Exclusive: Director Patricia Riggen and actor Eugenio Derbez talk Miracles from Heaven
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This film will make you cry. In a good way...
The film Miracles from Heaven is released in the UK on Friday 10 June. It's the story of a family when one of their daughters develops a rare disease. Jennifer Garner puts in a terrific performance the mother, Christy Beam, who has a fierce love for her daughter, but struggles with her own faith. Along the way, encouragement, and humour, are provided by a supporting cast including Queen Latifah and John Caroll Lynch.
The film is a real emotional roller-coaster, and will most likely bring you to tears, but in a hopeful, life-affirming way.
Shadowlocked has an exclusive, pre-recorded interview with the director, Patricia Riggen (The 33), and one of the supporting actors, popular Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez, who plays Dr. Nurko in the film.
(May contain mild or generalised spoilers.)
Patricia Riggen: “At that time, I took the – then – risk of casting an unknown, you know – a big star in the comedy television world – but unknown, unproved star for films, that's what they used to tell me... And of course, he was the best bet, and Eugenio you know, took on that role back then, and just did such an amazing job with completely different character from what he was always typecasted to be.”
Journalist: “Are you just saying that because he's sitting next to you?”
PR: “No, I would say exactly the same...
Now I gave him a...[role that is] eminent, doctor, Harvard, professor, number one doctor in the country, probably in the world. And I'm casting a comedian to do it, you know! But I know Eugenio had the qualities, and I think the biggest quality I found was his heart. His huge sense of compassion to his patient. You know.
And that's something I saw from Dr. Nurko when I met him, and heard it from the little girl and the mom, and that's I think the biggest quality. Overall, he did an amazing job with the character, but the compassion, the heart he shows the girl, is just making that character just shine and be so well-received with the audience.”
Journalist: “How did you prepare for the role? You said you met with the real doctor?”
Eugenio Derbez: “Well, yeah, I met with Dr. Nurko first on...through Skype, and then personally...”
Journalist: “When you said you first met him on Skype, did he know you were also from Mexico? So, you're like a big Mexican star, calling this guy up on...”
PR: “It's like, Will Ferrell calling Dr. Nurko...but bigger!”
ED: “But it was hard because Patricia was afraid: 'What if Dr. Nurko is not...probably, he's not happy that you're gonna portray him, because...probably, you're a comedian and he's so serious, you know, and he's an eminence...' But the minute she called him, he was like a fan, right! 'Oh, Eugenio, yes, that's great! Awesome!' So, he was really happy. [Continuing the anecdote:] Uh, hang up...”
PR: “And he's very happy now.”
PR: “I talked to him this morning. He's so thrilled. He saw the movie. He loved his character. He's just so thankful.”
ED: “And full of hair. That too. He had no hair, so...[whereas Eugenio Derbez, who portrayed him oncreen, does].”
"Yes, everyone cries their eyes out, but everyone comes out so happy, and so moved in a good way..."
ED: “So, I was trained, hopefully well-trained, at the hospital. And then the challenge for me was to find this balance between being funny...but at the same time, but she was always asking me, 'Okay, you have the funny part, but I want to see your eyes, that you're worried about that girl...I want to see everything happening through your eyes.' So it was very, very, very hard to find this balance.”
Journalist: “Yeah, because you're so fun, but also you want to portray... Because I often, watching it, I often look to you to know what was going on. So I would actually look at you, and think, 'What's he doing? How is he reacting?”
PR: “He's a doctor. He has to be believable, and we have to understand everything.”
Journalist: “Just as a point of reference, what was the name of the Mexican doctor that you said you worked with?”
PR: “Doctor Hose Garza. Another specialist in the field, and he's based in Atlanta. We shot the movie in Atlanta, so we had to have a local doctor that was advising us. He advised me through the entire process, you know, in screenplay, in all the props, everything, all the processes, giving him all the instructions that he needed, everything, he was with us through the whole time. So we would be very faithful to the truth, to reality, the medical reality.”
Journalist: “How are you feeling doing a real character? Is it the first time for you...”
ED: “Yes. And it was even harder, because Dr. Nurko showed up at the set. So I was working on set when Dr. Nurko arrived, and it was a lot of pressure having him watching me... And I was like, 'Am I funny enough? Am I too funny? How am I doing?' And he was like, 'No, no, no, perfect. That's the kind of things I do with the patients.' So, everything is exactly like he does...”
PR: “...They have to play, be funny, be playful... And that's when I decided Eugenio, because he knew exactly what to do, because he's a professional entertainer... And that's when we really found exactly why Eugenio was perfect for this character. Because just casting a serious medical doctor would not have been the perfect person...”
