Chris Evans’ latest movie “Gifted” where he co-stars with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, along with a multi-talented cast that includes Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace and Lindsay Duncan is a deeply charming story of a young child math prodigy and his uncle who are unexpectedly thrown into a custody battle that neither of them approves.
“Gifted” began its journey to the big screen when producer Karen Lunder, who has produced an assortment of films including “Arrival,” remembers a conversation with producer Andy Cohen in which she asked: “‘What do you have that’s great and different? What is the thing you’re most excited about?’ He sent me Gifted that was written by Tom Flynn. When I read the script, it had this timeless quality to it.”
Tom Flynn has had a successful career in Hollywood. “He’d done really well selling big comedy scripts to the studios,” GIFTED producer and Flynn’s literary manager Andy Cohen explains. Flynn left Hollywood for Florida where he started selling real estate and semi-retired. At the urging of his wife, he finally began to write the movie he really wanted to write. His inspiration for Gifted was actually his sister, whom he describes as “the most unassuming ridiculously smart person you’ve ever met. The script eventually landed on Hollywood’s Black List, a survey of film executives’ favorite screenplays yet to be produced.
Evans worked with director Marc Webb to create who they wanted Frank Adler to be. “Frank’s a tricky guy,” Evans says. “He has a lot of guilt, which is tough to play because it’s beneath the surface. You can’t exactly show your cards and he’s kind of a closed-off emotional guy anyway. He’s tough to read. I think he’s exceptional but in a different way than his sister. There’s a lot of complexity in his past and he’s someone who didn’t cope as well with it as he does now.”
The filmmakers also spoke to a lot of mathematicians and prodigies in advance of filming Gifted as it was important to get the math and Mary’s giftedness right. They met with Terrence Tao, a UCLA Mathematics Professor and Fields Medal winner who is an expert on Navier Stokes and deemed the only person to have come close to solving it. It was a colleague of Terry’s at UCLA that turned her on to Jordan Ellenberg. When Karen Lunder picked up Jordan Ellenberg’s book, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, she knew his was a brain they wanted to pick to help them with their research for GIFTED. “We talked about Mary’s story in the movie, and how she reflected my own,” Ellenberg says. “I grew up in a mathematical household – both my parents were statisticians, and I was really interested in math from a very early age. As far back as I can remember, certainly by the age of two or three, I used to sit under the kitchen table and multiply numbers together.” Ellenberg recognizes what he calls “the push-pull” in the film as “one that a lot of kids and parents feel, because on one hand, if a child has the passion and the skill and the ability and a love for something, you want to allow that to flower, right? But at the same time, you’ve got to remember that a kid is a kid. They are not their gift. They’re a person first.”
When Evans first read the script, he was drawn to the dialogue – “the music of the words, the exchange, the repartee” — and the story. “I love character pieces that involve family drama, they’re very relatable.” That, and the attraction of very intelligent people exchanging clever banter, he says, “is just very juicy for an actor.”
“Gifted” opens May 3 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.