HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
The Kinnear Takes A Father's Journey
Right from the start, Randall Wallace and the filmmakers knew if they were
going to bring Heaven Is For Real to contemporary audiences they would need a
crack cast to truly bring the Burpo family and their unusual predicament to
"Casting for this unique film was very important because there is such an
earthiness about the Burpos. They are people with ethics and values, hardworking
people who believe in themselves," says producer T.D. Jakes. "When the full cast
was together, it was amazing to see how completely they captured the Burpo
Todd Burpo would be especially challenging to cast, as a devoted but
down-to-earth family man sent reeling by a riveting mystery when his son begins
to talk of his trip to heaven. Wallace says that the first name that came to
mind was Greg Kinnear. Kinnear came to the fore in a series of sparkling comic
roles in As Good As It Gets and Little Miss Sunshine, went on to portray a wide
range of memorable characters and is currently starring as an outspoken lawyer
on television's "Rake."
But for all his comic chops and affable charm, Wallace felt there was an
underlying genuineness to Kinnear that was key to the role. "I had known Greg
from working with him on We Were Soldiers," the director explains. "I wanted
someone who could embody the masculinity of Todd -- a guy who installs garage
doors for the mainstay of his living -- but who could also be a loving,
thoughtful, sensitive father. And I also was looking for someone who could speak
with the power, conviction and charisma of a pastor. For all that, I thought
Greg was just the perfect guy."
Kinnear was drawn in by the reality of the family's dilemma as they try to
figure out what to do with this shocking information their son is telling them.
"I liked the way the story is told in a very human, accessible way," the actor
says. "It's the story of a family who experiences something extraordinary. One
thing Randall is so good at is creating moments of humor, humanity and decency
for this family, while also getting at the larger questions."
As he explored Todd's quandary with his son, Kinnear could understand his
refusal to simply dismiss Colton's words as just a boyhood dream or medication
side effect. "It's important to point out that Colton was then a four year-old
kid, so there was no affectation, nothing artificial about what he was saying.
It was complete innocence," notes Kinnear. "And while children at that age can
have huge imaginations, they also say things that you know they believe with all
their heart. So it's really interesting to play a father trying to sift through
what's real and what's not in this kind of event."
He was also intrigued by what Todd must confront within himself in the film
-- as he moves from an anxiety and confusion to a man lit up by his renewed
sense of purpose. "What's interesting is that the events that take place ask
Todd to go further than he ever anticipated going, to dig deeper than he had any
expectation of doing, and I found that fascinating," Kinnear says, "and even
more so because of the ramifications for the whole community."
As Todd starts to come forward with Colton's observations of heaven, he
watches as it sparks conflict and opens up rifts in the town and his church -
and he wonders how he can approach this impasse both as a man of God and simply
as a man. "This is a small town," comments Kinnear. "There's a strong sense of
support, and of everybody lending each other a hand, in this kind of place
-- but it also ups the stakes. So that creates some challenges for the Burpo
family. When Todd starts to talk openly about what Colton saw, people have many
different interpretations of it and different feelings about it. And some people
don't even want to have the conversation, but Todd increasingly feels that he
has this bigger story he needs to find a way to tell."
In the end, much like Wallace, Kinnear see the story of Heaven Is For Real as
being not just about looking towards heaven but also about how to live in the
grace of the here and now. "Whatever your feelings on the afterlife, I think
this film captures the beauty that is all around us through the eyes of this
little boy and what he is seeing," he summarizes.
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