On the Set for a Very Bad Day

Books Movies

Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has been adapted to a motion picture starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner, which opens on October 10.

Jennifer Garner, Dick Van Dyke and director Miguel Arteta on the set.
Jennifer Garner, Dick Van Dyke and director Miguel Arteta on the set.

Last year, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the set. As it happened, the set in this case was Vroman’s Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in Pasadena,which has a great children’s section upstairs. The scene being filmed involved Jennifer Garner’s character, who works for a children’s book publishing company, having to try to prevent a disaster involving a celebrity in-store reading of a book that contains an unfortunate typo. The celebrity in question is Dick Van Dyke, playing himself.

Alexander is of course a very quick read, so naturally the filmmakers have had to expand the story; producer Lisa Henson explained how they opened up the story, saying “the idea of the movie is that the first act of the movie is basically the book that we’re all familiar with where Alexander wakes up in the morning. The gum is in his hair, and it’s horrible from beginning to end for him. He believes nobody understands what he went through, and it’s just the worst, and he doesn’t really even feel sympathy from his family. So, that night he wishes that his family would have the same kind of terrible, horrible, very bad day. And from the minute, the second, that the alarm fails to go off in the morning, the day just is the worst for everybody. And then he is like the eye of the hurricane. He looks around and things aren’t going that bad for him, and he wonders did he really curse them or not. There’s really no magic in the movie. It’s just that actually is how bad days can be in a real family.”

Lisa Henson and Jennifer Garner (wearing a headband to create the appearance of extreme "helmet hair") answer questions from a group of bloggers.
Lisa Henson and Jennifer Garner (wearing a headband to create the appearance of extreme “helmet hair”) answer questions from a group of bloggers.

Jennifer Garner was excited to be involved with the film, telling us “I have known this book my whole life. When I was little, I wanted to be a children’s book librarian and a children’s book author. I really truly did. You can ask my school librarian from Oakwood Elementary.”

The lead role of Alexander is played by a young Australian actor named Ed Oxenbould, a nice coincidental meta-joke, since Alexander’s often-repeated comment is that he’s going to move to Australia. Alexander is supposed to be five years old in the book, but for the film he’s been aged up to 11, going on 12. Oxenbould, who had to learn an American accent, had not ever read the book before getting cast in the role, though he had seen parodies of it in MAD magazine. Asked if he could relate to the character, he told us “yeah, I can, ’cause it’s kind of about a family that doesn’t really listen to him, and that’s kind of my family as well. (laughs) I’m in trouble now.”

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