabee in the 1995 remake of Sabrina with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond, these are just a few of the many roles Oscar-nominated actor Greg Kinnear has played over the years. The one-time TV reporter currently holds a spot on primetime television as a gambling-addicted, always-in-trouble lawyer on Fox's Rake. But, it is Kinnear's upcoming role that's making the news these days.
In the lead role of Todd Burpo in director Randall Wallace's new movie, Heaven Is For Real, Kinnear fulfills a long-time acting ambition—to play a preacher. The SONY Pictures film, based on The New York Times best-seller about four-year-old Colton Burpo's visit to heaven, offers moviegoers a groundbreaking look at real faith and honest doubt.
CBN.com spoke with the As Good As It Gets actor about his work on this faith and family film, his thoughts on the Burpos and how he hopes audiences of all backgrounds will receive the movie.
What was your first impression of the Burpos and their 'heavenly' story?
Kinnear: It's funny. When I first met with Randy Wallace, who is an incredible writer and filmmaker… in fact, I've worked with him on We Were Soldiers… I went in and he held up this book, Heaven is for Real with a little boy on it, hands in his pockets, and he said, "You seen that?" And I said, "Nope." I wasn't familiar with the book, and he proceeded to just tell me about the story. And I thought even if it wasn't a book or based on a book, I thought it had great potential as a movie. Then, obviously reading the script, I was really, really happy.
I thought that [Randy] had managed to find a way into this story that felt very honest. It seemed to focus primarily on just this family in this small town that goes through this extraordinary experience, and how they dealt with it and how the town dealt with it, the church, and the ramifications of it. It was all done in a very honest and beautiful way, so I was on at that point.
Todd [Burpo] was traveling and I was traveling and working, so we Skyped a few times. That was my introduction to Todd. We had a couple straightforward conversations about it. Then, honestly, that was about it. Todd brought the family up toward the end of shooting, and I met them briefly, like, literally in a day where we were shooting six pages or something. So it was a busy day, but I got to meet them all. They were all extremely nice; and they're very welcoming with just telling their story.
How did you approach playing Todd Burpo, the husband, father and pastor?
Kinnear: I didn't know what to except from the script. It's a pretty straightforward title… So how do you tell that story without it just turning into a sermon or being a preaching lesson for an hour and a half? I didn't know how that was going to be done.
Randy did an extraordinary job with the script and finding not only the conflict that this created, not only the crisis for Todd and the questions that he asked, and the wonderment of it all, but just the reaction of the church and the newspaper, and the town. It all felt very honest to me. I can't imagine what it would be like if my three-year-old came to me one day and had some sort of extreme experience like that.
Have you gotten any positive or negative feedback from your colleagues in Hollywood about your role in this faith and family-centered film?
Kinnear: I had a few friends here [in Los Angeles], when I told them when I was doing a movie called Heaven Is For Real, they said, "Heaven what?" The title certainly declares itself.
I love the idea of playing a preacher. I hadn't done that before. I hadn't played a minister, anybody like that. A man of the cloth always has a certain sort of one-note thing that I feel that I've seen in many movies, and I felt like here was a guy who was funny. He was a volunteer firefighter and a wrestling coach. He was a father and a garage door repairman. And, yeah, he's a pastor, too. So I think that composite of that "every man" quality, it got me really interested in him, because it didn't feel like a one-note sort of guy.
The notion, in this film, that a guy could have the ups and downs that he does and the struggles that he does seemed interesting to me to play and that was the job.
What would you say to those who aren't sure they even want to see this movie because of the faith aspect of it?
Kinnear: Oh, there will be plenty of them. Sure enough, there's a nice big quadrant of people who will not be paying their eight dollars to go to a movie with this title. Honestly, I think it's a shame, if that is the case. I feel like the film is really accessible. Regardless of where you are on the religious spectrum, I think that there is a very honest story about some events that whether you believe them or you don't believe them. I don't think that the story doesn't resonate in some ways, the idea of your child introducing you to something that strong and how you would deal with it. It's an interesting starting point.
In movies, whenever you hear that gravelly voice narrator come on and say, "One man will discover that everything he thought was right was wrong." And the drums will play and violins will play, and really, it's the inverse here. Todd's four year old comes to him and says, "Hey, everything you have been talking about is real." And rather than the movie have the response, "Oh, well that's what I've been telling people, there you go," it's actually hearing that and his struggle is actually amplified by having to go deeper than he thought he might ever have to go. That, to me, was an interesting story that I just hadn't seen done before.
There's a moment in the movie when Todd gets angry at God. What was going through your mind as you filmed that scene?
Kinnear: Yeah, that was the last scene I did in the movie. I kept saying, "Could we do that tomorrow?" It was a powerful moment both for me and for the movie, I thought. It was just a really… It's hard to explain. I don't know what to say about it other than it's the furthest reach inward that Todd goes in our story in a way. It's the darkest moment and the bleakest. It was an important scene though. It helps set the stage for what the story's all about.
Randall Wallace usually has the classic values of love, honor and courage ingrained in every story he's telling. From your perspective, how are these virtues presented in Heaven Is For Real?
Kinnear: I think that is true. That is a theme with Randy's movies… I knew if that if there was anybody who would find a way into a story like this and could bring it in a way that would make it accessible to an audience, he'd be the guy.
Love runs through this movie like water. I mean, it kind of is just there. [In] meeting Todd, one of the first things I was taken with was his love of his children and how important that is to him. So just out of respect to that and certainly having his son go through what he did and face what he did, I think we wanted to try and translate that relationship between the two of them as best we could.
Honor is deeply ingrained in it too. I think strangely enough, the firefighting element, the volunteer firefighting element group that's on this movie, and also the way that Todd sort of honorably wrestles with this issue is evident as well. He's not a dumb guy. He knew the risk. No father wants to put their son in jeopardy and yet by being public with this story, I think he definitely was facing some difficult, choppy water in doing that. But I think he felt strongly about the subject matter and what had happened. So that's why he did it, but I thought he handled it honorably.
It's not like his son says, "Hey, everything you've been talking about is consistent with what I saw." And that Todd high fives him back and says, "See!" Instead, it's that news that causes him to have to search deeper and to trust more in what he already has a strong faith about.
Family is obviously evident in the movie, just the love of family. It's a very hopeful story as well. Regardless of where you're at on the faith spectrum, I do think there's a hopeful message in the movie, a positive message. The movie does a really nice job of honestly giving you a front row seat to watch this family deal with these extraordinary events.
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Hannah Goodwyn serves as the resident movie critic and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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