Ron Hall remembers the last words his wife Debbie told him just hours before she died: “Ron, don’t give up on Denver.”
“Denver,” being Denver Moore — a homeless man once bent on “killing everybody” until he experienced a change of heart after the Halls befriended him while volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission.
“God is going to bless your friendship in a way that you can never imagine,” Debbie told Ron.
She was right. Ron made good on his promise to his wife, not only letting Denver move in with him after she died from cancer in 2000, but also turning their story into a book, Same Kind of Different as Me. The book went on to become a New York Times Bestseller, and now, it’s a feature film, produced by Paramount Pictures and starring Renée Zellweger as Debbie, Greg Kinnear as Ron, and Djimon Hounsou as Denver. The film releases Oct. 20.
“I want [the audience] to come away with new eyes — to see the homeless through the lens of God and make the homeless people visible, whereas most of America sees the homeless as invisible … I would like for them to look at [the homeless] the way Debbie looked at them,” Ron says.
The real-life story began when Debbie had a dream of a man who looked like Denver. Believing it was a vision from God of a man that needed help, she and Ron drove around Lancaster Avenue to look for him. When they couldn’t find “the man of her dream,” as Ron called him, they stopped at the Union Gospel Mission and decided to become volunteers in hopes of seeing him there.
And he made an entrance, Ron says, storming into the dining hall and turning over tables, angry that someone had stolen his shoes.
“That’s him,” Debbie said.
Prompted by his wife, Ron reluctantly pursued Denver and took him to breakfast. They got to know each other and became friends. After Debbie died, Ron took Denver into his own home, and the two would continue volunteering at the mission until Denver’s death in 2012.
It was Denver’s idea to turn their story into a book, Hall says. They co-authored Same Kind of Different as Me but had difficulty publishing it at first, as several publishing companies rejected it. So Hall decided to publish the book himself in 2004 and send copies to friends.
“I was turned down so many times that I didn’t really feel that the book would ever have any success,” Hall says.
One of those copies, however, happened to make its way into the hands of Ken Gire, author of religious books like Windows of the Soul and Moments With the Savior. Gire connected Hall with Thomas Nelson, which then published the book in 2006. In 2014, Hall signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to produce the film. He’d co-write the screenplay with Michael Carney and Alexander Foard.
Hall says it was “very strange” to see himself and life moments portrayed on screen. The moment when an enraged Denver storms into the dining hall, for example, was among those captured on film. Hall also said Kinnear and Zellweger would often come to him to ask for advice on how their respective character would speak or react. Hall himself has a few cameos in the film, shown shaking Kinnear’s hand in one scene and playing a wheelchair-bound homeless man in another.
“[Kinnear] did a very good job,” Hall says. “They all did.”
While most of the movie was shot in Jackson, Mississippi (the state provided funding to have it shot there), the story itself does take place in Fort Worth, and local audiences will recognize an establishing shot of the familiar downtown skyline at the beginning of the film.
And while Hall says he has enjoyed watching his story rise from a self-published book to major film, what he ultimately hopes for, is that the audience will leave the theater with a greater burden to help the homeless.
“Sometimes random acts of kindness make an enormous difference in another person’s life — and even in your own life,” he says.
Q&A with Djimon Hounsou
While known for his work in action films like “Blood Diamond” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” actor Djimon Hounsou took a different route when he joined the cast of “Same Kind of Different as Me.” He took a break from filming “Serenity” in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, to chat with Fort Worth Magazine about playing Denver Moore.
On preparing for the role… “One thing’s quite difficult — it’s trying to emulate a real-life hero without making a parody of them, you know? Working out his tonation, his sound. Literally, I let myself go physically, letting my nails grow and everything.”
On what can be learned from Denver Moore... “[Denver was] a real-life hero in the way he empowered his neighborhood. His life condition did not stop him.”
On his visit to the Union Gospel Mission last January... “It was impressive to come and see the center, to see the area which we tried to emulate … it was beautiful to see the support that the organization is able to drive. All the help, all the donations that come through is beautiful.”