Chris Evans plays uncle to young child math prodigy in ‘Gifted’

Chris Evans’ latest movie “Gifted” where he co-stars with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, along with a multi-talented cast that includes Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace and Lindsay Duncan is a deeply charming story of a young child math prodigy and his uncle who are unexpectedly thrown into a custody battle that neither of them approves.

“Gifted” began its journey to the big screen when producer Karen Lunder, who has produced an assortment of films including “Arrival,” remembers a conversation with producer Andy Cohen in which she asked: “‘What do you have that’s great and different? What is the thing you’re most excited about?’ He sent me Gifted that was written by Tom Flynn. When I read the script, it had this timeless quality to it.”

Tom Flynn has had a successful career in Hollywood. “He’d done really well selling big comedy scripts to the studios,” producer and Flynn’s literary manager Andy Cohen explains. Flynn left Hollywood for Florida where he started selling real estate and semi-retired. At the urging of his wife, he finally began to write the movie he really wanted to write. His inspiration for Gifted was actually his sister, whom he describes as “the most unassuming ridiculously smart person you’ve ever met. The script eventually landed on Hollywood’s Black List, a survey of film executives’ favorite screenplays yet to be produced.

Evans worked with director Marc Webb to create who they wanted Frank Adler to be. “Frank’s a tricky guy,” Evans says. “He has a lot of guilt, which is tough to play because it’s beneath the surface. You can’t exactly show your cards and he’s kind of a closed-off emotional guy anyway. He’s tough to read. I think he’s exceptional but in a different way than his sister. There’s a lot of complexity in his past and he’s someone who didn’t cope as well with it as he does now.”

The filmmakers also spoke to a lot of mathematicians and prodigies in advance of filming Gifted as it was important to get the math and Mary’s giftedness right. They met with Terrence Tao, a UCLA Mathematics Professor and Fields Medal winner who is an expert on Navier Stokes and deemed the only person to have come close to solving it. It was a colleague of Terry’s at UCLA that turned her on to Jordan Ellenberg. When Karen Lunder picked up Jordan Ellenberg’s book, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, she knew his was a brain they wanted to pick to help them with their research for GIFTED. “We talked about Mary’s story in the movie, and how she reflected my own,” Ellenberg says. “I grew up in a mathematical household – both my parents were statisticians, and I was really interested in math from a very early age. As far back as I can remember, certainly by the age of two or three, I used to sit under the kitchen table and multiply numbers together.” Ellenberg recognizes what he calls “the push-pull” in the film as “one that a lot of kids and parents feel, because on one hand, if a child has the passion and the skill and the ability and a love for something, you want to allow that to flower, right? But at the same time, you’ve got to remember that a kid is a kid. They are not their gift. They’re a person first.”

When Evans first read the script, he was drawn to the dialogue – “the music of the words, the exchange, the repartee” — and the story. “I love character pieces that involve family drama, they’re very relatable.” That, and the attraction of very intelligent people exchanging clever banter, he says, “is just very juicy for an actor.”

“Gifted” opens May 3, 2017 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.

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Oscar winner Octavia Spencer part of dream cast in ‘Gifted’

When you’re an Oscar winner, no one expects you to show up on the set most every day – even when you’re not working – but that’s what Octavia Spencer did on “Gifted” where she co-stars with an impressive cast led by Chris Evans, Grace McKenna, Jenny Slate and Lindsay Duncan.

“Gifted” is directed by Marc Webb, known for his dreamy romantic hit “500 Days of Summer.” In “Gifted,” Webb once again gives another heartfelt movie about a single man raising his spirited young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a coastal town in Florida. But Mary is a brilliant child prodigy and Frank’s intention that she lead a normal life are thwarted when the seven-year-old’s command of mathematics comes to the attention of his formidable mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan)—a wealthy Bostonian whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Mary and Frank. As family tensions and disconnections flare, uncle and niece find support in Roberta (Octavia Spencer), their protective landlady and best friend, and Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), a young woman whose concern for her student soon develops into a relationship with her uncle as well.

“I don’t think there’s a single member of the crew she didn’t reach out to and make laugh on a daily basis. producer Karen Lunder says of the actress who personified the character of Roberta. “She brought warmth and humor to this pivotal role. She’s also the one person who knows Frank almost better than himself. Most importantly, Roberta is the comic relief, which comes out of her relationship with Frank. She’s always giving him the business, but she’s also deeply emotional. You care so much about Roberta and worry whether she will be able to continue to have the relationship with Mary.”

Spencer recalls what attracted her to the role, “What intrigues me about Roberta is that her relationship with Frank and Mary is an integral part of the story. She’s a surrogate mom to the girl and to this habitually single guy, she’s a sister and a mom, whatever the relationship requires. If I were to describe the anatomy of GIFTED, Mary would be the heart, Frank would be the muscle and the sinew and Roberta would be the spine. It all works wonderfully together and that’s why it resonated with me on so many levels.”

Ultimately, Roberta discovers the power she does have in this untraditional family unit: “You realize that these people coexist in a way that is very much family. They need each other. Frank has a very tough decision to make, and when he makes that decision he asks Roberta for help. I really love that the end of the movie starts the same way as the beginning, with Frank and Roberta’s relationship.”

“Gifted” opens May 3, 2017 in Philippine cinemas from 20th Century Fox as distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Talented newcomer McKenna Grace takes titular role in ‘Gifted’

An impressive ensemble of actors led by Chris Evans along with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan and Jenny Slate support young multi-talented actress McKenna Grace as she takes on the titular role in director Marc Webb’s “Gifted.”

