|Photo courtesy of Tristar Pictures|
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. Director Randall 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.
Opening across the Philippines on Black Saturday, April 19, “Heaven is for Real” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.