The process of adopting children can sometimes be long, frustrating and filled with tears. But there's also a lot of love and laughter. Sean Anders wanted to showcase all aspects of foster-care adoption in an authentic way with his new film "Instant Family." The comedy is a personal project for the director, as much of the story is based on his own experiences with adopting children. "Instant Family" stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as a married couple who end up taking in three siblings—including a fiery teenager played by Isabela Moner—and are forced to deal with all the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys, of becoming parents. We caught up with Anders to chat about the film, working with Wahlberg and why laughter is key to the adoption process.
Sean Anders talks Instant Family, Mark Wahlberg and why laughter is key to the adoption process
Since adoption can be such a serious topic at times, were you worried or nervous at all about taking a comedic tone with the film?
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I wasn’t nervous about it because people who are on the inside of it know how much we all laugh together. Anytime you talk to families about this, if they go to these support groups, most of the support group time is spent laughing – sometimes laughing because of pretty difficult situations. I was worried that people are going to think without seeing the movie that somehow we’re having a laugh at kids who grow up in care. I would never do that. These are my kids. We do have many laughs at the expense of the awkward situations that this creates, but never at the expense of the kids or the system itself.
Why is it important for parents of adopted children to have a sense of humor?
If you’re super serious about it, you’re not going to last very long. I think it’s really important with the kids, too. Kids, they really draft off of their parents emotions. When you’re becoming their parents, if you’re just constantly creating all this dramatic weight on everything that’s happening, they’re going to feel that weight. But if you can be lighter about it and just be like, “Hey, we’re in this quirky, bizarre situation, but we’re in it together and it’s a little crazy and it’s a little funny and now let’s get to soccer practice.” I always think of it like when you’re on an airplane and it gets bumpy. You look at the flight attendant. If they look worried, then you’re in trouble.
What's the biggest misconception when it comes to the adoption process?
I don’t think that anybody has this specific idea in their mind of what a “foster kid” is. But when they hear about kids from foster care, the system, all of that stuff, understandably in brings to mind all of these very negative, scary connotations. For me on the outside of it, I was scared to get in. I was scared about who these kids were going to be. And then I had this revelation that Tom Segura has in the movie, which is when I first started see a bunch of these kids, you just go, “Oh, they’re just kids.” I think the biggest misconception is that these kids are somehow this other thing, when really they’re just kids. Yeah, some of them come from very troubled pasts, some of them have a lot of their own trauma to work out, but so do most of us.
The film is an amalgamation of stories from several families, including your own. How much of "Instant Family" is grounded in your experiences?
A lot of it, particularly the set up of the movie. This is something that a lot of people have questioned whether this is real. And it is. I started my family because my wife and I were trying to decide whether or not we were going to have kids, and I made that joke that Mark makes in the movie. I just said, “I feel like I’m getting to be an older guy. Why don’t we just adopt a five year old? It’ll be like I got started five years ago.” I meant it completely as a joke. My wife ran with it and it led us to a website, to an orientation. So that’s very real.
Mark Wahlberg basically plays a version of you in the film. Why did he feel like the right person for the role?
I think the thing that I have in common with Mark is that Mark, for a movie star, is an incredibly regular guy. It’s one of the things I like about him. I think it’s the reason why he is such a big movie star. People can kind of sense, even though he’s this superhuman get up at 3 a.m. workout guy, in his mind and in his heart, he’s a very regular dude. I feel like, as a director, I’m not the kind of guy who goes to Hollywood parties and whatever. I’m a pretty just regular dad. I wanted somebody who can convey that, who could be a guy’s guy and just a regular guy. I think that’s another perception. You think of the guy who adopt kids out of foster care, maybe you picture a guy in a cardigan sweater who’s very self-actualized and whatever that is, but I’m not that guy and I didn’t want the character in the movie to be that. I really had my eye on Mark for it.
"Instant Family" opens in theaters Nov. 16.