Evans plays Frank Adler, uncle and guardian of Mary (Grace) in “Gifted” who both lead normal lives until Evelyn (Duncan), Frank’s mom and Mary’s grandmother, decides to take custody of her grandchild. Frank’s sister entrusted him to raise Mary after she died for fear that her daughter might also be subjected to the pressures she’s been through as a prodigy. But as soon as Evelyn finds out about Mary’s intellectual state, Frank finds himself in a custody battle to keep Mary under his care.

On finding the right child-actor, director Webb insists there was a good reason for the massive search: “I couldn’t have made “Gifted” unless I found the right Mary Adler. It was the biggest hurdle to making the movie. There’s an emotional depth and sophistication you don’t see very often in an actor, but for a child, that’s a level of
virtuosity that is incredibly rare.”

Mckenna remembers it was very stressful meeting Marc Webb for the first time. “They had given me the wrong sides (scenes) to read, so he just gave them to me in the hallway. I had five minutes to memorize them. But once the audition was over, we just talked and had a fun time. I wanted this movie more than any movie I’ve ever wanted.” She says that she and Webb “had an amazing connection together. He was the perfect director for this job because we needed someone with a big, caring, loving, heart. He let me take my time when there was a crying scene. I would walk in, and he’d sit by the camera and he would cry with me, so then I didn’t really feel alone.”

Mckenna says she also learned a lot from working with Evans. “He was very focused on the set, and sometimes he would sit down and help me with my script.” Evans treated her “more like a friend, like he treats Mary. I really like that he treated me that way, except he did try not to say bad words around me.”

Mckenna proves that she has a different kind of perspective, genius or not. When asked what the message in “Gifted” means to her, she gives a most moving and simple answer: “At the end of the day, no one can tell you if your family is perfect or not. You may just have a mom, or you may just live with your daddy, or two moms and two dads, or you may live with your grandparents, or you may have an uncle like Mary does. People say that the perfect family has to have a mom and dad, a big amazing house and a lot of money. But as long as you have a loving, caring person that you live with, then I think that’s perfect for you.”

“Gifted” opens May 3, 2017 in Philippine cinemas from 20th Century Fox as distributed by Warner Bros.

‘500 Days of Summer’ director charms anew in Chris Evans-starrer ‘Gifted’

From the director of the surprise hit “500 Days of Summer,” Marc Webb helms his latest endearing story “Gifted” – starring the world’s beloved captain Chris Evans along with the über-talented Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and rising young star Grace McKenna.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising his spirited young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a coastal town in Florida. But Mary is a brilliant child prodigy and Frank’s intention that she lead a normal life are thwarted when the seven-year-old’s command of mathematics comes to the attention of his formidable mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan)—a wealthy Bostonian whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Mary and Frank. As family tensions and disconnections flare, uncle and niece find support in Roberta (Octavia Spencer), their protective landlady and best friend, and Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), a young woman whose concern for her student soon develops into a relationship with her uncle as well.

“Gifted” began its journey to the big screen when producer Karen Lunder, who has produced an assortment of films including “Arrival,” remembers a conversation with producer Andy Cohen in which she asked: “‘What do you have that’s great and different? What is the thing you’re most excited about?’ He sent me “Gifted.” When I read the script, it had this timeless quality to it. It felt like the kind of movies I grew up watching: it was a throwback of sorts to films of the 70’s and early 80’s that weren’t afraid to make you laugh and cry – that were both escapist and real.”

Like Lunder and Cohen, director Webb responded immediately to the writing. “I kept on waiting for this script to get bad, but it just kept getting better. It was simple, warm and uncynical. The writing felt nourishing to me. Mary and Frank are something like a comedy team with a lot of heart. After spending so many years on bigger movies, I just wanted to hang out with these two.”

In his career, Chris Evans has judiciously chosen a balance of blockbuster and smaller, more interior films. He picked “Gifted” for many reasons but says: “It was more the director than the role. You can have a great role and a great script. You can have a lot of pieces in place but if you don’t have a great director, you don’t have much. So for me it was Marc Webb.”

Webb is particularly pleased that “Gifted” is a movie in which all the intellectual powerhouses are women. “It’s a movie where women are really brilliant and it’s not done as a stunt. It’s something that feels weirdly rare, I don’t know why. I love the idea of having girls who are good at math, women who are good at math. I mean, it happens in the world but we just don’t always recognize that in cinema.”

Webb also thinks that fathers will respond to the message of the film, if his own reaction is any example: “I’m a forty-year-old dude, and I got choked up. All the burly grips hid behind the duvateen (light blocking fabric) because they were crying. I think men are not encouraged to feel, which I think is one of the challenges that Frank has to face, but of course men are emotional creatures too.”

“Gifted” will open in cinemas on May 3, 2017 from 20th Century Fox as distributed by Warner Bros.

WATCH: ‘500 Days of Summer’ director helms Chris Evans-starrer ‘Gifted’

Chris Evans plays another kind of hero in the upcoming deeply touching family drama “Gifted” as a doting uncle to McKenna Grace.

“Gifted” trails the joyous journey of Frank Adler (Evans) and Mary Adler living peacefully on their own but is interrupted when Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), discovers that Mary is a prodigy like her mother. Fighting against his mother for the custody of Mary, Frank is determined to give the child a normal upbringing as opposed to the plans of Evelyn.

Supported with an impressive cast, “Gifted” also includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Critics’ Choice Best Actress (Comedy) Jenny Slate directed by Marc Webb who also helmed blockbuster favourites such as “500 Days of Summer,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

“Gifted” opens May 3, 2017 in Philippine cinemas from 20th Century Fox and to be distributed by Warner Bros.