One of my favorite books when I was a young kid was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by author Judith Viorst (who I would learn later in life actually grew up in the same town as me). Like many of you, surely, I could easily relate to the story of a boy having an unbelievably bad day, leading to dreams of escaping off to Australia. The book has always stuck with me – so naturally it was a bit surreal when I, along with a small group of other journalists, got to visit the set of the movie adaptation of the story last summer when the production was filming in Los Angeles at the legendary Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio.
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids), the big screen version of the classic children’s book stars newcomer Ed Oxenbould as the 11-year-old Alexander Cooper, who runs into one of those dreaded days where absolutely nothing goes right. When he’s unable to get any sympathy from the rest of his family (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, and Kerris Dorsey), however, the fates decide to have a bit of fun and "curse" them each with a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of their own. Obviously some of the original story elements have been stretched and changed to fit a feature length film, but the core message is staying the same.
While on set, we not only had the chance to watch the production in action, seeing Steve Carell film a scene with a whole bunch of exotic animals, but we also had the chance to talk with members of the cast and crew and find out all kinds of fascinating behind the scenes stories and info about the film. Read on to learn more!
Jennifer Garner Pulled A Very Bizarre On-Set Prank On Steve Carell That Completely Backfired
Despite the fact that both Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell have spent years acting both in film and on television, they’ve never had a chance to work together before Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. What they don’t share in credits, however, they share in personal experience: both graduated from the Ohio-based Denison University – albeit years apart. While this seems like a strange bit of trivia, it actually fueled a very strange on-set prank.
On one day of shooting, Jennifer Garner purchased all kinds of Dennison University gear for the entire production to wear in order to play a joke on her co-star. Unfortunately, this little gag backfired in an unexpected way when Carell turned out to be too unobservant for it to work. The crew continued to sport clothes with the Dennison name for the rest of filming, but it still needed to be pointed out every time.
"At this point I just feel bad for him," Garner said laughing. "I point it out right away."
It Turns Out Reptiles Are Basically Untrainable – But There Are Tricks To Getting The To Work
While I can’t say too much about what I actually got to watch being filmed on the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day set due to spoilers, what I can tell you is that the sequence featured a crazy number of exotic animals – from alligators to emus to wallabies. A nice result of this is that we had the rare opportunity to sit down with a professional animal wrangler, and learned some surprising facts about movie animals. For example, did you know that reptiles, for all practical purposes, are pretty much untrainable?
"You can get a nice alligator. You can get a mean alligator," explained animal wrangler Mark Forbes. "But I’m never going to get an alligator to get on his mark and turn around look at the camera."
So how do you get a reptile to act? The key is body temperature. Want an active alligator? Just warm it up! Want a passive alligator? Just cool it down! Naturally, all of the proper safety precautions are taken at all times, but if it were personally up to me I would definitely keep the air conditioner blasting all day.
Star Ed Oxenbould Is Filled With A Crazy Amount Of Energy
Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner may be the biggest names featured in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but neither is actually playing the eponymous lead character. Instead, that job belongs to Ed Oxenbould, a young Australian actor who will be making his U.S. debut with the new feature. It’s a lot of responsibility for a young kid, not to mention a lot of work, but on set that was really no problem for the star.
Discussing what’s it been working with a family unit of young co-stars (Alexander has a younger brother, and two older siblings), Jennifer Garner expressed a degree of amazement discussing Oxenbould and the impressive amount of energy he brought to the set each day.
"He loves to play," Garner told us. "He's going to do all these yo-yo tricks, he's going to do all these card tricks, he just never stops. I don't know what they do with him when he's not on set; he has so much play energy. He plays with the babies, he plays with the older kids, he's just fun in that way. He includes everyone in his joy."
Steve Carell Would Tell His Kids About His Time On Set As Bedtime Stories
As the father of a young son and young daughter, Steve Carell had an admitted extra incentive to sign on for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: he wanted to make a movie that he knew his children would love. As it turned out, however, his kids didn’t want to wait for the film’s final cut, and instead had their father tell them about his time on set as bedtime stories.
"I go home at night and I'll tell them little bits, things that we shot that day," Carell said. "I'll lie in bed with my son and we'll read, and after reading he has me tell him about scenes... He enjoys hearing these little snippets of what's going on."
Some find it strange when an adaptation of a book becomes something very different on the big screen than what their imagination suggested. It makes me wonder if Carell’s kids are going to have the strangest perspective on Alexander of anyone out there.
Doing A Scene With More Than One Animal Is Stupidly Difficult
Walking on to the set of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day had the bizarre sensation of stepping into the Australian-themed section of a zoo – albeit one filled with all kinds of film equipment. It was a pretty fantastic thing to be in the middle of, but from the amount of action happening between each shot it was pretty clear that what was going on was a rather difficult endeavor.
As it turns out, there’s a degree of exponential growth in making movies featuring animals: every one that gets introduced to a scene makes that scene that much harder to shoot. So scenes with a full menagerie of creatures like the one we were watching required quite a great deal of work for the on-set animal wrangler.
"All these animals have to do their own thing at the right time when the cameras are on them, and you hope that the one next to them are doing it as well," explained animal wrangler Mark Forbes. "As you saw in the last one, the emu had to cross on cue…They don’t usually do that! We had a special harnesses made and we have, every day for the last couple months, take our emu for a walk."
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day will be in theaters on October 10th
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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