Like her character, Joni Jerome, in Disney’s “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” out on DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 4, Odeya Rush is wise, unique and insightful. She was born in Israel and moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. The talented, 15-year-old, up-and-coming star has always known she’s wanted to act. Her early days of performing include putting on plays to keep her two sets of younger twin brothers entertained.
In the film, Joni is a complex, somewhat estranged girl, who slowly begins to open up after meeting the strange but loveable Timothy Green, played by CJ Adams, and the two form a special bond. The movie embodies a lot of firsts — first loves, first losses, first-time parenting challenges, first mistakes. Everyone will be able to relate to something in the film that’s available just in time for the holidays.
First of all, your name is so beautiful. What were your parents’ inspirations when they were choosing your name?
It’s an interesting story, actually… I’m Jewish [and] … it’s from the [Old Testament].... They thought of many other names, but they couldn’t exactly agree. My dad just opened the book and the first sentence he saw, it was in Hebrew… My name, Odeya, means “Thank God.” So that’s where they found it.
How long have you known you wanted to be an actress?
Ever since I was very young. Ever since I could remember. I’ve always performed. I’ve done plays at home. I have four younger brothers; they’re actually two sets of twins. They’re one year apart. So we had four babies at home at one time. My mom just wanted me to do something with them …. go keep them occupied. So I would sit them on the steps — one set on one step and the other set on the step above — and I would put shows on, you know, do things that I saw from TV shows or whatever my teacher did at school or things that I’ve come up with myself, so I’ve always been a performer since a really young age.
Do you go to school?
I go to regular public school. And when I’m on set, I do school on set.
What’s your favorite subject?
Math or history.
How did you prepare for your role as Joni? Were there any particular personal experiences you drew from?
I think for the majority of the film, Joni feels estranged from her environment. And when Timothy comes in, he kind of … makes [her life] better because she doesn’t like … being different and strange. And there are things about me that kind of set me apart from the rest of the people I hang out with and people I know. So I drew that and installed it into my character, Joni. And just things that have happened in my life or things that I’ve seen happen to other people — I put that all into my interpretation of who Joni is.
How was having Timothy around comforting for Joni?
Joni [has a] birthmark; [it] is something she was born with, and it’s not something you can change about yourself. It’s … the way you enter the universe. She wants to hide it. She doesn’t like it. She thinks it makes her different and ugly, but Timothy encourages her to expose it and tells her that the thing that sets her apart actually makes her more beautiful. And you have to learn to accept those things about yourself because you cannot change them. And if you don’t learn to accept those things, then other people won’t accept you for them.
How has meeting Timothy changed Joni?
Throughout the film, Timothy opens Joni up and kind of makes her … sweeter and accepting and welcoming and warm, and I think now she’s going down much easier times becoming friends with … people. She’s going to be more approachable and nicer … and let people in more. I think that’s what Timothy did; he opened her up to the world and showed her that, you know, you don’t have to be so cold and mean and guarded.
Why does Timothy’s mother, Cindy (Jennifer Garner), think Joni is a bad influence on Timothy?
I think it’s a combination of things. Timothy is just entering Cindy’s life, and she doesn’t want suddenly for her child to be torn away and spending so much time with this other female. I think it’s a mixture of jealousy and also … really a lot of protection. … You have to think of it as Timothy is almost her newborn baby because this is the first time she’s ever had a child or been a parent, and she’s so protective and always thinking, ‘I wonder if this could hurt my child. I don’t want that to happen. I’d rather him be unhappy for this moment than for him to get hurt later on.’ So I think it’s a mixture of protection and jealousy. ... Joni was a little strange at first, but Cindy gets to know her… and then appreciates that her son is actually spending time with someone who’s so … special.
What was your most memorable moment from filming the movie?
Definitely filming the underwater scene; I thought that was really cool. I learned how to scuba dive. All the hand signals from under water and filming under water is just really insanely cool. And I want to do it again because, you know, it’s not something you get to do every day.
How does scuba diving help you film the underwater scene?
When you’re filming under water, between takes, I have the oxygen that I breathe from, and they say ‘action,’ and I give it to the guy who’s holding the tank, and then I do my scene really quickly, and then they say ‘cut,’ and I come back and get more air.
Do you remember how many takes that scene took?
I think from every angle we did about three or four. We took two days to do that scene because we had one day for the outdoor and the diving in and the birthday party, and then we did the whole other day just for under water.
Did you make any lasting friendships on set? Is there anyone you still keep in touch with or maybe hope to work with again?
Yes, many people. I think definitely Peter Hedges, the director; he’s very close to not just me but my entire family. His family, we hang out a lot now, so I developed a friendship with Peter and Jennifer [Garner] and Joel [Edgerton] and CJ [Adams] and also a lot of the crew. I have a lot of makeup artist and props and everyone, and we still stay in touch. … I’m very thankful for doing this movie because of the friendships that I formed.
What is your next upcoming acting role?
I’m doing movie called “Mary, Mother of Christ,” where I will be playing the title role, Mary. It’s with Ben Kingsley and Peter O’Toole, and I’m so psyched about that, and I cannot wait. Then I have another film called “The Locals” … and I’m playing the lead there, too, so those are some big things that are coming up.
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