"So a story like this, of this suffering, has to make you grow as a person."
Journalist: “Is the faith element of this story something that drew either one of you to this project?”
PR: “Uh huh. Also, I think, well, good stories are good stories, right? I was raised in a Mexican family, a Catholic family, and faith is part of my being. And I understand also as a mother, that faith plays an important part in when you go through very difficult circumstances, particularly something like this. So I was very respectful of that in the story, and made sure that the story of Christy Beam [Jennifer Garner], and how her journey of faith also, goes along at the same time as the journey of the struggle to find a cure for her daughter. So it has that other storyline going through, of how she...sometimes happens to people, that they lose their faith, and then you know, thankfully they get it back, in this case with a very happy ending.”
Journalist: “How did this story come to you? Had the producers seen The 33 [a film that Patricia Riggen directed about the trapped Chilean miners]?”
PR: “Uh huh. Yeah. They had seen The 33, and also Under the Same Moon. And I was just coming out of The 33; I had just finished that movie, and this one came about. And I wasn't sure I should work, because I was so tired, but then I thought, 'It's completely different than the other one. It's, you know, in a safe environment, I'm not gonna be in a mine, I'm gonna be in a building, I can drive a car to work, that's air-conditioned, you know, and an elevator, so... And, I don't have to wear a hard hat and boots. And also, I don't have to deal with 33 men!"
PR: "And I thought, this is beautiful, it's [a story of] a woman, it's [a story of] a girl, you know, it's something that I'm very familiar with, I'm the daughter of a doctor, I was raised with hospitals in my world, and doctors, and I just have...I'm very familiar with the subject matter, unfortunately. And so I thought, 'Okay, I'll do it. It's easy, it's small. Let's take it.' And then of course I realised, nothing is easy, and nothing is small! And this movie has had great...great challenges, and I'm very happy with the result.”
"I think it all has a good reason behind it, that it makes it worth it. Because everyone has invested so much of their own tears into this."
Journalist: “What was the biggest challenge?”
PR: “Probably one of the biggest challenges in this movie is finding a balance between the drama and making an entertaining movie. So, you know, when I first got the script, it was really all about a sick child. And I thought, 'Who's gonna wanna see a movie about a sick child?'... That's when I started bringing a lot of things into it: all the fun stuff, happiness, lightness, [the character of] Angela [(Queen Latifah)] came into this story, because she had to come in with a light and fun. Because we have to balance the pain. That's, I think, the biggest challenge for a director.
And at the same time, be truthful to what the medical reality of these families are. It is painful, but we have to make a watchable movie. And, I think it's been achieved. I'm very happy with how I see people['s] reaction. Yes, everyone cries their eyes out, but everyone comes out so happy, and so moved in a good way, and thankfully I think it's right there, I think it has the right balance.
It was tough to work with the actors, because, you know, they had to deliver really, really heart-wrenching performances. It was very hard for Jennifer [Garner, who played the mother] and for Kylie [Rogers, who played the daughter] to go through all that pain as they were delivering these characters to us, and to maybe...they're pushing them to go to that place. But...I think it all has a good reason behind it, that it makes it worth it. Because everyone has invested so much of their own tears into this.”
Journalist: “Before you go, will you two be working together again, do you have any plans to?”
PR: “Are you gonna hire me now, because...?”
ED: “I sent you a script! Remember?”
PR: “I think, whenever I have an opportunity of a character that fits, that Eugenio fits into those shoes, I will always call him, because we have a good...very productive, beautiful, trust relationship.”
ED: “Uh huh. Always. Yeah. Yeah. And I love the way she directs. And I don't have to say this, it's not because she's here, but of all the directors that I've worked with, she is the best. The most accurate, the most precise director I have worked with. She's amazing.”
Journalist: “...One thing I really like was the pizza highlight of the film, when they sacrifice [pizza in solidarity with the girl, who can't eat it] and [then finally] have pizza in the end. Was that your idea?”
Journalist: “I really like that. It's small, but it is...”
PR: “Yes, and you know why it was so important also to keep that scene at the end? Because everybody was like, 'Let's cut it'. No! Because where you show everyone's changed. Everyone has changed. It's like, let's return, you know. So a story like this, of this suffering, has to make you grow as a person. And it made all these members of this family grow. Even in little things, you can see the change. Christy now praying, you know, all of these things now happen in that scene.”
A list of UK cinemas showing Miracles from Heaven can be found here.
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