Miracles From Heaven: The Inside Scoop on this Amazing True Story
posted by: gretchen
Mile High Mamas recently interviewed the stars and filmmakers of Columbia Picture’s latest release, Miracles from Heaven. Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah shine in this bold, unapologetic true story of a documented medical miracle. The movie is based on mom-of-three Christy Beam’s best-selling book about her daughter Annabel’s highly rare medical disorder, Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction. It chronicles the desperate search for a diagnosis, Anna’s bravery in the shadow of a terminal illness, and the harrowing near-death accident that coincided with an unexplainable cure.
In an effort to process the events, Beam began to write. She shared, “It started out, I thought, cathartic. I thought it was for myself for healing. I thought it was that I needed that.” But it soon grew to mean more to her—and to others. Beam marvelled, “So that’s how it all started, but that wasn’t the plan. The plan was way bigger and it wasn’t even about me. It was so beyond me and as it started to grow and catch on and the publishing company was involved I just realized it had to be shared. It wasn’t something I had to keep to myself, it had to be something that was given to encourage and inspire others.”
The migration from book to film was natural. Producers T.D. Jakes, DeVon Franklin, and Joe Roth are behind smash-hit films like Heaven is for Real, Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficent. They knew they found an important, compelling story to support. It began simply. Jakes noted that he and Beam shared a book publicist. In Hollywood, it takes more than a shared publicist to set gears into motion, however. What made the producers take note of the Beam family’s astonishing story?
Jakes noted, “I think for me it was that the story was true. I met the Beam family. They are very believable. They weren’t kooky or strange, you didn’t hear music in the air when they walked in the room. And you can relate to a mother’s love for her child, so I thought it came from a place of heartfulness and wholeness, and the story was at times painful and powerful and yet ultimately uplifting. It’s a great story.”
Roth added, “You read a lot of material and so you look for certain things. Certainly authenticity being one of them. It felt like an authentic story, a very relatable story, and a mother-daughter story—and a story that people could derive hope from. It had all those things going.”
The producers brought in screenwriter Randy Brown, who wrote Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve. His job was to whittle the story into a tight, compelling, informative piece that stayed true to the heart and message of Beam’s book. Beam gave the screenplay, and movie as a whole, high praise. “I keep saying this. The heartbeat of it and the message of it is so exactly in line with the heartbeat and message of the book. You know the book Miracles from Heaven is exactly what we lived, it’s the chronicle of everything we endured in the movie and beyond…if you read the book and watch the movie, they complement each other very well, but they still share the same message.”
Casting the movie wasn’t difficult. The producers and director, Patricia Riggen, knew they wanted experienced actors who would bring warmth, intelligence, and humor to their roles. They also wanted actors who would honor the Beams and depict them as closely as possible.
Beam was thoroughly impressed by Jennifer Garner’s ethic and dedication to her depiction. “We had so many good face-to-face moments together and talks and we related as mothers and we related, like I said, as just fast friends. She had the book and she had read it and she had highlighted it and underlined it and dog-eared it and read it so many times and that’s when I knew it was going to be okay because wanted to know as much as she could know. She poured through the script, she poured through the book, and she’d pour back through the script and then back through the book and asked some really really great questions and before they’d go do scene she’d call me and like ‘ok, we’re fixing to do blah blah blah scene, what would you have done during that time?’ She wanted to know, it was genuine.”
Jennifer Garner embraced her role as Christy Beam, staying in close communication. Beam described them as fast friends, and Garner agrees. When asked how the two moms are alike, she shared, “In lots of ways Christy and I are alike. Every time we go to a restaurant we order the same thing. You heard it her first, that’s a little snippet I haven’t told anyone but it’s true. Ways that I am like Christy? I don’t know, like I feel if I need to be tough, I can be tough, if I need to sit with someone, I can sit with someone.”
One of the sweetest moments of the interview, Martin Henderson, who plays dedicated, loving dad Kevin Beam, jumped in and quickly complimented Garner and Beam as moms: “You’re an incredible mother! It’s true. Your devotion to your children is astounding. If everybody had that kind of commitment to motherhood we’d be raising pretty great people. So I think you have that in common. Her absolute commitment to try to find help for her daughter and how tough she had to remain even though her heart was breaking, you have that same attribute for sure. I’m going to answer for her. It’s true.”
Martin Henderson is best known in the U.S. for his recent role as Dr. Nathan Riggs on Grey’s Anatomy. He took his role as Beam family dad, Kevin, seriously. He prepared to play the strong, yet tenderhearted veterinarian by hanging out with him at their Texas home. “ Kevin and I are not that similar physically, quite different, so then it’s like ‘How do I try to enact that?’ But for me it was ‘what is the essence of this man?’ And I went and met him in his environment, at his work, and his home and his church and his community and with his friends and we went out for dinner. And I just saw the way he carried himself in those relationships and the way people responded to him and I was trying to identify what it was about him in his essence and how do I portray that? And I think really the script did a lot of it anyway. I think Patricia (Riggen, the director) felt really strongly that the role of Kevin shouldn’t just be the dad and she really made an effort to show aspects of his character that made him more than that…This is a true story, it’s a heavy story, so I felt emotionally, too, how to do that honestly?”
