When you mosey onto the set of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at the famed Melody Ranch Studio in Newhall, California, it certainly feels a bit wild. This is a locale used for many Hollywood films, most recently Django Unchained.
But, if you keep driving past the Old West façade buildings, there exists a nice little “suburban neighborhood” where we find Jennifer Garner, Steve Carell, and the cast of the upcoming October 10 Disney film.
Today they’re working away in a house that serves as their cinematic family home. And yet, it still feels quite wild because on this day, director Miguel Arteta and his cast are filming a birthday party scene with a legion of real live Australian animals.
We have lots of coverage coming your way from our set visit, but first we start with the film’s stars. Carell and Garner were both keenly aware of the legendary children’s book series, as are most people with children the ages of both stars’.
“I had the book pretty much memorized,” Garner said and laughed. She said the film, as teased in the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day trailer, goes for the feel of the books, rather than a direct interpretation.
“I know the book inside and out and I would say it's more 'inspired by' than anything. They did such a genius job of turning the story into a movie.”
The film is a fantastic effort by Disney to bring back the live action family movies that many of us grew up on. For Carell and Garner, that was one of the biggest appeals. As an appreciator of the books, Garner knows all too well why it will work well as a film.
“Kids love to have their feelings validated and acknowledged. I think the idea that you can just have a rotten day that is horrible that no one understands that is horrible from your point of view in every way feels good,” Garner said.
“My kids haven't seen a bad day in their lives if you look at it from a global perspective. But, for them, they've had some real hum-dingers so they love this.”
Carell appreciated being on the front lines of what he hopes is a live action family movie renaissance.
“There is sort of a void there. I don't see a lot of live action family movies. I don't want to call this a kids' movie because I truly don't think it is, I think it's funny enough to hold up for much more than kids, I think there is much more depth here, not to be too pretentious about it. I know my kids will really love this movie and that was a lot of my incentive to do it,” Carell said.
“It's very sweet but it's sweet without being overly sentimental. It's that fine line. You want it to be available to everybody but you also want it to kind of exist in the real world."
Garner agreed. “We grew up with Vacation, John Hughes and Escape to Witch Mountain, all of these big movies -- Splash even. These big family movies, they haven't existed in a really long time,” she added.
The two play parents to four kids and one is a baby! The film takes place on the day before and the day of Alexander’s birthday. And as the title suggests, it’s not a good day for Alexander. But, in a change from the book series, Alexander wishes that everyone in his family would know what a “bad day” is, and sure enough -- that happens!
Garner and Carell filled us in on what their characters do for a living. “I am literally a rocket scientist in this,” Carell said and laughed.
“I'm an unemployed rocket scientist, aerospace engineer. A stay-at-home dad right now and enjoying it, but frustrated at the same time because he feels the need to get out there and work and be supportive of his family financially.”
Garner’s character makes her living helping children’s lit books get marketed (kind of like the one the film is based on!). “I'm working in book publishing, kind of in marketing for book publishing.”
Both parents’ careers will be affected by this “Very Bad Day,” but they are doing their best. “We're parents to four kids and have jobs and busy lives and Alex is having a middle child moment and feeling left out,” Garner added.
One of the things they do to help Alexander with this horrible day is to throw him the birthday party of a lifetime. When we were on set, we got to tour Alexander’s bedroom and it’s easy to see, this kid is obsessed with Australia. So, when we head outside of the house into the backyard, those Australian animals makes perfect sense.
Both Carell and Garner were more than eager to work with animals (and children), despite what that old Hollywood adage says about working with them. “Well, animals are scary. You don't know exactly what they're going to do. You just get here and assume you're in good hands,” Garner said.
“The trainers are so good and they don't put you in jeopardy,” Carell added. “The fact that you have to improvise with animals is because they are unpredictable -- that can be really fun when something out of the ordinary happens and you capture something that is very real.”
Besides the great young cast, bringing a beloved children’s book to life and having fun with wild Australian animals on this particular day, Garner and Carell are fulfilling a longtime dream of appearing together onscreen. “I've wanted to work with her for so long. I don't care about the animals. I don't care about the babies -- just kidding,” Carell said and laughed.
“She’s a great actor but beyond that she's a really kind, wonderful person.”
For Garner, it all added up to one irresistible opportunity. “I love the title and the book and that Disney is making this, but really I thought, 'Oh finally, I'm going to get to work with Steve. Done. Sign me up,” Garner said.
She was just ready to finally appear with the comic master. “We've had a really good time. Working with Steve has by far been the best part of the whole thing.”
And stay with Movie Fanatic for more coverage from our visit to the set of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day!