Warm, lov­ing and trou­bled

Child­hood with bipo­lar dad inspires ‘Po­lar Bear’

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - By Su­san King su­san.king@latimes.com

Maya Forbes re­called her fa­ther as a great sto­ry­teller, “a very com­pas­sion­ate per­son.” Cameron Forbes also was bipo­lar. When Maya was 6, her par­ents sep­a­rated af­ter her fa­ther had a se­ries of manic break­downs. With her younger sis­ter, Pink Mar­tini lead singer China Forbes, and her mother, Peggy, Maya moved from their home in the Mas­sachusetts coun­try­side to a small apart­ment in Cam­bridge.

Un­able to earn a de­cent wage, Maya’s mother en­rolled in Columbia Busi­ness School in New York to get an MBA. A doc­tor said Cameron needed rou­tine in his life, so Peggy had him be­come the pri­mary care­giver while she at­tended school dur­ing the week.

“In­fin­itely Po­lar Bear,” which marks Maya Forbes’ fea­ture di­rec­to­rial de­but, chron­i­cles the 18 months when Forbes’ mother (played by Zoe Sal­dana) was away try­ing to fin­ish her de­gree.

Mark Ruf­falo stars as Cameron, who was warm and lov­ing but would dis­ap­pear dur­ing the night to go barhop­ping, would leave un­fin­ished projects strewn around the apart­ment and would make out­ra­geous pur­chases, in­clud­ing a car that lacked part of its floor.

The film, which opens Fri­day, is also a fam­ily af­fair. Forbes’ hus­band of 17 years, Wally Wolo­darsky, pro­duced it. Their daugh­ter, Imo­gene Wolo­darsky, now 13, plays Forbes’ al­ter ego. The cou­ple’s daugh­ter Cle­men­tine, 16, has a brief scene as a lacrosse player. And China Forbes per­forms her orig­i­nal song “The North­ern Line” for the clos­ing cred­its.

Maya Forbes felt eight years ago that the time was right to re­visit her child­hood. She was miss­ing her fa­ther, who had died in 1998 at age 59 of pan­cre­atic can­cer.

“I knew that I had got­ten a lot from him — a cer­tain hu­mor­ous way of look­ing at the world,” said Forbes, who was a writer and co-ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on “The Larry San­ders Show” and wrote the 2009 an­i­mated hit “Mon­sters vs. Aliens” with her hus­band.

Forbes’ par­ents en­cour­aged her and her sis­ter to be strong and tough. “They were both fem­i­nists,” said Forbes, 46, dur­ing an in­ter­view in Los An­ge­les this week. “He wanted us to go off in the world and be suc­cess­ful and be strong. I was ea­ger to re­visit that.”

Forbes fin­ished the script for “In­fin­itely Po­lar Bear” when she was about to turn 40. She and Wolo­darsky had another baby, but as soon as son

Hack­ley turned 1, she said, “I thought, ‘I can get back in there now.’ ”

It took years to ob­tain fi­nanc­ing for the movie, which was shot two years ago in just 28 days in Providence, R.I.

“This is our third in­de­pen­dent film,” Wolo­darsky said. “We know the ups and downs. I just kept telling Maya we are go­ing to lose fi­nanc­ing at some point, and sure enough we did. That hap­pened a cou­ple of times.”

She knew pro­ducer-writer-di­rec­tor J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awak­ens”), told him about the film and gave him the script. Abrams came on board as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

Ruf­falo im­me­di­ately re­sponded to the script when he re­ceived it back in 2010.

“We were cre­atively and per­son­ally re­ally in sync, and the same hap­pened with Zoe, whose strength and vi­tal­ity I re­ally re­sponded to,” Forbes said. “She had a re­ally op­ti­mistic qual­ity about her. I didn’t want the movie to be heavy. I want it to be alive.”

Di­rec­tor Wes An­der­son (“The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel”), a good friend, rec­om­mended that Forbes cast her daugh­ters as the sis­ters. By the time Forbes was ready to be­gin pro­duc­tion, though, Cle­men­tine was too old to play the young film ver­sion of Maya. But Imo­gene was the right age. (Ash­ley Aufder­heide plays the younger sis­ter.)

“I haven’t acted be­fore,” Imo­gene said in a joint in­ter­view with her mother. “I love per­form­ing, singing, pi­ano and danc­ing. So I was ex­cited to do it.”

And she was fa­mil­iar with her mother’s child­hood.

“She used to tell my sis­ter and I bed­time sto­ries about grow­ing up,” Imo­gene said. “I learned a lot about what it was like to live the child­hood she did.”

Imo­gene noted that she and her mother got down to busi­ness on the set.

“We weren’t quite as warm and affectionate with each other,” she said. “But we had a con­nec­tion on set. We were col­lab­o­ra­tors.”

She loved her on-screen par­ents. Ruf­falo and Sal­dana are warm peo­ple, said Imo­gene, who is en­ter­ing the eighth grade this fall.

“Mark is just an in­cred­i­ble per­son to worth with,” she said. “I never would have been able to do it with­out him.”

Mak­ing the film was cathar­tic for Forbes, who said she was of­ten in tears dur­ing the shoot.

Forbes’ par­ents di­vorced when she was 17.

Her mother even­tu­ally be­gan her own money man­age­ment com­pany. Her fa­ther was in and out of hos­pi­tals but “got good at know­ing that he needed to go to the hos­pi­tal,” she said.

“They were a good pair,” Wolo­darsky said. “They were not a cou­ple any­more, but they were still very close and very warm. It was an in­spi­ra­tion to see these peo­ple who could, in a very ma­ture way, un­der­stand that they couldn’t be to­gether as a cou­ple but still be a fam­ily.”

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

MAYA FORBES, right, di­rected “In­fin­itely Po­lar Bear.” Daugh­ter Imo­gene Wolo­darsky costars.

Sea­cia Pavao As­so­ci­ated Press

MARK RUF­FALO and Zoe Sal­dana play par­ents to two girls.

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