As a self-described mother bear, Marcia Gay Harden says she can easily identify with her tough-but-nurturing character in Gigi & Nate, a poignant movie about a boy and his unlikely service animal who helps everyone move past their family tragedy.
Just weeks before he was heading to college, Nate Gibson (Charlie Rowe) suffers a near-fatal illness and is left with quadriplegia. Moving forward seems impossible – especially because he is in pain and laced with doubt and depression – until he meets Gigi (Allie), a curious and intelligent capuchin money – who helps Nate find what he needs the most: hope.
At face value, Gigi & Nate is about a disabled boy and his monkey overcoming hardship and succeeding together, but it is clearly about so much more!
Harden, an Academy Award winner for the 2001 film Pollock, portrays Nate’s mom, Claire, who gives up her career and much more to care for him.
The entire family is deeply affected by his “new normal.” They include his father, Dan (Jim Belushi), and Mama Blanche (Diane Ladd). But instead of wallowing in the tragedy, they build him an adaptive suite at the family lake house and do everything possible to improve his life.
It is an inspirational film about triumph over trade, resilience, and never giving up, despite the odds being stacked against you.
Read on for more on why Marcia Gay Harden identifies with the family in Gigi & Nate and what she learned about animals – and human beings – after working with an extremely personable monkey named Allie.
The heartfelt family drama movie from Roadshow Attractions was directed by Nick Hamm and written by David Hudgins.
In addition to her recent movie, Harden is also starring with Neil Patrick Harris in Season 2 of Uncoupled, and her new CBS sitcom, So Help Me, Todd, premieres on Thursday, September 29. In it, she stars as a sharp attorney who is helping her aimless private investigator son, Todd (Skylar Astin.)
Monsters and Critics: What attracted you to Gigi & Nate — which offers many inspirational life lessons?
Marcia Gay Harden: I think this movie is inspirational, heartwarming, and sweet; I think it’s a perfect family movie to watch over Labor Day. I think that for me, I can only see so many action movies, they are great, but I can only watch so many of them. I want to see movies about people going through things that are recognizable to me. I want to relate to people. This movie is about connection, triumph, and real things that happen to families.
M&C: How do you see Claire?
Marcia Gay Harden: Claire is very tenacious, and she puts being a mother first. She works hard and sleeps little, and anyone who has been a mother can check that box. I get it. She’s a normal mom. She looked at the burden and shouldered it because what else can you do? She didn’t collapse under it, and I really love that about her. She gave up her career to care for her son.
She’s always trying to be positive, to look on the positive side. I know those mothers. I’d like to hope that I am one of them, who will do whatever I can to make our kids’ lives beautiful, for who they are.
When an accident like this happens and your child loses the ability to be who they were and have the dreams that they had and you lose your dreams for them, it requires a lot of thinking outside the box, and a lot of strength. It invited us to understand how families work through something like this. And the character that they have to have to pull through. They have faith and hope in creating a better life for their boy, rather than just accepting the disaster.
M&C: How did you personally relate to the family crisis of Nate’s accident which results in him becoming a quadriplegic?
Marcia Gay Harden: I have experienced tragedy and so to see this family triumph through the darkest of days was quite something. Every single day there are traffic accidents and accidental deaths. In one second, the world changes, the world shifts and you think there, but for the grace of God go I.
But then, when it is you that is going through it that’s a devastating experience. I liked the way Claire was strong, sometimes unlikeable and then throughout all of it I loved Charlie Rowe, who played Nate; I loved the mother-son relationship. I know I’d be a mother bear for my kids.
I liked the introduction of this service animal, this monkey. I’ve never heard that story before, so it feels fresh and unique. Then to discover how that program has been shut down, I thought this is an important movie to make at this time.
M&C: Had you had much interaction with animals before on film or TV?
Marcia Gay Harden: I’ve worked with dogs and horses before, so I know that it’s the same thing working with babies. They’re in the moment so you just have to – you expect it and you have to work with it. I think what was interesting about Allie is how intelligent she is and how sentient she is. If you think about a dog who can come into a room and know that you’re feeling sad and sort of nuzzling you to make you feel better, what about a capuchin monkey who is just obviously more cognizant and making the connections more?
