by director Marc Webb
It all comes down to Mary.
She first emerged from the imagination of Tom Flynn. In the ‘90s, Tom had written several high concept comedy screenplays only to watch them disappear into the maw of Hollywood. Eventually, Tom gave up on Tinseltown, moved to Florida and started working in real estate. But the further he got from Hollywood, the closer he came to writing about something from his own life. That was the key.
Mary is a conflation of Tom’s gifted sister, his own niece (now in college) and the extraordinary young actress we found to play her, McKenna Grace. Gifted is the story of a custody battle between Mary’s uncle, Frank (Chris Evans), and Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). There’s a rich battle of wits between mother and son but none of it matters if you don’t love this kid.
Chris Evans and I looked at each other after the screen test with McKenna. It was undeniable. Not only could she act and improvise, she understood Mary as a human. She could discuss Mary’s choices and her feelings. We couldn’t make the movie without her.
McKenna’s sophistication is a combination of heart, intelligence and childish curiosity that you just don’t find very often. I’m not sure if she’s going to end up being an actress—I could more easily see her becoming a veterinarian—but I was supremely lucky to find this wonderful collaborator to make this story sing.
After making superhero movies for the last few years, I wanted to keep things totally simple. No big credit sequences. No set builds. No visual effects. But this simplicity hinges on just how deeply you are rooting for Frank and this gem, Mary. Thankfully, I got to make a movie that I could watch with my own nieces and parents. This movie wasn’t about showing off, it was about finding the beating heart at the center of it all.