As part of the press junket for ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY we had the opportunity to interview the producer Lisa Henson.
Q : What first attracted you to the film? The-the idea of creating this film?
LH : Well, we actually optioned the-the book. Um, so we look, we’re at the Henson Company, we’re a great fans of that book and have been looking after the rights to see if they would become available. And, you know, when we-we got the rights to the books and developed it along with 21 Laps, which is, ah, Shawn Levy’s company, family bean. Um, and then we hired Rob Liber, this-the writer, who, I don’t, I guess you guys are-are you meeting with the writer or are you not? Probably not. But he…
LH : You know, we went through a really interesting development process taking that very small and very intimate little book and blowing it up into a full feature film by focusing on the rest of the family. But we really felt that the-the-the Alexander, as a character is such a sweet, and loveable underdog. He’s really, there’s a little bit of Alexander in everybody including adults. You know, even, adults have bad days, and teenagers have bad days, and mommies have bad days and that’s…
LH : We got to that with the, with the development of the film.
Q : Did you read the book as a child? Or was this a book that you were interested in?
LH : Actually my-I-I read it to my children. But I was little, I think a little bit old for the book originally.
Q : Why did you decide to cast twin girls for the role of Trevor instead of just finding a baby boy?
LH : Well when you work with kids at that age, you almost always have to use twins. And we knew that if it was a, we-we auditioned both in a way, we actually did have a baby audition. Um, so we auditioned both boys and girls as long as they were very identical and in, and in the right age range. Um, and those girls already have been in the movie Neighbors. So if you remember a baby that put something nasty in its mouth and you’re neighbors. Um, that was, they, so they already had some experience on set.
LH : And they were fantastic babies. When we, when we started, um, into production, we were going in pre-production, casting the movie, we thought, oh working with babies is going to be so hard. We have, we have vehicles, we have, we have animals, we have babies, what do we not have that’s difficult in the film? And we never dreamed a baby in the movie, that Trevor would be some may people’s favorite character. And when we previewed the movie, so many people named that baby. Anything else? Yes?
Q : What was the process for, I mean, like how long did it take for them to get to the end to get this together?
LH : It’s actually, we didn’t, it’s not one of those movies that had a very long and torturous path. Actually, we-we moved quite steadily towards production after we got the rights to the book and hired Rob Liber to adapt it. And-and it-it did, um, develop quite, ah, quite quickly. And I can’t remember what the exact date, I’m sorry.
Q : Obviously Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner are huge, um, did you have them in mind for these roles? Or was it another like interview process or anything?
LH : Well we did, we did have Steve in mind and he, um, attached himself to the property before it was setup at Disney. So we worked with him in the, in the film in process. He was, he’s been sort of entangled to the, to the movie. And then, um, Disney introduced us to Jen, um, and she-she had just done The Odd Life of Timothy Green with them. And, you know, she’s such a marvelous person, and a wonderful mother, and, um, you know, she’s just perfect for the part, I felt so lucky to get her.
Q : The book is only 22 pages and the family isn’t mentioned very often throughout it. So what was the process like of basically creating his family for him, and giving them their identities, and their roles?
LH : Well so much of that is the creation of the Screen Writer, Rob Liber. Um, but his challenge was to use that-the book, as essentially the first act of the movie. And then the second two acts of the movie are what happens when the very bad day is had by an entire family, not just one person. So all of that became invention. And, ah, we were, we were so happy to know that Judith, of course, like the movie. Because most of her book is in just-just the first act of the film.
LH : Yeah. But the heart of it, the mov-, the heart of the movie is so similar to the heart of the book.
Q : When, was it, deciding again to pick an Australian actor to play Alexander who obviously loves Australia.
LH : That was the strangest coincidence and it is a very strange coincidence because as a character he’s obsesses with all things Australian. And then, and yet he was an Australian actor who had to get rid of his Australian accent to do the role. [LAUGHS] And, ah, you know, he only gets to say one thing in an Australian accent in the film, when he says, Thanks mate.
LH : Ah, and actually our director just pointed that out this morning. Um, but yeah, it was, it was a just purely a coincidence. And he was just a perfect kid, and he came all the way from Australia to-to do it. Yes?
