There’s a generation of people who grew to love reading The Giver while they were kids in school. For them, watching a movie based on a popular book like that could be perceived as either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much they trust the filmmakers. When I sat down with Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush and Author Lois Lowry to discuss the film based on that novel, I was able to listen to ask about that and find out a plethora of other things that had to do with the movie, actors like Jeff Bridges and a whole lot more.
The first thing I asked was about was Lois Lowry’s involvement of the film version of The Giver. Obviously, she may not be completely involved, but I was interested to hear just how much input she had and what her exact role was in translating her novel onto the big screen.
Lois Lowry: I had no official involvement, but they decided that they would consult with me. Phillip (Noyce), the director emailed me almost everyday, sometimes three times a day with little questions. They had me look at Odeya’s screen test before she was cast. They had me look at costume designs. There was one dress that they had designed for her and I said ‘It’s too sexy. She’s not supposed to be sexy. Make her dress a little longer.’ It was very short in the beginning.
Odeya Rush: I didn’t like that dress, because I had to ride a bike in that dress. It was so uncomfortable.
Lowry: So, I was involved throughout the process, but not officially.
Films have a way of attracting actors to them in some cases. For Odeya Rush and Brenton Thwaites, The Giver was no exception.
Rush: So many elements of this project attracted me to it. When you look at it, you see Phillip Noyce is attached, you see Jeff Bridges is attached, you see it’s based on a book by Lois Lowry. All of those things already make it very attractive, but I think after reading the script and being so moved and seeing a character who’s so challenging and has such a journey, it’s one of those scripts that I read that made me keep thinking about it. It’s one of those projects that really stays in your head. Every time I think about this movie and every time I do an interview, there’s something else that comes up. There’s a new idea about the movie that comes up, there are new questions that arise.
Brenton Thwaites: For me, it was a chance to work with Phillip Noyce. I mean, he was one of my favorite directors as a kid seeing all his Aussie movies. He’s one of those directors that Australian directors look up to, because he’s made it in Hollywood and he’s made some great films, directed some cool pilots. I guess this is his big chance to come back into the big screen with this film. So, I kind of really wanted to work with Phil. Jeff Bridges was on board at that point, so I was super excited to work with Jeff, I was a huge fan. Then I read the book and discovered the story was powerful and had a great message. Those mixed together was like a cocktail of excitement.
One of the cool parts of working on The Giver had to be being on set with the likes of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. They’re two heralded actors who hold the kind of knowledge that young actors like Thwaites and Rush could benefit from. As you’ll see below, the two young actors were on their way to talking about working with them, but Thwaites decided to let Lowry talk about her experiences with the highly regarded Bridges first. It was interesting, because it also shows Bridges history with The Giver and his plans on directing it years earlier.
Thwaites: Well, eighteen years before we got to work with them, Lois Lowry got to work with Jeff Bridges.
Lowry: No, nothing happened for those years, except we kept talking.
Thwaites: He was huge back then!
Lowry: Yeah, his first movie was The Last Picture Show. He was a teenager. He was big, but it was later that he won the Academy Award and became so megastarish. That’s not really a word.
Thwaites: Well, it is now!
Lowry: He bought the rights to this movie (The Giver) eighteen years ago. He was going to direct it and his father Lloyd (Bridges) was going to star in it. Then it never got put together, never got financed and his father died. And after time passed, he realized that he could play the role. I think he still has never directed a film.
After that, Thwaites and Rush answer the question that was asked to them about working with Jeff Bridges:
Thwaites: It was great. As a young anything working with someone in your field who’s very experienced and very successful could be quite nerve-racking to meet them and start that relationship, but Jeff’s such a cool guy, he especially welcomed me with open arms. In a way, that’s something that The Giver does, so it was a nice parallel.
Rush: Jeff is also a very giving person. When people say “Oh, did they ever give you any advice just by watching them?” He is someone who actually has sat me down several times and told me about the press junket, he gives you advice about that. About filming, he told me “Don’t be afraid to be the fool, just jump in.” He tells you stories about when he was younger and stories about his dad. He is someone who’s very giving and open and the fact that I got to work with him so early in my career is gonna have such a huge impact on what I do next. And it has on every role I’ve approached after that.
From what I’ve been reading on the internet from fans of the novel, some of them were worried about it being made into a film. I asked about that and got an honest response in return about what they’d say to the people who are worried about it:
Lowry: I’d tell them to relax. I think people lose sight of the fact that a movie and a book are two different things. You can love a book, but it’s never going to be exactly the same on the screen. You just gotta relax and let it happen.
Thwaites: The moments of Harry Potter that weren’t on the screen. Originally, I was kind of annoyed, but they’re still in my mind and I can keep them myself. In a way, that’s kind of cool. You keep the moments that aren’t translated to the film to yourself and they can be your moments and things you take away.
