The crux challenge of casting TriStar Pictures’ new mystery drama “Heaven Is For Real” was the search for a very special child who could play real-life character, Colton Burpo, with the natural, easy-going innocence that made his story so persuasive.
In the film, 7-year-old Colton is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery and miraculously survives. But his family is wholly unprepared for what happens next -- Colton starts to matter-of-factly recount what he says was an amazing journey to heaven and back.
“Finding Colton was a huge challenge because the movie could not succeed if Colton seemed artificial. If you believed that he was just reciting lines, you would never believe any of what he was saying,” director Randall Wallace explains.
Casting director Sheila Jaffe launched a search across America – but it wasn’t until the very end that they found their Colton. “We saw a lot of tapes and finally got down to eight boys. Seven boys were very similar to one another but one boy was different,” remembers producer Joe Roth.
That one boy was then five year-old Cleveland native Connor Corum. “He was incredibly natural, and he wasn’t thrown by anything. Once we saw him there was no choice – he was the kid,” Roth continues.
When actor Greg Kinnear started working with Connor he was enthralled by his lack of artifice. “He’s kind of the greatest version of an actor, in the sense that everything that he does is on instinct, it’s effortless, it’s just kind of there without any artificiality to it. It really makes me mad,” he quips.
Much as this opportunity was a thrill for Connor, his mother Shannon says they were cautious about it at first. “Initially, it was a mixed bag of emotions. There was certainly some concern about whether we were thrusting our son into the limelight and also about whether he would be able to stay grounded and enjoy his childhood,” she recalls. “On the other hand, it was pure excitement and joy and something really positive for our family. My grandfather, who turned 95 last October, was thrilled. He’s a very spiritual man and I really feel like this has given him something wonderful to focus on in his life.”
Working with Connor came naturally for Wallace, who helped to set the family at ease. “I’m the father of sons and I’m a little boy myself still, at heart, so I wanted Connor to come onto the set and feel that he was part of a great, big family,” he says.
Wallace continues: “He’s a brilliant young man. He always came to set prepared and Greg was wonderful working with Connor. Sometimes I would say ‘action’ and we’d film the scene and the magic would happen right there. Other times Connor would be full of energy, distracted and bouncing off the walls and we’d have to wait and let him calm down. What ultimately happened, when he forgot that it was a movie, he just began to be that character in that space, which is what we want of any actor, and then he was riveting.”
“Heaven is for Real” is now showing in Phiippine cinemas.