Straight from the heart

Gifted di­rec­tor Marc Webb talks Chris Evans, mas­culin­ity

Life & Style Weekend - - SCREEN LIFE - SCREEN LIFE with The In­de­pen­dent’s Jack Shep­herd

WHILE the box of­fice con­tin­ues to be dom­i­nated by block­busters, one mod­estly bud­geted movie has man­aged to pen­e­trate the heart of Amer­ica.

Gifted, the story of an un­ortho­dox Amer­i­can fam­ily strug­gling to keep it­self to­gether, has touched thou­sands, mak­ing al­most $25 mil­lion (A$31m) in the US.

Much of the film’s suc­cess comes down to di­rec­tor Marc Webb, who made the leap from indie com­edy 500 Days of Sum­mer to The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man back in 2012. How­ever, fol­low­ing the re­lease of 2014’s The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man 2, Webb seem­ingly dis­ap­peared from UK cin­e­mas, con­cen­trat­ing on TV shows such as Lim­it­less and Crazy Ex-Girl­friend. And although you may con­clude the crit­i­cal re­ac­tion and can­cel­la­tion of the ex­panded Spi­der-Man uni­verse may have been the rea­son,

Webb op­ti­misti­cally says that wasn’t the case.

“I think I’ve been pretty busy,” he tells me, cit­ing the de­layed re­lease of Gifted, the two TV shows, and work on the up­com­ing The Only Liv­ing Boy in New York as fill­ing his sched­ule.

In­ter­est­ingly, Gifted was be­ing filmed when a cer­tain

Pres­i­dent wasn’t a re­al­is­tic con­sid­er­a­tion for the post. How times have changed. Of course, peo­ple’s po­lit­i­cal opin­ions were still tur­bu­lent across the coun­try, and de­spite the film’s in­trin­sic links to blue-collar Amer­i­can life – a highly politi­cised group in re­cent years – Webb avoided mak­ing any po­lit­i­cal state­ments. “The cli­mate when we were mak­ing it was quite dif­fer­ent,” he says. “Our ex­pec­ta­tions for what was go­ing to hap­pen into the fu­ture were quite dif­fer­ent. I’m from Wis­con­sin, I spent a lot of time in Mon­tana grow­ing up, which is also in the movie. I re­late to that world. Peo­ple look down on it be­cause it’s not very so­phis­ti­cated. It’s not that way at all. It’s a dif­fer­ent world view.”

One of the script’s many strengths is the fam­ily around which the film is based. Chris Evans – known for his role as Cap­tain Amer­ica – plays a sin­gle man who looks af­ter his in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent niece. Their neigh­bour, played by the ever-won­der­ful Oc­tavia Spencer, acts as an­other parental fig­ure.

“That’s what hap­pens in cen­tral Amer­ica,” Webb says, ex­plain­ing why he wanted to de­velop a fea­ture fo­cused on a non-tra­di­tional fam­ily. “You have an African-Amer­i­can woman and a white guy, and an adopted daugh­ter and they form a unit. That’s a re­ally beau­ti­ful thing that I thought was valu­able to put into the world.

“It’s a sweet movie. It’s not a cin­e­matic mas­ter­piece but it cel­e­brates good things. It’s got a big heart, and it was fun to make. Au­di­ences re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that and it’s ac­tu­ally some­thing quite rare to find in the cin­ema. It’s a dif­fer­ent facet of Amer­i­can cul­ture in a re­ally pos­i­tive way.”

One of the main rea­sons Gifted con­nects with au­di­ences so well is be­cause of Evans. As Webb says, the ac­tor comes with “a cer­tain bag­gage” thanks to Cap­tain Amer­ica, but that was per­fect for the role. “We needed some­one who had a lit­tle bit of dark­ness while also hav­ing some hu­mour, plus a lit­tle sar­casm, all of which fit Chris per­fectly.”

Evans, Webb says, has some­thing most other Amer­i­can ac­tors lack at the mo­ment: a cer­tain mas­culin­ity. “It’s a weirdly tricky thing to find young, male, Amer­i­can ac­tors like Chris. There’s Chris Prat and Chris Pine. Then there are lots of Brits and Aus­tralians who are mas­cu­line. There’s maybe a darker qual­ity to their mas­culin­ity. As a di­rec­tor, it’s an in­ter­est­ing thing to go out and search for those ac­tors. Maybe Amer­i­cans come off as a lit­tle sen­si­tive, I don’t know.”

Webb di­rected both The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man and its se­quel. The stu­dio was ex­pected to launch a Spi­der-Verse to com­pete with Marvel’s very own Avengers. How­ever, both projects have since been shelved by the stu­dio, which in­stead de­cided to team up with Marvel to pro­duce Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing.

Whether the di­rec­tor re­turns to big-bud­get pic­tures or not, no doubt his op­ti­mistic out­look will seep onto the screen.

Gifted is in cin­e­mas now.


Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in a scene from the movie Gifted.

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