This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman on his new movie Life Itself

New York— As in his TV series This Is Us, jubilant and catastrophic events tend to cluster for Dan Fogelman. Days before his latest and most ambitious movie, Life Itself, opened in theatres, and the third season of his hit NBC show premiered, Fogelman's house was robbed. The thieves returned later the same evening, smashing through a glass plate door. Fogelman says he had to chase them away.

"There's been a lot of life — really intense life — happening in the last 24 hours," Fogelman said in a recent telephone interview. "There's a movie in there somewhere, I'm sure."

In Fogelman's world, on screen and off, every dramatic low has its silver linings. In Life Itself, which releases in cinemas on Friday, the story spirals out, across generations, from a fatal accident on a New York street. Like the tear-inducing This Is Us, it's a glossy, cross-generational tale of destiny and chance encounters with an A-list cast. Its starry ensemble includes Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas and Mandy Patinkin.


Life Itself is Fogelman's second feature as writer-director following 2015's Danny Collins. (He also penned 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love and co-wrote Disney's Tangled.) The film will test whether the 39-year-old writer can find the same response on the big screen as he has on the highly rated This Is Us.

What for you is the appeal of looking at love through the prism of family and multiple generations?

Whether it's Crazy, Stupid, Love or This Is Us or this film, you have multiple stories and characters kind of ping-pong off of each other. It's definitely something I enjoy doing. But I've never really thought of it that way. I was never really interested in setting out to write a mob movie, even though I love mob movies, or a horror movie, even though I love horror movies. For me, the kind of stuff that turns me on is really about people and often about families.

What some of the comfort viewers seem to get from This Is Us, is that it suggests everyone's life is part of a bigger picture.

My mother passed away ten years ago and it was the kind of body blow of my life, the kind that I wondered if I could get up from. It was very complicated, she died very unexpectedly and very suddenly. And a year after that, almost to the day, I met the woman who would become my wife. My life is now constantly filled with these beautiful, important moments that a key figure in my life is no longer here to share. That feels giant in my basically normal life. But when you expand that and think about the people that came together to bring my mother into life and to lead to me, and the people that came together to bring my wife into the world to lead to her, I think the most ordinary lives become really big and cinematic.

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in the movie Life Its

That's not the most common view in wide-release movies these days.

To me a scene like in Kramer vs. Kramer where the little boy is testing Dustin Hoffman about eating the ice cream holds the same type of intensity and sit-in-the-movie-theatre-eating-popcorn appeal as the biggest action sequence in an action movie.

This Is Us is the kind of network hit that few believed was even possible anymore. Do you feel pressure to keep the ratings up?

I don't feel pressure anymore. Everyone that works on the show — because it goes far beyond me, obviously — is just really good at their jobs. The actors are very good at acting. The writers are very good at writing. It's clear that everybody is still turned on to it three seasons in. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that doesn't happen a lot. It certainly hardly happens in television and certainly hardly ever happens in network television anymore. Everyone's aware of it.

Have you ever researched your own genealogy?

Strangely, I've never been that interested in knowing my family history. My father is fascinated by it constantly. All he ever wants to do is take a family trip to Siberia or Russia or wherever my great ancestors were from, and the poor guy can't get any traction from anyone in my family to go do it.

Antonio Banderas in a scene from the movie Life It

Life Itself releases in SA cinemas on Friday, 9 November. 

(Photos supplied: Film Infinity)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24