Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger Tell Us They Were Inspired to Make ‘Same Kind of Different as Me’

Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Ron Hall, Same Kind of Different as Me is based on the inspiring true story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear), who befriends a homeless man (Djimon Hounsou) in hopes of saving his struggling marriage to Debbie (Renée Zellweger), a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the most remarkable journey of their lives. Jon Voight plays Hall’s father, with whom he reconciles thanks to the revelations of his new life. Based on the New York Times bestseller.

For Zellweger, saying yes to the film project was easy.

“Michael [Carney, the director] called me and said, ‘I heard you liked the screenplay and was inspired by these people’s lives and what they chose to commit themselves to doing’”

Carney assured her that the production wasn’t going to go the usual Hollywood route where the crew goes to a small town, takes over, builds a few sets, then knocks them down afterward, with a polite thank you as they leave. Instead, he assured Zellweger that they would find and upgrade an actual homeless mission in Jackson, Miss., and that’s what the filmmakers did. They found a homeless shelter that was amicable to having a Hollywood crew take up residence for several weeks, and help beautify it.

“They threw film budget money at the place,” recalls Zellweger. “[Now] there’s a beautiful courtyard now where they can have gatherings. It’s been beautified inside and out. They redid the kitchen—a commercial kitchen. That’s a really good reason to make a movie, isn’t it?”

While the film tones down some of the more religious themes of the book, many actors might hesitate. Though Kinnear might have been hesitant at first, he was soon all in.

“I guess I was a little concerned. When I do a movie, I have no interest in trying to preach about anything. We live in a town, Los Angeles, that’s ground zero for homelessness. There are 150,000 homeless persons here. I’ve been involved in some causes. It’s a powerful subject across the board. That said, the job is to make a movie here. We want to make a film that will inspire people and touch them. The only way to do that is to find the reality of the story. There was a very strong story here that had been outlined in the book. To get those themes of forgiveness and passion and inspiration and selflessness in a movie is very hard to do. There are a lot of ways – when a movie is balancing a lot of things – that it could tilt a little too much this way or that way and dismisses a lot of people from being open about what the message is.”

Zellweger says she was moved by the each of the characters’ unique qualities.

“Their courage, their compassion and their awareness with respect to the impact they could make and the power they had to make a difference in other people’s lives if you just make your mind up to do it,” she says. “A lot of people don’t feel they have the power to make a contribution that significant to change another person’s life. I loved the simplicity of the message of this enormous journey that Ron experienced with Debbie and Denver, about your capacity to leave a mark. It’s beyond what you might have imagined possible in its scope. That got me. I wished I could have asked (Debbie) but I did get to speak with Ron, who shared his story so generously with us about what at times must have been some of the most painful moments in his life and probably some of the most rewarding and seeing these moments reenacted.”

For his part, Kinnear was drawn to Ron’s character arc.

“I felt an honest obligation to convey his story, his dilemma, his shortcomings that he’s been incredibly forthcoming about. As good fortune would have it, Ron Hall had a cinematic transformation. He went to a lot of different places in his life in this story that were just interesting to play.” Kinnear goes on to explain that, “it only all comes together if the storytelling is there and the people you count on are doing their thing. This is a game that’s being played onscreen and these characters are all learning something from each other. It was a great experience and it was a wonderful group to work with.”

Zellweger, who has spoken publicly about breaking away from Hollywood and then returning, took the opportunity to reiterate what’s important to her nowadays.

I didn’t quit; I just took a minute,” she explains. “After so many years (of working in Hollywood), you see the process. You see that it overlaps and you see that it doesn’t stop. John Lennon called (fame) ‘the merry-go-round.’ While there is a lot of joy involved in that experience, especially in the privilege of getting to be a storyteller and getting to do what you love in making a living, there’s a lot that gets pushed by the wayside with respect to your personal life. If you’re going to do this job as a storyteller well and you’re committed to it, then there are things that you don’t get to engage in and nurture. Those things might be more important than anything you might be doing, with respect to your professional life.

“When you do one long enough, the other one kind of tends to disappear a little bit. And then you have no reason to get off the merry-go-round because there’s nothing you’ve nurtured or built that’s more important than that. That’s imbalance and it’s not healthy. So, I needed to take a minute and watch my niece and nephew turn from babies into toddlers and then into children, and know them, because they’re going to have their birthday parties, and they’ll understand that you can’t be there because your job won’t let you, because the urgency of filmmaking and the time that it consumes, and the urgency of promoting the film and the time that it consumes, they understand that you can’t be there but they’re having the birthday party anyway. And then it’s just your loss. They’re having the barbecue anyway, and your friends are getting closer (to each other) nurturing their relationships, and it’s just your loss.

“So, I started to look around and I didn’t like myself very much. I didn’t like sitting at home after the Golden Globes in the failure of my personal life, by myself. I didn’t like it; it wasn’t fun. For what? Why do you have these huge moments where you get to celebrate with nobody? So, I needed to work on that. I was boring myself. You go from one of these (events) to one of these and to one of these and, oh my word, (you wonder) how much more can (I) talk about my boring self. I needed to learn something. I’d reached a point in my life where I wasn’t growing anymore. You can’t grow when you’re constantly pretending to be somebody else, working in somebody’s else house and wearing somebody else’s shoes. I needed to grow. So, now I say ‘no.’ I say, ‘I’d love to do that but my mom’s birthday is on my schedule and I’m going to have to be in Florida that week. I’m sorry. If we can do it another time …’”

Among others, Kinnear is happy that Zellweger said yes to this project. “She’s a great actress, of course, but for the role of Debbie, someone who was such a force, it needed to be more than that. Good acting wasn’t going to cut it,” he explains. “You also needed somebody who just had that inner light that she has.”

Same Kind of Different as Me” opens in theaters Oct. 20.