From the title on down, “90 Minutes in Heaven” — the film of Don Piper’s mega-bestseller, in which he claims he saw the after life after a near-fatal car accident — would seem to be a religious film. But that’s not how stars Hayden Christen and Kate Bosworth saw it. They saw it as a drama, in which Christensen’s Don and Bosworth, as his wife Eva, struggled with his slow and painful recovery. Adding to the intensity was this: Bosworth was being directed by her real-life husband, Michael Polish, known for David Lynch-style oddities like “Twin Falls Idaho” and “Northfork” — though she also doesn’t see this as too big a departure for him.
This is a film with a very strong sense of subject matter, but what was the “in” for you as actors?
Kate Bosworth: What appealed to me is it’s a real life story. I mean that literally, obviously, but it’s also a story many women can relate to. This is a normal salt-of-the-earth wife who undergoes an extreme, tragic situation. It’s a type of wreck you don’t see coming. A lot of partners can relate to that, to all of a sudden have your significant other thrown into an extraordinary situation. She handled it with enormous grace and fortitude.
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Still, it’s not smooth sailing for her. She struggles with it and sometimes finds it almost impossible. She’s not perfect.
Bosworth: I became very close with Eva, which was a real blessing. She generously shared intimate details of her life to me. I was given a true road map to how she handled those events and how she felt through those times. What I responded to most was her honesty. She said this wasn’t easy. Marriage isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy. Obviously there’s a version of this that could have been sugarcoated, but they very much wanted us to tell the story as truthfully as we could.
How did you two fall into portraying a deep history, especially considering one of you is married to the director?
Hayden Christensen: The first scene Kate and I did together, I didn’t have to do anything. I was lying on a hospital bed unconscious. She walked into the room and I remember getting a chill because she sounded exactly like her. Neither of us were trying to do impersonations, but we did want to capture these people the best we could.
Bosworth: We ended with the beginning of the movie, which is me pouring coffee in the kitchen and making breakfast. I looked at him at one point and said, “We feel real married now, don’t we?” [Laughs] The funniest part of it all is [Michael] and I are married, and yet he’s shepherding Hayden and I into playing married people. [Laughs] This is the third movie Michael I have done together, but the first we did while married. There was a wonderful element to be to convey Don’s story and the sacredness of their marriage while being ourselves married.
Hayden, can you talk about the physical aspect of your performance, which seems to be a major part of it?
Christensen: He’s laid out on a hospital bed for the majority of the film — that was really daunting, and intimidating. That confinement and being trapped in your own skin was a space I lived in for a few weeks. It was an experience, but one filled with laughter. It was very worthwhile and enjoyable, in some weird masochistic way.
How did you prepare your body for all the laying around you were going to do to it?
Christensen: I was doing a bit of [lying around] leading up to the filming, just to get my body to atrophy a little bit. I was losing weight. Don lost a lot of weight in the hospital. He lost over 80 pounds, and very quickly too. We were working with some budgetary restraints, and so my approach was to wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt underneath my clothes when I was supposed to be healthy Don. I had this mouthpiece to fill out my face a little more. I lost them as the film went on. It’s a subtle physical thing but it’s still there, moreso for myself than for the audience.
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The book has a strong following among church communities. But did you tend to approach it more as a drama than a religious film?
Christensen: We didn’t really think of this as a religious movie. We thought of it as a story that we were all taken with. The [religious aspect] didn’t factor into it for me at all. I was just moved by the story.
Bosworth: Most of my research was primarily with Eva and getting to know her as much as possible. For me it was about being faithful to the Pipers. I wanted to be as faithful to Eva as I could. That obviously meant exploring her spirituality and what it meant for her to be a wife. That’s where my focus was.
This could be seen to be a departure for your husband, Kate, but one could easily suss out themes from his past films that carry on over to this. What’s your take?
Bosworth: Certainly in “Northfork,” there’s biblical undertones to that movie. I know that when he was looking at how he wanted to photograph this film he was looking at a lot of religious paintings and the way light was cast on people. He’s a very visualistic person and the light is of utmost importance to him. You can see that in the way religion has been depicted throughout the ages. That was very important to him as well.