Miracles from Heaven is often heavy and emotional, yet it doesn’t get mired in that tone because of the skill and warmth of supporting roles. Queen Latifah plays Angela, who may very well be an actual angel as she takes Christy and Anna under her wing when they fly to Boston to seek help from Dr. Samuel Nurko, played by the delightful Eugenio Derbez.
Queen Latifah was asked what she hoped to bring to her character, Angela. She shared what the filmmakers sought from her. “We need you to bring what you bring. Bring the humor and the good vibes and some of the things you know me to be.” Latifah understood the central purpose of her role, adding, “They’re in one of the most difficult places in their life in the film and this is what Angela gets to do. She gets to come and break it up and relief the stress a little bit. And I can totally relate to that.”
Eugenio Derbez is one of Mexico’s top box office draws and a popular actor and comedian. He was tapped to play the role of Dr. Nurko, who was Anna Beam’s doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. He studied the real Dr. Nurko to prepare for his role, learning how to mimic performing medical procedures. “He’s an amazing human being. He trained me before the movie. We talked through Skype many times.’ Derbez shared. ‘I went to the hospital in Atlanta (film location)…The challenge was more than learning how to do this, how to do an endoscopy, or how to touch, or how to manage this or that. It was to obtain the real Dr. Nurko feeling, to see how he is, to portray his soul more than just his name.”
The central figure in Miracles from Heaven is, of course, the child who suffered from CIPO and who experienced miraculous healing. Annabel Beam was portrayed by twelve-year-old Kylie Rogers. The adult actors heaped praises on Rogers. Queen Latifah lauded her, saying, “She’s a seasoned veteran, so I was kind of stealing the acting chops from her.”
Garner was equally impressed with Roger’s acting chops, especially noteworthy because the film features such heavy themes. “It’s one thing to ask us to do it. It’s another thing to ask that little girl to go to that place. She’s just like a pure vessel. When she looked at me and said she wanted to die, she meant it. She couldn’t even rehearse it. She couldn’t even, she was just…She’s incredible, that kid. In every way. I love her.”
Rogers got to know the real Anna Beam during filming. “I spent a lot of time with her.’ Rogers remembered. ‘She came over the apartment I was staying in at the time. Jen and I both really studied the actual Beams. It was fun. They’re all really nice. It’s cool to know I’m portraying someone this has happened to and it’s so crazy that I actually got to meet the person this happened to.”
With an award-winning, dedicated cast in place, director Patricia Riggen steered the film’s tone and vision. “I realized that goodness around us is also part of miracles and what miracles are, and I just wanted to make sure that we brought out that message.” In the film, Riggen included a series of flashbacks near the end that serve as not only eye-openers for Christy Beam but for movie-goers: “And so that’s how these flashbacks came about and how all these discoveries of Christy Beam came about of when they were going through the struggle and that really painful journey there were all these little hands helping along the way, these little angels, that showed up in different moments that were helping them through. And that’s something I think we can all relate to in our difficult times, as moms, as kids, as human beings we can always have our eyes open to the goodness around us. And I think that’s one of the very important messages of the movie.”
Everyone, from the actors to producers to the director acknowledged Miracles from Heaven relates a central, accessible message. It never shies away from the Beam family’s strong faith and belief in the power of prayer, honoring the source of the story while revealing truth.
Henderson noted, “The film acknowledges they were completely supported by so many other little miracles that really, if you boil it down, were acts of love and I think we can never really underestimate the effect being loving can have on someone who is going through something like this. So I hope that if it sort of speaks to that and the importance of community, whether it’s a religious community or not, is so important.”
Producer Roth shared “I want people to walk away and say tenacity can pay off and things are not hopeless even when they look hopeless and bring hope into their own lives and have a less cynical view of the world. And again swim against the tide of cynicism that we all live in right now.”
The big miracle in Miracles from Heaven cannot be diminished or sold short. The supernatural, unexplainable miracle is the reason the book and movie exist. The miraculous, sudden healing of terminally ill Anna Beam remains the bedrock. Queen Latifah is a believer: “I do believe in miracles. I think, you know, things just happen and some people say, ‘wow, that was a lucky break’ or ‘how serendipitous that this happened to you’. But for me, like some things are just like ‘wow!’ That is a miracle. Like when you see some crazy thing happen and some kid comes out of a hole after fine, just a couple scratches, you know, not…that’s a miracle to me. And I’ve seen it before…I love the magic of that. To me, miracles are almost magical, you know, they seem fantastical, like something magic happening right there in real life. Maybe it’s the little kid in me, but there’s something special about that. It kind of makes me feel hopeful and that there’s something greater than me happening and it makes me excited about life and what happens after life, you know?”
This is the kind of story that easily lends itself to a big screen adaptation. People are mystified and challenged by things that can’t be explained. But Miracles from Heaven is more than a one-note film. It’s a love story between parents and kids. It’s about medical caregivers who understand that heart and humor are healers. It’s about people who are miracles in themselves when they step out and do the right thing. The movie and the book aren’t titled “Miracle from Heaven.” Everyone Mile High Mamas interviewed wanted to convey the message that although the Beam Family’s true story is amazing in itself, it was the little miracles along the way that can inspire all of us.
Miracles from Heaven opens on March 16, 2016. It is rated PG for dramatic medical situations and depictions. Visit the website for more updates, movie times and news.