Friday, October 19, 2018
  • Thursday, Sep. 20, 2018
"This Is Us" Creator Dan Fogelman Focuses On "Life Itself"
In this Sept. 13, 2018 file photo, Dan Fogelman arrives at the premiere of "Life Itself" in Los Angeles. The film weaves inter-generational story lines of love and tragedy. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)
  • NEW YORK (AP)
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As in his TV series "This Is Us," jubilant and catastrophic events tend to cluster for Dan Fogelman. Days before his latest and most ambitious movie, "Life Itself," opens in theaters, and the third season of his hit NBC show premieres, Fogelman's house was robbed. The thieves returned later the same evening, smashing through a glass plate door. Fogelman says he had to chase them away.

"There's been a lot of life — really intense life — happening in the last 24 hours," Fogelman said in a recent telephone interview. "There's a movie in there somewhere, I'm sure."

In Fogelman's world, on screen and off, every dramatic low has its silver linings. In "Life Itself," which Amazon Studios will release Friday, the story spirals out, across generations, from a fatal accident on a New York street. Like the tear-inducing "This Is Us," it's a glossy, cross-generational tale of destiny and chance encounters with an A-list cast. Its starry ensemble includes Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas and Mandy Patinkin.

"Life Itself" is Fogelman's second feature as writer-director following 2015's "Danny Collins." (He also penned 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love" and co-wrote Disney's "Tangled.") The film will test whether the 39-year-old writer can find the same response on the big screen as he has on the highly rated "This Is Us." (The season two premiere drew more than 10 million viewers; season three begins Tuesday.) Critics haven't been kind to the boldly titled "Life Itself." (The New York Times called it "utter balderdash.") But, then again, every down has its up for Fogelman.

Q: What for you is the appeal of looking at love through the prism of family and multiple generations?

Fogelman: Whether it's "Crazy, Stupid, Love" or "This Is Us" or this film, you have multiple stories and characters kind of ping-pong off of each other. It's definitely something I enjoy doing. But I've never really thought of it that way. I was never really interested in setting out to write a mob movie, even though I love mob movies, or a horror movie, even though I love horror movies. For me, the kind of stuff that turns me on is really about people and often about families.

Q: Some of the comfort viewers seem to get from "This Is Us" is that it suggests everyone's life is part of a bigger picture.

Fogelman: My mother passed away ten years ago and it was the kind of body blow of my life, the kind that I wondered if I could get up from. It was very complicated, she died very unexpectedly and very suddenly. And a year after that, almost to the day, I met the woman who would become my wife. My life is now constantly filled with these beautiful, important moments that a key figure in my life is no longer here to share. That feels giant in my basically normal life. But when you expand that and think about the people that came together to bring my mother into life and to lead to me, and the people that came together to bring my wife into the world to lead to her, I think the most ordinary lives become really big and cinematic.

Q: That's not the most common view in wide-release movies these days.

Fogelman: To me a scene like in "Kramer vs. Kramer" where the little boy is testing Dustin Hoffman about eating the ice cream holds the same type of intensity and sit-in-the-movie-theater-eating-popcorn appeal as the biggest action sequence in an action movie.

Q: "This Is Us" is the kind of network hit that few believed was even possible anymore. Do you feel pressure to keep the ratings up?

Fogelman: I don't feel pressure anymore. Everyone that works on the show — because it goes far beyond me, obviously — is just really good at their jobs. The actors are very good at acting. The writers are very good at writing. It's clear that everybody is still turned on to it three seasons in. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that doesn't happen a lot. It certainly hardly happens in television and certainly hardly ever happens in network television anymore. Everyone's aware of it.

Q: Have you ever researched your own genealogy?

Fogelman: Strangely, I've never been that interested in knowing my family history. My father is fascinated by it constantly. All he ever wants to do is take a family trip to Siberia or Russia or wherever my great ancestors were from, and the poor guy can't get any traction from anyone in my family to go do it.


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