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Guests also included other castmembers Britt Robertson, Christian Madsen, Lucy Fry, Natalie Coughlin, Mckenna Grace and Thom Barry, as well as director Bruce Beresford, screenwriter Susan McMartin and producers Mark Canton and Courtney Solomon. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arsenio Hall were also on hand to fete the film.
Murphy, last seen on the big screen in 2012’s One Thousand Words, returns to theaters with an atypical project, taking on the leading role in a drama. Mr. Church tells the story of Henry David Church (Murphy) and the unique 15-year friendship that develops between him and Charlotte Brody (Britt Robertson). Recruited to cook for Charlotte, known as Charlie, and her dying mother, Mr. Church enters their lives when Charlie is 10 years old. As time passes, their friendship blossoms, revealing connections stronger than blood can forge familial bonds.
Though Murphy had chosen to stay away from acting for several years and has never taken on a lead role in a drama, the script immediately caught his attention. “It was just a really sweet little story,” Murphy said at the film’s premiere. “I don’t usually get stuff that’s written like this.”
Canton and Courtney have a knack for offering major stars projects outside their wheelhouses, having previously worked with Jennifer Aniston on Cake, for which she landed a best actress Oscar nomination. The two were surprised and relieved when Murphy called them saying “I cried when I read the script, and I’m gonna do it.”
Yet Canton believes such opportunities are life’s blood for actors. “I think that true movie stars … are always looking to stretch themselves,” she said. “At some point, you want to get back to what drove you to work in the first place.”
Though much is being made of Murphy’s rare dramatic turn, he said his approach to the role was the same as any other. “Acting is all the same stuff,” he said. “It’s a different muscle, like my arm is different from my leg, but it’s all a part of me.”
The film heralds that it is “based on a true friendship,” and the real Mr. Church was a figure in screenwriter McMartin’s life. Britt Robertson’s character, Charlie, is loosely based on McMartin and her own experiences as a child. “He’s the reason I became a writer. He’s the reason I probably survived childhood. I always knew I wanted to write a story about us because I felt like he gave me everything and asked for nothing. … I want to honor him by sharing with the world who he was,” McMartin said.
The entire cast and crew rallied around the authenticity of the story. Beresford noted it’s what attracted him to the project and told THR, “The thing is to make a movie, you’ve got to believe in it or it doesn’t work.” Canton and Solomon of Cinelou decided to produce the film because of its alignment with their production company’s mission statement to “make movies that are good stories, well told.”
Robertson admitted she relished the opportunity to return to her indie film roots. After making a splash in genre features such as the action-adventure Tomorrowland (2015) and the ensemble romantic comedy Mother’s Day (2016), Robertson enjoyed returning to what she calls “acting boot camp.” She said, “It’s great to get back to that raw version of filmmaking, where you’re not telegraphing or projecting anything other than just the moment.”
Robertson and co-star Lucy Fry also reveled in the film’s period setting in the 1970s and ‘80s. Robertson gushed about her 1970s jeans, saying, “I think I missed my era,” while Fry celebrated the extra layer of acting challenges presented by the cultural differences of a past time.
The entire team shared the hope that audiences leave the film reflecting on love, compassion and the power of family. Screenwriter McMartin told THR she wants the film to inspire others to take similar action. “I hope that people take away and think about the Mr. Churchs in their own life,” she said. “He made me feel seen when I didn’t feel like I had a voice. Kids need to feel that. So if somebody can leave this movie and go, ‘I want to make sure I’m there for somebody else, even if it’s not my own kid,’ that would be amazing.”
The film was followed by an afterparty at Stella Barra Pizzeria on Sunset, where the Italian menu included burrata-topped bruschetta, meatballs and prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella, as well as Intelligentsia Coffee. Guests attending were castmembers and crew, as well as producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who helped launch Murphy to super stardom with Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
Mr. Church opens Sept. 16.
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