When writer/director Peter Hedges was filming “Dan in Real Life,” in his ensemble cast there was a 6-year-old boy named CJ Adams. CJ’s role was small; he only had a few lines, but he and Hedges forged a special friendship. Five years later, Hedges found himself on a nationwide search for a boy to play the title role of Timothy Green in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Over a thousand boys auditioned, but Hedges and casting director Bernie Telsey knew immediately after 11-year-old Adams came in to audition that he was the one.
At the film’s press day, I sat down with CJ at a roundtable interview to talk about his new film which opens on August 15th. He told me what the audition process was like, how he bonded immediately with his onscreen parents – Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner, what he shares in common with his character in real life, how he enjoyed working opposite newcomer Odeya Rush who plays his love interest in the story, and why he sees this as a spiritual movie about faith.
Question: CJ, can you talk a little about getting this role? What was the audition process like for you? Was it tough?
CJ Adams: Well, the first time I ever acted, it was actually very easy for me. I hardly remember when I was acting because all I had to do was just be myself in front of a camera for “Dan in Real Life,” which was by Peter Hedges. I thought I was just an extra, but I found out that I was actually a cast member. That’s why it made it more natural to me when I tried out for “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” because I knew the director and I knew everyone, so I was just, “Well, okay, I’ll just act out the part.” I got the part, and then that’s how I got in the business, so I’m trying out for other movies now.
Q: You had to be caked in mud for a very long time and covered in food. Tell us about your process and how challenging were those particular scenes for you?
CJ: Well, to me, it wasn’t really that challenging because, well, yeah, it was, because I had to put on mud, and then it was in a cold garage, because we had to actually rebuild the house in a garage. So it’d be 32 degrees, and we had to keep my mud moist, so I’d keep getting sprayed and it’d be cold. Acting wouldn’t be that hard because I’m just acting as a part, and I already know how I’m going to act. The hardest part for me was staying normal because I’m freezing cold, or my hair’s starting to hurt because all the food’s dry.
Q: Are you a good soccer player?
CJ: Yeah, I love soccer. Soccer is my sport. The last game of my season, I actually got a hat trick, so it was kind of hard being bad at soccer. But the way I did that, so I could be bad, was I just thought of the times when everyone first starts something and they struggle. That’s how you progress. So, I just thought back to that, and that’s how I played really bad.
Q: Did you do all your own soccer stunts?
Q: Wow. No injuries?
Q: How did they attach the leaves to your legs?
CJ: They had this green liquid that they would put these veins on, so that way they could stick the leaves easily on there. Probably the hardest part was taking them off, because we would use a hard rag and we’d have to scrape it off, and then it would hurt. At night it’d be red and stuff, but then, by the next morning, it would be okay.
Q: What’s worse? Ripping off a Band-Aid or scrubbing off the leaves?
CJ: Scrubbing off the leaves, because if you rip the Band-Aid off quick, you don’t really feel it.
Q: Did you think of your character as an alien or as a boy? How did you envision him for yourself?
CJ: When I first heard of him, I kind of thought of him as a gift from God, like he sent down Timothy to teach these people to have children, to start another life.
Q: That’s a pretty deep idea. Was that your impression when you read the script?
CJ: Well, just seeing the movie and seeing this kid grow out of the garden, that’s not very normal. So you have to think of it in a different kind of way, like whether it’s a gift from God, or some seed was growing in the box that they dropped in there and the mixture of the seeds grew a boy or something like that.
Q: During the filming, do you have a memorable moment that sticks out in your mind more than others?
CJ: Probably the moment that really sticks in my mind that I want to keep in my mind is the pool scene, because in the pool scene I had to stay underwater for hours on end to keep filming the scene. In order to do that, I had to learn how to scuba dive. Now that I know how to scuba dive, I want to remember that, so the next time I’m looking for fish underwater or swimming, I will know how to scuba dive.
Q: Can you talk about what it was like working with Joel, and did he teach you any cool magic tricks?
CJ: Yeah. He taught me a couple cool magic tricks, but working with him was the best, because he would always crack a joke between a scene, and he would always stick up for me, and cover my back if I’m in trouble or anything like that, because he’s big and tough.
Q: Were you in trouble?
CJ: No, but I always knew that he was with me and that I would have him with me if I was.
Q: How’s Jennifer as a Mom?
CJ: She is so sweet. It’s indescribable. Like whenever I see her down the hallway, I’d give her a hug. We’d say hi and talk. And also, when she acted, she was so good at acting that it made me feel comfortable when I was acting with her. Because, like, say that I’d be stuttering on a line, she would go with the flow, so it made me feel really comfortable when I acted with her.
Q: How old were you when you played the role of Timothy?
CJ: I was ten. He was ten, but I’m now 12. It’s been two years since I last filmed it. We filmed it right before my birthday.
