The Origin Story You Won't Hear for Timothy Green's Dirt Baby

Timothy Green isn't just a little boy who grew out of a bit of dirt in one lonely couple's backyard. Instead, the dirt baby has a secret mythological history, that no one knows about (because it wasn't included in the movie). In our exclusive interview, the director of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Peter Hedges, reveals to us the secret origin of Timoth Green.

First up, the Green family home is also the home from Halloween 2, right?

Peter Hedges: I didn't know until we were filming, and I was having many sleepless nights. I'm channel surfing at about two in the morning, a few hours before we're shooting a big scene, and I see the house. And I go "that looks just like our house," and I was watching Halloween 2. First I got upset, and somebody said "I don't think it's the same audience." We looked everywhere for that house. And when we found it, there was no other house, it's always a scary moment when there's no other of something. We went to so many houses...I wanted a Grant Woodish, Americana feel to it.

Would you call The Odd Life of Timothy Green a modern day fairy tale?

To me, if I were to describe it, it's a human comedy with incredible amounts of drama and a touch of magic. I guess the magic that gives permission of the story is the fairy tale part of it. But also, I wanted it to feel very real and relatable. It's an interesting tone to balance. Enough magic and enough hope but also a healthy dose of reality. I'm interested in how we can find more magic in our lives. We may not have magical occurrences happen to us, but there's a kind of micro-heroism that goes on every day in people's lives. There's also a possibility for real grace. I thought maybe there's a way for the magic to get this story going, but the real magic is who and how you love.

The Origin Story You Won't Hear for Timothy Green's Dirt Baby

Did you guys ever figure out the backstory of Timothy Green? Is he some sort of magical creature that comes to families in need?

I did, I wrote a whole bunch of material. I did one version where there was a history of kids that have came through time. One that was born out of fire, one that was born of water. They scared people. I tried to put it in the script, I thought it was great...

I love that idea, like ethereal spirits!

Nobody liked it. And that [these children] were misunderstood in history. I had one that came out and they scared people. The one that came out of water was sent away. The one way we've maybe progressed is that these people could come. So I did try and create a whole mythology. By the way, no one has ever asked that — I've told that to no one.

There was a point in the story where [I had to decide], is there going to be a literal truth to a story or an emotional truth to the story? I started writing much more literally. I wanted to convert those skeptics that would have their arms crossed and say this could never happen. And then I thought of all the movies I would have been deprived of and experiences in film I would have been denied, if I — for instance — said well no way is an angel going to come down and show you [what] your life [would be like] if you hadn't lived. No way could I, as a kid, wish to be big and then turn big. No way would baseball players come out of a cornfield that I built and then I get to play baseball with my Dad. None of that happens. But that's cinema at its best, because it reminds you of what matters most. And I wanted to make one of those movies that tried to do for an audience, what those films did for me.

Why did you decide to make Timothy Green not very kid-like? He doesn't throw tantrums, or cry, he's a wise adult in a little person's body?

He definitely feels emotion. I feel like he could cry, and he almost does in a key moment. I have takes where he did — I just elected to not use them, because I felt it was more emotional feeling what wasn't expressed. He's a boy who's never played a video game, eaten processed foods, he hasn't been nicked and bruised, Madison Avenue hasn't gotten its claws into him. For awhile I wondered if he was real, [or] were they just imagining him? But ultimately he manifested the qualities that they thought he would possess but in a way... is still a human being.

How do you use magic in a movie that is pretty grounded in reality, and keep it real?

Only use it when you need it, you don't overuse it. For me, the real key was the reason magic occurs for these people (even though we never explain it) is because their longing and their ache is so great. I felt that if that was planted, to overuse this metaphor, really deep in the soil... if their ache and their longing was so great they get a bit of magic... On a certain level it's a miracle any of us exist. The trick is not to rely on the magic but give it permission to allow the story to be expansive and ambitious. Ultimately it's the characters that drive where the story goes and not the magic. I think that's how most of us experience our lives, we have some control but we probably don't have as much as we think.