One of my favourite films of all time is Nanny McPhee, it’s wonderfully styled, enchanting and fills the hearts of kids both young and old with a sense of timeless wonder and joy. It encapsulates a secret and rare magic that I thought could only found by reading a Roald Dahl book.
I must have watched that movie over 100 times and every time I watched, I thought to myself, the director of this film, Kirk Jones, is a magical genius. He may even be a wizard!
Then one day while browsing my twitter feed, I saw that someone called ‘Kirk Jones’ had followed me. Surely, I thought, this cannot be THE Kirk Jones, who I have admired for years? On further inspection and to my utter delight, it seemed that it was him! We had been brought together as ‘e-friends’ because of our mutual love for a football club, Bristol City Football Club!
On bonding through that mutual love, we occasionally chatted and I began to see why Kirk is such a fabulous writer and director. He is the loveliest most supportive, down to earth man ever. He seems to love life and has a wicked humour about it.
In spite of being an award winning director and writer and working with huge names, like Robert De Niro and Cameron DIaz, he is so approachable and always seems to have time for a quick catch up with me.
Mr Jones even met up with me and my family while he was working in Liverpool last year, giving up his lunchtime to chat to us. Always supportive, this lovely Hollywood jewel has even gone so far as to help me get a role in a beautiful film, about a dancer.
If you haven’t seen his other films, please do! They are wonderful. The brilliantly inspiring ‘Waking Ned’, which Kirk wrote and directed, was (proportionate to budget) the second highest-grossing film in the world in 1999 (only coming second to the highly acclaimed, Blair Witch Project) and it also won awards Worldwide.
All parents should see his fabulous film, ‘What To Expect When Expecting’ starring Cameron Diaz and Jenifer Lopez, this film will make you both laugh and cry.
Kirk also co-wrote and directed one of my other all-time favourite films, the charming, ‘Everybody’s Fine’ starring Robert De Niro, Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore (as seen in this picture below). This film will leave a lump in your throat for the simple fact that it reaches in to your soul and shows you what life is really about.
(from left to right, Sam Rcokwell, Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kirk Jones, Kate Beckinsale)
When I started interviewing celebrities and people of note, Kirk was top of my list. He once sent me a picture of a punk snowman, he is definitely a wizard and he is one of the best directors this country has ever produced.
(snowman picture Kirk sent me on a snowy day)
So, knowing how busy he is and the fact that he is friends with some of the biggest, most talented people on the planet, I built up the courage and sent him an email to see if he would consider it…..
His reply was, “I’m pretty busy – but send me the questions anyway…”
Kirk is so awesome, in spite of how busy he is, he not only answered the questions but he found me pictures from his personal stash and suggested more questions for me to ask.
I love this guy, he is brilliant, kind and has great taste in football! So here you are, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Kirk Jones.
Almost all of your films appear to focus on the theme of family whether it’s the dysfunctional Brown family that Nanny McPhee helps to repair, Robert De Niro’s character who has lost contact with his children in Everybody’s Fine, couples trying to start a family in What To Expect and three generations of the same family pulling together in Greek Wedding 2. Is that deliberate?
"That’s been pointed out to me before and I can honestly say I wasn’t aware of that common theme when I chose the movies I've made.
What I do know is that I like to make films that people can easily connect to. I don’t think it's an exaggeration to say that the one thing we all have in common is family. Whether you have a big family, small family, close family, whether you don’t get on with your family or even hate your family it is something that we all have in common. Even if you don’t have a family, you are aware of the concept and of the emotion, drama and comedy that exists between parents, children, siblings, teenagers. Maybe this is why I am drawn to the subject of family, so I have a head start in engaging the audience in a subject they are familiar with."
What is it like juggling Hollywood, travelling and family life?
"It’s all about expectations. The film industry isn’t a place for anyone who wants regular hours, regular holidays even regular pay. Nothing relating to my career is predictable. I have no idea where I will be next month, what time I will finish work or when I will start each day and I can’t remember the last time we had the luxury of booking a holiday that wasn’t ‘last minute’.
When I make a movie I might be away for up to a year. I have three children and a wonderful wife who is very understanding and supportive but we have all got used to the fact that we don’t see each other every day.
The up side of being a writer/director is that when I write my own projects I might be home for 6 months. It means I can attend all school activities, matches, take holidays and for a short time, I feel like a ‘good-normal’ dad before disappearing again.
The upside of travel is that when I am away my family try to visit me as often as possible, so they not only see me but also see some wonderful countries and locations that they would never normally be exposed to. Most importantly the whole family has very healthy air mile balances."
Did your children inspire how you directed the film Nanny McPhee?