Q: How was it seeing Timothy in the movie now?
CJ: When I saw the movie, I saw that his face was so much more innocent than me now, because I’ve definitely grown a lot, but I noticed he was so much smaller. He was almost half my size, and now that I’m so much bigger, I think of him in a different perspective, as this sweet, honest boy that doesn’t know any better.
Q: If you compare yourself to him, how is he similar to you and how is he different?
CJ: What I noticed is that Timothy and I look a lot alike. (laughs) Also, I noticed that Timothy had this level of being sweet, like he would always be there for others, and if you were in trouble, Timothy would help out. He would do all he could to make you feel good to be around him. And then, for me, I noticed that I was a lot like him because I always try my best to make people like me, and that’s the same as what Timothy does.
Q: Jennifer said that they were filming on a Saturday and everyone was exhausted and they had a band come out and play. She said Common was rapping and you were dancing. Can you tell us about that day?
CJ: Yeah, well, in that scene, everyone was tired because we had been filming for three days on end, and we just needed something to make us feel good. So Jennifer called in this band, and Common is a rapper and the same with Lin-Manuel. He and Common were working together, and they were rapping out a song together, and everyone was dancing along. It just made everyone feel so great, that this is a really good movie, and I knew that Jennifer cared for it after that, because she did something so sweet like that to everyone, and everyone was so happy. We were all thanking her and giving her hugs and it was just so nice of her.
Q: Had you seen any of Jennifer’s or Joel’s movies before working with them?
CJ: I saw Joel in “Star Wars,” and I saw Jennifer in “13 Going on 30.” So I knew them, and I thought it was really cool that I can meet them. And then, when I saw how they acted, it was just awesome, because they’re so nice and it was fun.
Q: You said you were trying out for some other roles. Do you want to continue acting?
CJ: I’m not sure yet. I can’t picture myself as an actor, but yet I can. I know that I’m probably gonna be in other movies, but I’m not sure if I want to be known for being in movies. I want to be known for something else, maybe.
Q: What would you like to be known for?
CJ: I’m thinking about getting known for helping others in the world, like giving, say that there’s someone poor in, like Iraq or something, I would bring him to America and give him a life with a school and friends.
Q: If you had a profession other than acting, what would that be?
CJ: I do not know. I’m not sure what my life will be yet.
Q: What were your friends’ reactions when they saw you on the screen or in some of the trailers and on the poster?
CJ: Well, they were amazed, but they knew me before I was even in the movie, so they’re like, “CJ, you’ve progressed so much,” and I’m like, “Thank you so much.” And they’re progressing, too. Like, they get a job building bikes as a second job or something like that. They’re only about my age, so they’re progressing, too, and I love that. I love seeing people progress through their life, and they say that, too, about me. So, they keep it at a low level. They don’t go all crazy, like always asking for an autograph, and all of that. That’s what I like about them.
Q: Are those your legs on the poster or did you have a body double for the legs?
CJ: I wish they were my legs, but, yeah, I had a double, and he was awesome. He was my best friend. We talked all the time on the set. And, yeah, that’s his legs.
Q: How was it working with Odeya Rush?
CJ: Odeya was awesome, because she was in other movies, and this was probably her first big part in a movie from what I heard. And now, she’s in another movie called “Mary Mother of Christ.” She’s been doing lots of movies. It felt really great to have her on the set because I needed a friend with me that I could talk to all the time while I’m doing school or between the scenes. I liked it because I always had someone to talk to.
Q: How did you balance school with working? Did you have a tutor on the set?
CJ: I had a tutor on the set, so between all the down time, other than talking to people, I would probably be doing school. I had to do at least three [hours] every day. But once my three was up, I could just chill around the set.
Q: What is your favorite subject?
CJ: My favorite subject is probably math or science and then comes P.E. That’s my favorite.
Q: You were saying earlier that Timothy is a gift from God and that there’s some symbolism when you have your arms outstretched. Do you see this as, not necessarily Christian, but a spiritual movie about faith?
CJ: Yeah, probably about faith and tree-like, because, trees look a lot different from people, and it’s just different because they’re different, and that’s what made me think about Timothy, because he had leaves on his legs, and he was different. So it made me think it was very tree-like and peaceful.
Q: In the scene when David Morse hits you with the dodge ball, did you really get hit? How was that filmed?
CJ: That was filmed in the front yard of the actual house, which we didn’t do any scenes in, because we rebuilt the house, of course. Most of the time, it was a real dodge ball, and then what happened was that David would throw the dodge ball at my head, but it didn’t really hurt at all. I didn’t really feel it.
Q: How many times did you reshoot that?
CJ: Probably around ten times, because we did the part with the dodge ball and I would be dancing around, and then we did the parts with me putting my arms up and him hitting me in the head.