January 14, 2012

Matt Damon in “WE BOUGHT A ZOO”


From director Cameron Crowe who gave us Jerry Maguire’s “You had me at hello” comes another impressionable and endearing film that will give us 20 seconds of courage in the Matt Damon starrer “We Bought A Zoo.”

Based on the best selling memoir of Benjamin Mee of the same title, Matt Damon delivers a powerful and moving performance as Benjamin Mee, a single father and recent widower who buys a rundown zoo with 200 exotic animals, hoping for a fresh start for his family.

Adventure, dramas and hilarity ensue as Mee and his two children learn how to care for and communicate with the animals while they rebuild their lives. In the film, Benjamin Mee is a widower when he moves in with the two children Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). The plot essentially follows the path of a courageous family and tells the story of the incredible risk they take that transforms their lives.

Q: You filmed on location in Southern California at a ranch that was transformed into the fictional zoo. What was the set like?

A: “It was pretty magical. Rodrigo Prieto, our cinematographer, was using mostly natural light, which meant that our day was structured around the sun. It was a very beautiful kind of romantic light. I think everybody felt very comfortable on the set.”

Q: There are animals and children in this film, both notoriously difficult to work with. Did that present problems?

A: “We broke the rule of not working with animals or children because we worked with almost every kind of animal and kids too (laughs). The kids were great, I think that the cutest kids working today in Hollywood are probably in this movie. We were really prepared going in to the film … except for the animals. The one wild card was always going to be the animals because it is impossible to know if they are going to cooperate. But the animals were all terrific and great fun. It was not difficult at all because they were extremely well trained.

Q: At one point you have to pick up a lot of escaped snakes, what was that like?

A: “Scarlett loved the snakes; she had no fear at all (laughs). I was totally freaked out by the snakes to start with and then once I realized that they weren’t venomous, I relaxed a little. I started picking them up and handling them and I got into it. I had never picked up a snake before.”

Q: In the film there is a great scene in which Benjamin talks about finding 20 seconds of insane courage, which is a memorable line that rings true. Have you had that experience yourself?

A: “Yes, I think actors often have those moments at the beginning of their careers. Every huge audition or screen test seems like the most important moment of your life and I remember being in pressured situations from a very young age. As a young actor, that 20 seconds of courage is something that you get used to. Sometimes when you are facing a big change in your life, all that is required is to take the first step. If you have the courage to take the first step then you might be shocked at what unfolds, and that turns out to be the story for Benjamin Mee.”

Q: Can you discuss the pivotal and very moving relationship Benjamin has with his son Dylan, played by Colin Ford?

A: “The relationship between Benjamin and his son is strained at the start of the story because of what they’ve gone through with the death of his mother. But it is also difficult because of Dylan’s age. He is getting to that stage where communication can often break down between a parent and a child. I haven’t really had to experience that yet with my own kids. I’ve got one thirteen year old, so maybe we’re entering into those years (laughs) I hope not. My own teenage years were pretty smooth and I never felt like there was a communication breakdown with my parents, so I’m hoping that I can have that same experience with my own kids. I did well in school; I was an intense kid though; I really wanted to be an actor.

“We Bought A Zoo” opens January 18 in theaters from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.

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