Minnie Driver digs deep, seeks healing power in ‘Return to Zero’

Minnie Driver stars in the story of a stillbirth and its effect on a couple in "Return to Zero."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Her role in the heartbreaking Lifetime movie “Return to Zero” was, without question, her greatest acting challenge ever, says Minnie Driver. Even so, she was more concerned with how the filmmaker would get through it than how she would. That’s because the story they were telling — about a couple who suffer a stillbirth and the strain the loss puts on their relationship — was true for writer-director Sean Hanish and his wife. “I said to him, ‘With all due respect, we’re going to reenact these moments that were the most tragic of your life. How are you going to be able to do it and not dissolve?’”

But Hanish was fine. In fact, between their loss in 2005 and the making of the Lifetime movie, which aired May 17 in a rare global premiere, the couple went on to bring two healthy children into the world. “It was an extraordinary thing,” Driver reflects. “Sean was as calm and focused and helpful on those hardest days as any director I have worked with. I think it’s because he really did what artists do, which is to take a tragedy and turn it into something else — in this case, something that we hope can reach people and help them heal.

“People have asked me,” she continues about the telefilm in which Paul Adelstein (“Scandal”) plays her husband, “why tell a story about something that is so hard? No one wants to talk about it. Well, I don’t want to talk about it either. But it happens to normal people, all over the world, more frequently than you would imagine.” In the U.S. alone, about 30,000 pregnancies each year result in stillbirth, according to an online support group.

A strength of the movie is how candidly and thoroughly it lays out what a couple faces when a pregnancy takes an unthinkable turn. In one scene, Driver’s character is a happy, expectant mother when she’s suddenly told that her baby’s heart has stopped beating. That was hard, she says, but not nearly as harrowing as the scene in which she goes through with the delivery. “I knew that Sean was watching, and I had to let go completely. As far as shooting it, I said, ‘Get in there at the beginning because I’m going to throw myself at it pretty hard.’ I’m not a Method actor, but I never really came out of it that day. You can’t.”


In such cases, the baby’s date of death precedes the date of birth. To research the role, Driver met with support groups, including couples from the 600 families who helped fund the production through a Kickstarter campaign. She says she came to understand the importance of holding, cuddling and even photographing the stillborn infant before giving the child up, as her character does. “A lot of women said, ‘I needed to be present and be a mother, until the very end.’”

Given the emotional toll of the project, Driver counts herself fortunate to have been simultaneously working at the opposite end of the spectrum — in the effervescent comedy series “About a Boy,” recently renewed for a second season on NBC, in which she costars with David Walton. She’s also grateful for her connection with her own son, Henry, who is 5. “He’s a magical kid — funny and kind and sweet and hilarious. There’s no one I like being with better.”

Being present for Henry’s childhood (“it goes by in a heartbeat”) has been her priority in recent years, but she’s made time for two other passions: surfing and music. Driver sings the song that plays over the end titles in “Return to Zero” (she composed it with Adelstein, who’s also a musician). She’s also done movie projects this year, including “Blackbird,” a musical drama directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, slated for theatrical release in November, and “Return to Jekyll Island,” a thriller.

“This is a funny business in which to make a life,” reflects the British-born actress about her tenure in Hollywood. “It can all have gone to hell in a handbasket on Friday, and then the phone rings the following Tuesday, and you’re newly made. I think that’s hilarious. You’re constantly reinventing yourself. I haven’t been this busy in a long time.”

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