John Morris and director co-writer Sean Anders talk with Electric Bento and other Phoenix Press during their press tour for Instant Family. This is the second part of our continued conversation. You can access the first part of the interview here.
Anecdotal humor in the most serious of situations . . . .
Foster care has been painted as an eyesore on our social structure by the media. The next question asked Anders and Morris if they were worried about taking a more honest approach to foster care.
Anders responds saying, “John was talking to me about where that line is, finding the sweet spot. We touched on the idea of it being a comedy because, the stories I shared were funny and we felt like so many movies tend to be gut-wrenching dramas that frighten people and the truth is, people are frightened enough of kids in foster care.
You can tell that this next answer comes from a genuine place of concern as Anders continues. “Every adoption story is born out of tragedy, which we didn’t want to shy away from. We wanted to tell a more complete story.” Speaking about the characterizations and how they influence the story, “some of the hubris of Pete and Ellie at the beginning of the story, the real things the kids are dealing with to where they become a real family. The ability to get to fall in love with your kids is a really amazing, joyous thing.”
On the film’s social complexities . . . .
One of the journalists touched on the “white savior complex” that Pete and Ellie are trying to avoid from onlookers.” Anders and Morris were asked if they were trying to say anything thematically with this thought.
Anders seemed taken aback by the question, but he didn’t flinch away from it either. “Not say anything, but in my personal story, that came up. We have the October (Iliza Shlesinger) character who was weirdly specific about what she wants; some people come into the system specifically wanting a certain kind of kid. There’s nothing healthy about that because, first of all when they get a kid, it’s going to be different, just like when you have your own kids. Maybe you want an athlete and he ends up being a bookworm.”
He warmed up as he reflected on his own experience saying, “we were open to wherever the need was and we got a call from a social worker one day saying, “there’s three kids we would love you to meet and they turned out to be Latin.” To the question’s social implications, Anders said, “it would be disingenuous to say you didn’t have those thoughts of how is this going to look or how are people going to perceive this from the outside. That’s a very real element of the journey that I wanted to touch on.”
Morris had a more basic sensibility saying, “when it came down to it, we just said “let’s go with something that’s real” and this was his situation.”
On Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne’s onscreen chemistry . . . .
You can tell from the opening frames of the film that Wahlberg and Byrne were well paired as Pete and Elle. On that note, Anders and Morris were asked if there were “any moments where you were really surprised and really enjoyed their performances?”
Anders laughs as he says, “All of it.”
Morris reflected on a particular scene as he adds, “when Rose comes unhinged, “I’m 1/16th Cherokee,” she’s great at that stuff.”
Anders continues as he discusses Rose Byrne specifically. “She was amazing from the beginning. Mark and Rose hadn’t worked together and we had worked with Mark, but had never worked with Rose. And, the first scene we shot was the one where Rose is looking at the kids on the website and is proposing the idea to Mark. It’s an emotional but funny scene, a perfect first scene for us to shoot because is runs the gambit through everything.” The production crew apparently thought the same thing. “When we were in the middle of our first take, I could hear the crew over the monitors whispering about how good Rose and Mark were together. They had really good chemistry and we knew it right away.”
On adapting sticky experiences . . . .
Where Sean Anders went through the adoption process, John Morris has kids of his own. The next question centered on their own growth as a part of the filmmaking process, and whether John might adopt on his own.
Anders steps in jokingly saying, “You’ve adopted what, 26 kids now right?”
They both erupted in laughter
Morris fends for himself as he says, “I have a teenager and I’ve thought about giving him up for adoption.” The room erupted in laughter.
“Before we started the process, I told Sean that I had two boys already. Kids are kids, mine are loud and they are sticky, and they’re going to break your shit. If you can deal with that, you have kids, you can have three kids, you’ll be fine. I haven’t adopted yet.”
Anders pointed out his own process saying, “I can deal with everything but sticky. Loud, breaking that’s fine. I don’t tolerate sticky.”
“It’s a little hard at first” . . . .
I had the bold idea to ask if Instant Family was the modern, nuclear family. Anders was quite right in acknowledging that there isn’t a modern nuclear family. “I think that’s kind of the point. Family is changing in so many different ways and I can speak from my own experience that I met my kid in about the most random way, with a phone call saying “there’s these three kids” and within weeks, they were in my house and I was supposed to be their dad.”
He smiled as he continued, “you would think that cannot be a recipe for love in a family. I love my kids like crazy and they’re such great kids and we have such a great time together. So, I feel like whether it be like someone having to come in and being the stepmom or stepdad, or a same sex couple adopting,”
Morris adds quickly, “which we addressed in Daddy’s Coming Home 2, it’s kind of our wheelhouse.”
Anderson finishes his thoughts, “I think that there is no specific way, and particularly with so many kids who are growing up without families and without some of the basic things we all take for granted, that I really hope more people explore this. In my own experience, it was a wonderful way to start a family. It’s hard at first.
I complimented them on the fact that they were inclusive of gay couples, single parents, “that aspect of the film brings home that adoption isn’t just for self-absorbed couples who want and think that they need more.”
Anders answers with a straight face, “Right. Like me you’re saying? Just kidding!”
We laughed as he continued. “One of the nice things about making this movie and to the question earlier about whether this was easier, all of this is absolutely real. It wasn’t injected into the movie to give it a certain kind of patina. When I took the adoption classes, we had same sex couples, we had people who had found it through their church, single parents, a little bit of everyone.”
“The October character that John mentioned before, there was a woman in my class who was little insane. Since I’ve talked to people who have adopted, they all seem to have that same story about that one person who was thinking “I don’t know if that person should have a kid.” There’s a little bit of everyone, but the system and the calling brings everyone together.”
He adds about the nature of the story, “you start off so different, but everyone has the same goal in mind which is to provide love and family to some kids. There’s not a better goal than that. As people move through, there’s a lot of comradery regardless of how they come in and that’s all absolutely true.”
On the same sex aspect, Morris was elated as he added, “Friends of mine based on Kit and Michael they just started classes. They’re going to adopt!”
Film Ratings, the future and an October bonus . . . .
As our time wound down, one of the journalists mentioned that the duo had focused on R-rated films with Instant Family being their third PG-13 movie and then asked if they were going to continue down the family friendly story path.
Anders love of his family answered the question perfectly saying, “we really don’t think in terms of ratings. John and I both have families. Our lives are wrapped up in our kids and our day-to-day, so I think that those are the stories that really interest us.”
Morris interjected a “NC-17” comment, to which the entire room busted out in laughter. Anders agreed, saying “straight up NC-17!”
One of the other journalists asked if it was “wrong that October is my favorite character?”
Anders chipped in, right away. “No, not at all. Bonus answer, Iliza Shlesinger came in to read for us, and everyone who read played October kind of insane. We would give them the note, “can you try it like the CEO of a big firm” and when Iliza came in, without giving her the note, she immediately played it in this stern, strict kind of way and it was so funny, I found out after we cast her that she’s this huge stand up comedienne on Netflix. I wasn’t aware of that and she is incredible.”
And with that, our conversation with Sean Anders and John Morris was up. As our photos were being taken, I thanked both of them for such an amazing experience. Both of us being from Wisconsin, I asked Sean which Wisconsin sports team he was a fan of. He mentioned the Packers, who were playing the night of our conversation.
While Instant Family won, the Packers lost that night. I certainly have a great story to tell someone, someday.