An Interview with Alexander… Director Miguel Arteta


There is nothing terrible, horrible or bad about Disney’s upcoming family movie “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” As a matter of fact the movie is quite humorous and marks a return to what the Mouse House has mastered, traditional Disney family storytelling.

“Alexander” director Miguel Arteta says these days most family movies are animated so “doing a live action family movie is actually a new thing” to try today.

Arteta, whose background in movie making has been independent cinema, says you can image the surprise when Disney reached out to him. “I was more surprised than you when I got the call” says Arteta. He adds that Disney approached him to direct the movie with the idea to rebrand family films like the widely successful 60’s movies like “Freaky Friday” and “That Darn Cat.”

For Arteta taking on a Disney project was a major departure from his previous work. “It was a big surprise,” the director confesses, adding that once he read the book on which the movie was based, “it was something I could put my heart into. It was a beautiful story and it is really funny.” He also admits that the movie is also a bit of a throw back to the madcap movies of the 80’s like “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Home Alone.”

Once he committed to the project the first thing he needed to do was cast the part of 11-year-old Alexander, the focal character of the movie. After watching more than 500 audition tapes, Arteta brought 100 actors in for auditions, adding that it was a really difficult search because the actor cast as Alexander had to set the tone for the entire film. Arteta wanted someone who had the charisma and energy to pull off the part and most importantly for the director, an actor that was very natural. “I really don’t like kids in Hollywood movies that ham it up and play it up. I wanted to find someone who was lovely.”

Enter 12-year-old Australian native Ed Oxenbould. When Arteta knew he found his Alexander he convinced the studio to hire him. What the director failed to do was run the screen test by actors Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner, who play Alexander’s parents in the movie. The director said the pair fell in love with Oxenbould immediately and the trio bonded with the rest of the cast.

Accompanying the director on a press visit to Philadelphia, Oxenbould said he was excited when he found out that he got the part and was going to work with Carell and Garner but when it got to the day that he was going to meet his screen parents, the child actor says “I was so nervous. I was just shaking. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like there was pressure on me. Then I just met them and I fell in love with them.”

Even before production started Arteta realized screenwriters would have to write a script that would extend beyond the 32-page picture book. He admits there was concern to “honor the spirit of the book as much as possible” adding that Judith Viorst’s book still has a huge following with more than two-million copies in print and honored by a number of children’s’ book awards.

The movie, which opens in theaters October 10th, pays homage to the House of the Mouse on at least three occasions. The most notable toss of the mouse ears is the return of Dick Van Dyke to the Disney Studios. Van Dyke plays himself in a very funny scene in the movie as he reads a children’s book to a crowd of youngsters. Arteta credits executive producer Shawn Levy who directed Van Dyke in “Night at the Museum” for securing the actor for “Alexander.” “Being a Disney movie, it was great to bring him back to Disney,” adding it was amazing to be sitting next to a guy who knew Walt Disney personally. Arteta shares that Van Dyke “was talking to us about Uncle Walt and what it was like to be around him.”

What no Julie Andrews? Arteta says it is not like they didn’t try.

There is also a reference to “Wreck it Ralph” in the movie and Disney’s animated classic “Peter Pan.” Arteta shares “I have to be honest, it was a lot cheaper” to use the Disney’s version of Peter Pan because Disney owned the rights to the material.

So whether you are having a really bad day or not take a little time to be thoroughly entertained when you see Disney’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”