Interview: Greg Kinnear insists ‘Heaven Is for Real’ is more ambivalent than its title

Greg Kinnear plays a father whose son claims to have seen the after life in "Heaven is Real." Credit: Getty Images
Greg Kinnear plays a father whose son claims to have seen the afterlife in “Heaven is Real.”
Credit: Getty Images

Greg Kinnear’s latest film doesn’t mince words with its title. “Heaven Is for Real” is based on the best-selling book recounting pastor Todd Burpo’s 4-year-old son’s experience with the afterlife. But while some of Kinnear’s co-stars have been eager to talk about their own faith, Kinnear is careful to change the subject.

The producers insist you were the first person they thought of for this role.

Yeah, I guess so. I went in and met with Joe Roth and Randall Wallace — two very different guys with different backgrounds — and they both talked with equal enthusiasm about this story. This is a tough one. “Heaven Is for Real” is not an ambivalent title. There are certainly people who are fans of the book, and I think there’s a lot of other people approaching it with much more skepticism. But I felt that the movie did a really nice job of telling the story of this family as honestly and truthfully as it can be done.

What I found really interesting about it was that so much blowback to the boy’s claims came from members of their church.

Yes, absolutely that’s what hooked me. There’s a version of this movie where the kid comes to his pastor father and says, “Everything I saw is consistent with what you think,” and the dad high-fives him and that’s the end of the movie. They walk off into the sunset. [Laughs]

That’s a very short movie.

Yeah, very short film. [Laughs] But I feel like the notion here that the son basically confirming the father’s heartfelt belief would be a starting point for him to have some sort of internal struggle and his own personal crisis — a really crazy, upside-down way into the story that I wasn’t anticipating. Usually in movies, you’ve heard that gravelly low-voiced narrator go: “One man will learn everything he believes is wrong.”

Have you had to field a lot of questions about your own beliefs while doing the press for this movie?

Oh, yeah. It’s the elephant in the room. Let’s get it out of the way. “Greg, come on!” Listen, I’m reticent to talk about my own faith in small sound bites. I feel like it’s a bit of a distraction from the really nice job Randy did of taking a movie that does have the question of heaven at its forefront and instead following the journey of this family, giving the audience a front-row seat to experience the events that they went through as told in this wildly successful book.

And also you’re an actor, that’s your profession.

Some would dispute that, but yes. Go ahead with your question. [Laughs]

You played a motivational speaker in “Little Miss Sunshine,” and you’re not a motivational speaker.

That is true. [Laughs] I haven’t had a lot of connection with many of the roles I’ve played. My life’s pretty boring and mundane, so for me playing these far more interesting people than me is always good.

What do you think the fact that they’ve turned “Little Miss Sunshine” into a musical?

Oh, I don’t know, you can turn just about anything into musical if it’s well done and well written. I don’t rule out any subject matter, but I hope that if they do it, that it will be good and that I’ll want to pay my hundred dollars or whatever they’re charging on Broadway these days. By the way, I’m joking. I’ll expect free tickets.

I would think that they would comp you for that.

You sure would think so, but Hollywood is strange.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick


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