When director Sean Anders first started pitching his latest film, a comedy on raising foster children, he faced a lot of hesitance. But as the father of three children adopted out of foster care, he’s well acquainted with the hilarity that comes with navigating freshly formed parental relationships. “If you go to some of these support groups, most of the time is spent laughing,” he says. “Most of these people knew that they’re a completely natural fit to make a comedy.” The result? Instant Family—in theaters November 16—follows Pete and Ellie (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) after adopting three siblings.
Rose Byrne: In Instant Family, there’s a lot of this unconventional family. Is that something you feel drawn to since you started your family?
Sean Anders: I didn’t realize that it was—and I came from this really close, but also really dysfunctional family. I thought we were all crazy and fucked up. As I got older, I realized everyone’s family is crazy and fucked up, and we were apparently really healthy.
RB: I remember you recounting to me how you told Mark about the script not knowing how he’d respond, and you got this intensely committed phone call immediately.
SA: I sent Mark the script with an email to sell him the idea. In the morning, I was sitting in the car with my kids when Mark called. I took the call, and Mark said right away, “I got your email early this morning. I’ve been sitting here waiting for the appropriate time to call you, because I just wanted to say yes.” He hadn’t even read the draft yet. My kids could see how excited I was, and they were like, “What happened?” I said, “That was Mark Wahlberg, he wants to do the adoption movie!” and they said, “Who’s Mark Wahlberg?”
RB: I know you’ve been chatting about doing a screening for people in the foster-family community, and I think that could be really impactful.
SA: We first took the movie up to a conference for people that work in the field also attended by a lot of adoptive and foster families. Everyone was incredibly friendly, but you could tell, as they were coming into the theater, there was this sense of “Okay, what is this going to be?”
RB: What have they been burned by?
SA: There are stories about somebody who adopts kids, and the kids have hearts of gold, and nothing bad happens. On the other side, there have been great movies about the subject, but they tend to be gut-wrenching dramas that add to the stigma of who these kids are. So, I think when they saw our movie, they felt like we didn’t shy away from some of the negativity that comes along with it, but we took people beyond that into the joy and the happiness that comes with these stories.
RB: Well, it gets really honest. Like, the strangeness of any relationship, whether it’s an adopted child or a non-adopted child. For me, being a mum and having two kids, I needed to get to know my kids before I fully fell in love with them. I think a lot of mums don’t talk about that.
SA: It is really honest, for sure. We talk in the movie about the cosmic connection. It’s love at first sight for some of them, and for some people, it’s not. In my case, it wasn’t. Mark’s character really wanted that cosmic connection with the kids, and he was really put off by the fact that it didn’t happen—and it made him doubt the whole thing. You’re getting to watch these people fall in love with these kids, but it’s not easy.
Instant Family is currently in movie theatres across the United States.