It was astonishing to see the level of connection because we don’t get to be that close to them, we don’t get to hang out with them. It was astonishing to see that so up close.
M&C: Were there life lessons that you took away from this that you want us to get or you hope people might get?
Marcia Gay Harden: They almost sound cliche, except you can never learn them enough. They’re those wake-up lessons every day. How precious the people around us are. We need to be grateful for the lives that we have. But I think the spirit of Nate and the spirit of Claire and this family were also about understanding that you don’t surrender to the worst.
When it is the worst, what do you do? Its sort of like the movie Life is Beautiful. In the worst possible situations, what do people do? That’s what character is. What is your character? I think it’s about looking on the positive side.
M&C: Did you feel like you tapped into your own mothering instinct for this movie? As a mom, I would move heaven on Earth for my 15-year-old son.
Marcia Gay Harden: Of course you would, because that’s what mothers do. Maybe not all, but the ones that I know that’s what they do. I feel like that is my instinct, that is my mother bear. I would do that. I’m a fighter and I will always fight for my kids. You just want them to have the opportunity to grow, love, be safe, enjoy life, and be accepted by other people.
M&C: You’ve been playing several moms lately. How did you get into the headspace of Margaret in your new TV show So Help Me, Todd?
Marcia Gay Harden: First of all, no matter what you do, there’s going to be similarities to you, so you’re going to find things you relate to. I definitely relate to things about her. I relate to the fact that she wants the best for her kids, but she’s probably a little bit strident at times. I also relate to the fact that she’s completely inept when it comes to electronics.
My 18-year-old son who’s getting ready to go off to school in Scotland to study music, and visiting me in Vancouver in a hotel, got up at 6:15 in the morning with me to come here to this hotel so I could talk to you and he set up the whole camera thing because he knows what I would have been like. It’s not my world. We were trying to do the turn-off notifications, and I was like “Why are they little boxes now on the new ones? He said, “Mom, it’s instinctual.” No, not for me it’s not.
M&C: Since this movie has a monkey as the main character, what is your background with animals? Did you have any scenes? I did see the movie, but was there interaction between you and Gigi?
Marcia Gay Harden: I did have interactions with Gigi. I think Allie is the monkey actress’ name. I did have interaction and I actually had a good relationship with her. First of all, she’s a diva. In the beginning, she didn’t quite know what to do. By the end of the shoot, she fully knew how to act. She would look through the camera for her close-ups. I loved her. She was just completely emotional and empathic.
There was another monkey that was a male, older, that was also really, really lovely that I had a good relationship with. They’re in the moment, they’re just in the moment. You have to be in the moment with them.
M&C: I’ve seen you in many movies, including Mystic River, Space Cowboys, Pollock, and Mooseport. To what do you attribute the longevity of your career and the richness and diversity?
Marcia Gay Harden: I’ve always worked and I’m blessed to always work and I’ve got three kids to take care of. I take care of them. I define myself a little bit not by the job, but by working. When I’m not working I go to projects such as writing that keep me busy. I’m a terrible idle person.
M&C: Why overall do you want readers to see first Gigi & Nate and So Help Me, Todd?
Marcia: I think both Gigi & Nate and So Help Me Todd are about connection. They’re both about family, they’re both about people that we recognize and the value of love within a family. We can be incredibly separated; people move all over the nation, so families can be very distant. Listen, families are also troubled. They’re not necessarily people you want to invite to your Thanksgiving meal every year, but you do.
There’s a sweet little scene where Jim Belushi’s character is trying to rent a car because his son is on his deathbed in the hospital. The guy behind him finally says, “You can take my car, sir. You can do that.” There’s that whole kindness of strangers. It’s the little acts from other people that are just so helpful. Those make a difference.
It’s the lubrication of life, being positive, kind, and helpful. Not in a coy way, but in a real, connective way. It’s the reunification of life. Otherwise, it’s just sand and grit all the time, and who wants that?
Gigi & Nate, from Roadside Attractions, will premiere in theaters on Friday, September 2.
So Help Me Todd, a new sitcom, premieres on CBS on Thursday, September 29 at 9 E.T.
For more family-friendly movies, check out 3 new movies on Netflix to watch this weekend: Dog Gone Trouble, Blue Miracle and Ghost Lab.