Rising Star Anne Hathaway in The Other Side of Heaven
by Maurine Proctor
Anne Hathaway, “Jean Sabin” in The Other Side of Heaven
Editors’ Note: Mitch Davis has accomplished what so many have only been talking about-creating a Hollywood film for a general audience, produced by some of the best names in the business, about Latter-day Saints. The Other Side of Heaven is the story based on John Groberg’s book, In the Eye of the Storm, describing his mission to Tonga. The film opened on December 14 and is now on 24 screens across Utah, quickly becoming one of the highest grossing films per screen in the nation. It will be penetrating other markets soon.
In the first scenes of The Other Side of Heaven, John Groberg, who will soon be called on a mission to Tonga, whisks his girlfriend, Jean Sabin out of the door of a BYU dance into the moonlight. “Do you know how many miles the light traveled to shine on you?” he asks. “I think it was worth the trip.”
His mission will take him nearly three years, he will travel for 48 days before he reaches his destination, and his very life will be in peril several times, before he sees Jean again, but he says, “No matter where they send me, we’ll be under the same moon.”
It takes a luminescent face and spirit to haunt young Elder Groberg for three years, and when director Mitch Davis was searching for the combination of depth and beauty to play the role in the movie, he came upon Anne Hathaway. For The Other Side of Heaven is a love story not only between Elder Groberg and the Tongan people, but framing it all, his love and loyalty for Jean on the other side of the world. Their letters become his touch with home.
Not a Moon, but a Star
It’s happened before that Anne stood out. In fact, some would say she must have born under a lucky star, long before she was under that moon. Six casting directors auditioned one thousand young women when they were looking for the actress to play the part of the awkward Mia Thermopolis who would be transformed, Cinderella-like, in the Princess Diaries. Falling off her chair during the auditions probably didn’t hurt either. Suddenly, the New Jersey coed found herself gushed over by the critics who compared her to Audrey Hepburn and Julia Roberts, and taking advice from none other than Julie Andrews on the best way to launch her career.
And what Julie Andrews suggested was truly Mary Poppins-like: go to college, keep your standards, stay out of the Hollywood scene. Though the Princess Diaries was the caterpillar-to-butterfly movie we’ve seen before, its squeaky-clean script and the presence of Julie Andrews made it a success that surprised the jaded Hollywood crowd who so often misread their audience. Anne Hathaway’s screen presence didn’t hurt either. Suddenly a face that had been mostly anonymous, became as big as billboards on movie theaters across America.
How Do You Measure Luck?
Certainly, Mitch Davis must have been glad to see her rising star just in time for the release ofhis film about John Groberg’s missionary experiences in Tonga. When you are taking the commercial chance of creating a Hollywood film for a general audience about a Mormon missionary, it helps to get all the breaks you can.
But when the real John Groberg visited the movie set, he put the idea of “lucky” in perspective. Anne wasn’t lucky because she had landed some film parts or rubbed shoulders with Hollywood’s big names. Elder Groberg exclaimed upon meeting her, “So you’re the lucky girl who gets to play my wife.”
Hurrah for John Groberg, and married love that lives on, and having gospel knowledge. John and Jean’s love started as friendship before his almost three-year mission to Tonga in 1954 and continues to this day so strong that when Meridian caught Anne between finals at college, where she is a sophomore majoring in English, she said that what impressed her about them was “how much in love they are today.”
Why She Took the Part
Anne has little knowledge about the Church except what the director shared with her during filming. The reason she took the part was because her other roles have been about self-absorbed teenagers, and now she got to play someone with substance. She said, “The story was beautiful; it appealed to me that she was willing to stay so strong in a time when she must have received pressure from her friends and other suitors to get married. I was attracted to the idea that she didn’t stand idly by while he was gone, but managed to do something with her life.
“Mitch Davis told me to make her memorable,” said Anne. “She is on the screen such a short amount of time, but her presence has to be strong and sort of ethereal so that young Elder Groberg carries her with him. The director made it very clear that this character was totally in love with this woman.”
Interviewing Sister Groberg
So who is this woman that inspired such devotion, and does she feel that Anne and the film capture her? That story has to start with the qualification that the Grobergs would never have sought to have a film done on their story or to find themselves in the limelight. When Mitch Davis approached them about the possibilities of a film based on Elder Groberg’s experiences in Tonga, recorded in his book In the Eye of the Storm, they were hesitant until they became convinced that people might be lifted and inspired by the film.
They decided that if they were going to let their story be filmed, they needed a pledge that it be as true to the book as possible. To aid in the quest for accuracy, they lent Mitch Davis their letters from the mission years for him to use in developing the script. Because the final product had to tell the story in a condensed form, their exact words are not always used, but, said Sister Groberg, “He caught the spirit of our feelings. Girls weren’t as bold in those days. I was probably much more conservative in the letters than appears in the movie. He did a good job of reading between the lines.” The actual letters were also used in the movie as props as well as John Groberg’s trumpet.
Jean was pleased with how authentic the film was to their story, but she laughs about the first scene at a dance in the 50’s at BYU, “We didn’t dance quite like that.”
In the film, viewers hear of some kind of agreement between Jean and John while he was on his mission. Jean clarifies it, “Our agreement was that we would write letters and that was it. I dated, I graduated from BYU and taught school for a year in Anaheim, California.
All this might have been enough to make the heart grow distant, but something happened.
“As we corresponded,” said Sister Groberg, “often the letters that John wrote would take months to arrive, since they traveled by boat. Yet, it was amazing how many times a letter that he had written many weeks or several months before would arrive with an insight or a shared experience just at the moment I had a particular concern or need or question. To me it was very significant, and it helped draw us closer together.
“In the fall of my senior year at BYU, I wanted to send him something that would reach him in time for Christmas, and my roommate suggested that I send him a copy of my senior photo which had just been taken. He had never asked for a picture, and I didn’t want to be that forward, but my roommate kept prevailing on me, so I finally sent him a picture. I had always wanted a picture of him, and he had never given me one. He sent a picture that crossed in the mail with mine.
“There is a little episode in the film where he uses a picture of me to answer a mother who had been pushing her beautiful, young daughter on him. When he rejected the advances, the mother got upset, and wanted to know why he did not accept her daughter. He said, “I’ll tell you tomorrow, and by the time he went back the next day, the boat had come with my letter and my picture on it. He then knew what to do and went to the mother using this picture.”
John had left for his mission in 1954 and returned in June, 1957. They were married in September, but Sister Groberg warns, “I certainly don’t want all the girls to think that our story is how theirs needs to go. Many write to missionaries and it doesn’t work out. Each person is individual. After all,” she chuckles, “I wrote ‘Dear John’ letters for three years.
John and Jean Groberg
Years later John and Jean Groberg returned to Tonga where he served as mission president. “It was quite a day when I went with the office elders to collect the mail,” she said, “and put my key in box 58, the same box I’d sent letters to all those years before.”
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.