Same Kind of Different aAs Me tells the real-life inspirational story of Ron (Greg Kinnear) and Debbie Hall (Renee Zellweger), who befriend a homeless man (Djimon Hounsou), in the hopes that showing him a little bit of kindness will matter. What started as an effort to save their struggling marriage brought the Halls closer than ever and lead all three individuals on a remarkable journey that changed their lives for the better.
During the film’s Los Angeles press day, actress Renee Zellweger got on the phone with Collider to talk about what made her want to be a part of Same Kind of Different as Me, why this story is an important one to tell, getting to the heart of Debbie Hall, how kindness begets kindness, and how much she enjoyed working with her co-stars. She also talked about what gets her to pass on a project, why she’ll only direct if it’s a story that she’s really passionate about, and when she knows that a project and character is special.
Collider: When director Michael Carney called you about being a part of this film, what was it about him, the story and this character that really sold you on it?
RENEE ZELLWEGER: I loved the message of the book. I loved Debbie Hall’s story and what it is that she had committed her life to doing, which was bettering the lives of people who are living on the fringes, who are having a hard time, and who need a little help and a chance. And I loved that this film was going to be an opportunity to expand on that message and to share it with more people. The book spent something like three and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list, and I think it’s ‘cause folks who read it were so moved by it that they needed to share it with their friends. I wanted to be a part of that and a part of telling Debbie’s story. I know that Ron Hall wanted this film to be made because he’s been carrying the torch of Debbie’s mission for all these years, and this was such a great opportunity to bolster that effort. It was a real blessing to be a part of that. And then, when Michael called me, he told me what the plan was (to find a shelter to shoot in that needed a financial investment and they’d refurbish it to better serve the homeless community there), which was pretty exciting. Talk about practice what you preach, right?! I just thought, wow, why don’t we do that every time? When you can go in there and do something that’s positive, why not make it permanent.
This movie has such a sense of love, inspiration and appreciation, especially because of who Debbie Hall was. What did you do to get to the heart of her and to understand why loving other people was so important to her?
ZELLWEGER: Goodness, I wish she was around, so that I could ask her that, but Ron was very generous in sharing his stories about what moved her, what inspired her, her heart, her laughter, her humor and her kindness. It was inherent. She had her faith. She seemed to be one of those people who was born good, and who looks at the world from the inside out. She didn’t look back at herself. She was just a really genuinely good person.
This movie doesn’t preach to audiences about helping others. Instead, it shows you how it can really affect and enrich the people doing the helping, which is very inspirational. How do you think Debbie would feel about this legacy that she’s left behind?
ZELLWEGER: That’s probably a better question for Ron Hall, but from what I understand, I think she would laugh, she would be amazed, she would be grateful, and she would be thrilled.
How did you find the experience of working with the two men in Debbie’s life, played by Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou? What are your favorite moments on set, with each of them?
ZELLWEGER: It was hard to keep a dry eye on set with Djimon, and Greg is one of my personal favorite partners in crime. It’s hard to not laugh whenever I’m around Greg Kinnear, so it’s a really nice day at work, that’s for sure. The overall feeling on set was that everyone was there for the same reason, which is that we all really wanted this story to be told. It’s such a beautiful story, and being a part of telling it was joyful, every day and for everybody.
Debbie was a woman who truly believes that kindness begets kindness. Do you think that’s something that we would all benefit from remembering, more often?
ZELLWEGER: I think we just underestimate the importance of it sometimes. We understand the power of just a little tiny bit of kindness. It could be the catalyst for something so important. You don’t know what people have been through, either that day or with what’s happening in their lives. Sometimes just a tiny little gesture or an acknowledgment can make all the difference in turning somebody’s life around. I think it has a trickle down effect, when you pass on what you receive without even knowing it. We also underestimate our own power to make a difference with the decisions that we make, every day.
It’s one thing to raise money for charity, but actually giving of yourself and having that personal interaction can make an even bigger difference.
ZELLWEGER: Yes, that’s so true!
At this point in your life and career, what has to be there in a project, for you to sign on, and what makes you say, “You know what, I don’t think this is for me”?
ZELLWEGER: Yeah, if I wouldn’t see the film, myself, or if I can’t get through the script because it feels like it’s unnecessary, in some way, or gratuitous, in some way. Shock value, just for the sake of it, isn’t interesting to me. I look for things because I’m a movie fan and I go to the movies. I’ll sneak in there with my popcorn, and I love it. If I’m not going to go, then I don’t see why I would do it. That’s always been one of my markers. The other thing now is if it works for my life. It used to be, “Okay, I’ll figure everything else out around this thing.” Now, if I’ve already penciled something in, like my mom’s birthday and it can’t wait, then I can’t do it. You can’t be a storyteller when you’re only living some other person’s life. You have to have authentic experiences and exchanges with people, so that you remember what it feels like to have those human moments. It’s essential.
Are you still going to act in and direct a segment for the anthology film Berlin, I Love You?
ZELLWEGER: It didn’t work out with the scheduling. I’m sad that it didn’t because it sounds like it’s gonna be really cool.
Do you still hope to direct, at some point?
ZELLWEGER: Not for the sake of it. If it’s a story that I feel very passionate about telling, than perhaps then. Usually, you do something out of necessity. If you can’t find somebody else to direct it, then you do it. As far as my creative aspirations go, I’ve never thought, “One of these days, I’m gonna move on and direct.” I think it’s project specific, but I look forward to it. It would be a really interesting experience.
Do you know what you’re going to do next, or are you still searching for that next thing?
ZELLWEGER: I do know, but I don’t think anybody’s talking about it yet, so I’ll leave that to them. But, I’m going to start something in January.
You’ve been in so many films that people love, but Jerry Maguire, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Chicago will always be remembered in film history. When you play roles like that, that become so iconic, do you know, at the time, that you’re doing something really special, or is it always in hindsight, once the film is done and you see how audience react, that you realize just what a lasting impression the characters and films might have?
ZELLWEGER: Wow, that’s a good question. It’s something I don’t think about. Isn’t that awful? I forget sometimes that other people are going to have an experience around what it is that we’re creating, at the time, because I get really caught up in the creating and in the experience that we’re all sharing together, in the moment. I can tell when they’re special for us, in terms of the exchanges, and making things that seem impossible happen or work, in the story that you’re telling. I can tell that, and that’s enough.
Same Kind of Different as Me opens in theaters on October 20th.