Q : Well listen, my question is, what was your trigger point to actually take the book into film, and into the movie, into the bigger project than just, ah, a book? Is, ah, anything, you know, in the back of your mind? Or anything that you wanted to do in the realm of the family film?
LH : Well the idea of making a family film that really every person in the family can enjoy, that’s, you know, is, that would, that’s going to be the-the best possible family film. And not something that the adults must accompany their children to and not really enjoy it, you know, we wanted to make a movie that adults would enjoy and find something drily too in it. And that, um, the kids would enjoy it in their own way, maybe they don’t, might not even understand everything that their parents are going through in the film.
LH : We wanted this movie to be appreciated on all levels by every person in the family. And we, you know, I hope that families go all together to see it. Um, so many, there’s so many thing, way, there’s so many ways in which families are sort of being split up in their viewing patterns. Kids preferring to watch one thing, adults maybe, even at the exact same time are watching something different. And we would love it if pe-, families would watch the film together. Yes?
Q : I really liked the message in the film that, you know, if you’re having a bad day that the people that you, you know, kind of in your, [CLEARS THROAT], in your, ah, your network of support is al-, you know, your family, your friends, or whatever that might be, is always there to catch you. Um, did you kind of build the story around that theme or did the theme kind of develop as your wrote the story?
LH : It’s kind, the movie was kind of built around that theme. Um, because Alexander in the book really feels misunderstood. And if his family wasn’t there loving him, in spite of his bad day, it would just be a bleak book. It would be a, it would be a depressing book for children as opposed to a happy one. So I-I think the idea that the family is loving, and your family is there for you no matter what, is really in the original book, as short as that book it.
LH : And we tease at the amount in the, in the film. Um, yeah, I mean, it’s, the movie has a lot of heart to be his, so many bad things happen to people in the film. But everybody ultimately has compassion for the rest of their family. And, you know, they, I think, one of the things that I love about the movie is it’s so easy to relate to and there cannot be a family that hasn’t experienced a day where you-you might even have prayed the night before, am I really going to be able, can we juggle all these things?
LH : And over optimistically you might think, yes, we will be able to juggle those things because we’re an amazing family. And like the family in this movie, it just all unravels and it’s sort of, I think, I think everybody’s had a bad day. And maybe moms might particularly relate to that idea, that it just, you cannot keep all the plates in the air every day of your life. Yes?
Q : What character do you relate to the most?
LH : Well of course I relate to the mom. [LAUGHS] Because I am a working mother and, um, you know, all of, trying to get phone calls from your kids at work, that, you know, I, when somebody says to me, well you have to be pulled out of a meeting because your child wants to speak to you right this second. And then it turns out to be something important in their life, but maybe, you know, I as mother, they, well they could’ve waited. But they don’t know you’re in a meeting.
LH : So it’s just that misunderstanding of trying to juggle, you know, working and-and being a mom. I think Jen captured it so well in the film. You can see she really doesn’t want to entirely let go of control. Even though she can’t physically be there to do everything. And that makes her very relatable character. Yes?
Q : I had a question. So I know, the whole finale thing was kind of weird, or it came out really long in the movie. But there were also some really fun parts like the kangaroo, chasing the kangaroo. Now was that really hard to film, just because, I don’t know if you guys actually had the kangaroo running down the street or something like that?
LH : Um, well, I can’t say what shots were the real Kangaroo and which ones were not. [LAUGHS] Let’s just say that Kangaroos are not very good actors and neither are crocodiles. Anything else? Yes?
Q : So speaking on the fun moments, will we get to see a blooper?
LH : Um, well I think that’s a very good question. I don’t know, we’ll find out when the, when the bloopers will be released. But we definitely had some funny bloopers. Speaking of bloopers, I love in the movie that the parents, you know, can’t swear, and they’re almost like [SOUND]. [LAUGHS] Oh, I want to swear, but I can’t. Yes?
Q : Um, Steve Carrell’s a great comedic actor, and I was just wondering if there were any parts that he just brought to the movie himself that weren’t necessarily written in his script? But that he just went with it and kind of brought his funny in, that you can think of?
LH : Um, well he, there’s a lot of hilarity in that Japanese restaurant scene, you know. [LAUGHS] And he did all of that himself. He caught all those shrimp in his mouth and-and he did the stunt, he did the stunt with the, with the sleeves himself. So, you know, he-he really went all out comedic ally in that scene.