Lowry: That’s a nice way of putting it.
It’s clear that taking a novel and turning it into a film would mean that there would be a lot of changes. That’s the way it has to be for multiple reasons. Of course, Lowry already knew that as well, but there was something that left her and Jeff Bridges worried about that transition. She spoke about that and how she came to accept the change:
Lowry: I knew that from the start. I didn’t expect or even hope that the book would become the movie and be exactly the same. That’s simply not going to happen. The one thing that worried me, and I know worried Jeff as well, was the decision that was made to make the characters older than they are in the book, because in the book they’re twelve. And that decision was made for several different reasons, and I think they were legitimate reasons. One was marketing. They would acquire a larger audience for the movie if the cast was older. Apparently, marketing research told them that teenagers, big movie audiences won’t go see a movie about twelve-year olds. So, you don’t want to lose a large part of your audience. Another reason that I had not even thought about. Phillip said that twelve-year olds, if they’re in a movie, like babies, can only work a certain amount of hours.
Rush: You can work nine hours and three of them have to be schooling. So you work for six hours. That’s how I use to work.
Lowry: That makes the movie more expensive. It takes longer to make it. I was worried about that. Jeff was worried enough about it that he said that he almost withdrew from the movie when he heard the kids were going to be older, then both of us got over it. When we met the kids who were going to play the roles, saw them on the screen and saw it was gonna work, because they had the same air of youth, naiveté and vulnerability that the characters in the book have. They’re older, but they have the same characteristics, so it works.
For those who have read the book and are interested in seeing the movie based on it, you’ll notice a significant difference having to do with the usage of black and white coloring. Lowry speaks about that difference and how fans initially reacted when they saw the film’s very first trailer:
Lowry: The difference is with the movie is that in the book, you don’t know that there is no color until suddenly he begins to see color. Then you realize he never has. In the movie of course, you’re seeing monochrome, so you’re aware of that and color begins to enter. When they first released the trailer of this movie on the internet, it was all in color. That provoked huge outrage among fans of the book. I think the movie makers were surprised by that. They had planned all along for it to begin in black and white, but they hadn’t realized the degree to which the audience was going to care about that.
With films predicated on novels, you can always anticipate having things being cut out. Due to time constraints, that has to be done, but Lowry actually liked a scene the wasn’t in the book that was put into the movie:
Lowry: There’s a very spooky scene in the movie which is not in the book, but I like it in the movie, is with the old people in the ceremony. When the old people come to the stage and you see them going across. Looks like a denture commercial. All these spooky smiles. That seen is not in the book. The audience will be somewhat different I suppose.
Many people will wonder just how similar The Giver will be to films like The Hunger Games and Divergent since they represent the recent explosion of young adult novels being turned into films. Those movies are different, so you may get a different audience and reaction. Here’s what Lowry had to say about that:
Lowry: Well, the audience that likes violence and action may not love this, because there’s nobody killed in this movie is there? The audience will be somewhat different I suppose. I think for one thing, an adult audience will be attracted by the fact that Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges are in it.
There is action here, but judging by the marketing, it does look as if The Giver has a bit more action than it actually does. Below, Lowry and Rush talk about one specific aspect of a commercial that caught their eye:
Lowry: In the movie, the drone that picks up Jonas and the baby looks like a spaceship or something.
Rush: Yeah, I was like ‘Did we have that?’ That looks cool.
Lowry: I think they focused on that to probably to attract a certain audience. But I think the audience that wants a lot of violence is gonna be disappointed.
At the end of the interview, I decided to toss out one more question to the two young actors who appear to be moving up in the world of cinema. I wanted to know how they chose their roles. Many people will have different reasons, and these two are no exception:
Thwaites: I don’t look for anything, man. I just read everything and hopefully something sparks a cord that hasn’t been struck before. My ideal career would be to do films that differentiate from one another. Our industry at the moment is very much about sequels and prequels, so it’s cool to have those individual, crazy ideas like The Signal and Oculus and play very different characters mentally and physically.
Rush: Now, I think I look more for the director, because you really don’t know how a movie is going to be perceived, what it’s going to look like in the end, but you know working with a great director or working with a director who’s really new or just working with these different types. I think that’s what changes. For me, it’s not so much the role. You kind of have to get accustomed to the way a director works. There are some directors like Phil who likes to do a lot of takes and try a lot of things and be very straight forward. And there’s some directors who give you so much freedom and there are some directors who know exactly what they want. I think that’s what really attracts me to a project. Getting to change the way I act by working with the different ways the directors direct.
I had a good time interviewing these guys. I got a lot of information and it all went as smoothly as one could hope. It allowed me to pick the brains of this trio and learn more about the film industry.
The Weinstein Company’s The Giver opens on August 15, 2014