Instant Family: Ex-Mesa resident Sean Anders shares his story on the big screen

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Sean and Beth Anders were hesitant about having children. It was a financial burden and they were too old. One day, Sean came up with a half-baked idea.

“Why don’t we just adopt a 5-year-old and it will be like we started five years ago,” he recalls with a laugh.

Well, three children later, the Anders family is complete and so is Sean’s Mark Wahlberg-starring film Instant Family, which opened nationwide Friday, November 16.

Instant Family tells the story of how Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but things change when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl (Isabela Moner). Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family. Instant Family also stars Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro and Margo Martindale.

Anders and his wife’s children were 18 months old, 3 years old and 6 years old when they adopted them. They were removed from their mother, who had a drug problem.

“We adopted three kids almost seven years ago and that’s what inspired the movie,” says Anders, who lived with Beth in Mesa and Tempe when the couple was in their 20s and 30s.

“It’s my experience. Along the way, we met many other families and we incorporated their stories about kids and adults who had been affected by foster care and adoption.”

The subject is a rarity for film, Anders acknowledges.

“Oftentimes, it’s negative and there’s another side to it,” Anders adds. “There is a lot of laughter and that’s not represented in movies and TV.

“I think the hardest part about this is there’s so much that goes into foster care or adoption. It was really difficult to boil it all down to one movie. That was tricky. There’s so much more I wanted to tell. It’s also important to me that we make a captivating, entertaining story that holds their attention.”

Anders began the project three years ago with his writing partner, John Morris, whom he met in Phoenix.

“He and I wrote our first draft about three years ago, but we were working on other films,” he says. “Ultimately, once we really went after it, it happened incredibly quick. Mark Wahlberg jumped in almost immediately. Kids in foster care was something he cared about. As soon as Mark was in, everything fell into place.”

Anders and Wahlberg worked on three movies before Instant Family, including Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2.

“He’s the ultimate professional,” Anders says. “He always shows up with his pencil sharpened. He knows what he’s going to do. Give him an idea and he runs with it and turns it into something wonderful.”

The other cast members were a joy, too.

“We went through the standard process of casting,” Anders says. “I wanted kids who had really interesting personalities. Julianna Gamiz, who plays Lita, was rambunctious and funny. She had a big personality for a little kid. The character of Juan was written a little differently at first. When we met the actor, Gustavo Quiroz, he was so sweet and had such kind eyes and a good heart. You could see it right away. We rewrote the character to suit him. What I love about him is the character we came up with is a lot like my real son.”

In Instant Family, Lita has nuclear meltdowns. Juan is nervous and anxious and Moner’s Lizzy is a rebellious teen. So how did Anders’ children react?

“They loved it,” he says. “It’s been interesting and I would say therapeutic,” Anders says. “I’ve been very lucky to have this experience because we talk about our family a lot with each other and other people. To be able to see your family up on the screen, I think it’s helped all of us to get a better understanding of our family.”

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