"As a parent of (at that time) an 11 yr old and 7 yr old, I was connected with a child’s mind set and with their view of the world. Communicating with my children, looking at the
world from their perspective definitely helped my approach to Nanny McPhee. When I live with children it reminds me what it was like to be a child myself, a feeling that for most of us has been forgotten or washed away with years of hum drum adult life.
I think my choice to direct it was partly inspired by the fact that I wanted to make a film for my children. I also noticed how easy it was to secure a great cast. Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Derek Jacobi, Imelda Staunton were more than aware that their children/ grandchildren/nephews could see them in a fun family movie".
What tips do you have for parents?
"After raising three boys I still don’t feel qualified to give advice. I don’t think anyone ever feels they know everything about parenting because no two children are the same. I think
if anything, I would remind parents that no matter what is happening in the present, it
will soon become a memory. If your child is screaming in a restaurant, you will laugh about it in the future. If they fall and break an arm it will lead to a stressful day in A & E but it will be okay.
It’s a marathon journey with lessons for adults and children every day. I liked the way Nanny McPhee set out her 5 lessons and had fun teaching them.
Over all, stay in touch with your own instincts and don’t get too hung up on parenting manuals".
You are so successful, what would you tell your own children and all children young and old, when it comes to following their dreams?
"A big part of achieving something is failure. If everything you touch turns to gold, if nothing ever goes wrong, if you never have a set back then something is very wrong.
Maybe we should teach children about failure and how to deal with it just as much as we teach them about being a success. I worry at times when I hear parents say to their children that they can 'achieve anything they want', it seems to have delivered a generation where a huge percentage of children and teenagers say they want to be ‘famous’ without any sense of how or why and interestingly with no apparent talent.
I spoke with Jennifer Lopez who was a judge on 'America’s Got Talent’ when I was filming
‘What To Expect’ about children and teenagers ambition for fame. She felt talent shows offer opportunities and the ability to fulfil dreams, which I couldn’t disagree with but I expressed my concern at raising a generation where ‘fame’ was so highly valued.
For me following a dream is about identifying a passion and working hard for years (I drove a van delivering film cans and making tea and coffee) with little reward often working for free.
Dreams are there, you should try to make them real but accept that the journey will
be challenging and that it won’t be handed to you on a plate. The failure, the struggle you experience, should be embraced and will make the dream even more rewarding when it is achieved".
What was school like for you? Did you pass all your exams? Were you well behaved?
"I grew up in Long Ashton Nr Bristol and attended Backwell comprehensive school. I was average ability, wasn’t outstandingly academic but worked hard at school and passed my exams. I was more interested in drama, writing, poetry and acting. I was once approached to contact a theatre producer in London after I was spotted acting in a school production but I never followed it up. I knew at a very young age that I simply wasn’t good enough to be an actor."
What’s next for you?
"I have written a screenplay that is now financed with Robert De Niro attached to star in it. This will be my second film with him. I wrote a film called Everybody’s Fine a few years ago about a father who had recently lost his wife and realised she was the main point of contact with his four children. I met with De Niro in New York and realised immediately that family is the most import thing to him. I pitched the story of a man travelling the US to re connect with his adult children and he loved it. He is very trusting of me as the director on set, even more so when I have written the script. He is a dream to work with and I hope to make the new film with him at the end of this year.
How exciting! Another film with one of my idols Robert De Niro. Two brilliant men working together. It’s gonna be another epic film from Kirk Jones.
As you can see, Kirk is one of life’s wizards, a National treasure and a true gentleman. I love the fact that although he is, living the dream, he is still so grounded and real. I have certainly been inspired by him to keep working hard and focus on making my dreams come true but I think that just like in Kirk’s films, living the dream is also knowing the importance of family and not forgetting the joy that brings us.
Here are Nanny McPhees 5 lessons just in case you have forgotten them…
1. TO GO TO BED WHEN YOU ARE TOLD (I don't do this)
2. TO GET UP WHEN YOU ARE TOLD (I never do this)
3. TO GET DRESSED WHEN YOU ARE TOLD (I am good at this, although some of my pictures in the press in the past would say otherwise)
4. TO LISTEN (Aimed at Mr Brown - Colin Firth) (erm I try to master this)
5. TO DO EXACTLY AS THEY ARE TOLD (this is still impossible at age 43!)
Nanny McPhee's message to the children was …
When you need me but do not want me, I must stay, When you want me but no longer need me, then I must go….
Lessons for our children but if other parents out there are anything like me then I think Nanny McPhee will be knocking on all our doors one day soon - because neither Phoenix or me have managed to master any of those lessons! Nanny McPhee - I need you!
Thanks so much Kirk and thank you for inspiring wonderful movies, that show us how to care and live wonderful lives from our hearts.
“If you would ask me I would have to say in all honesty, Everybody's fine. Everybody's fine”.