Colin Trevorrow is a director no one’s quite nailed down. Since his 2012 sci-fi debut, Safety Not Guaranteed, Trevorrow has shot up like a rocket to become a director of blockbuster franchises like Jurassic World and the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. Balancing out his big budget films is the family drama The Book of Henry, in theaters now. Trevorrow talked to The Young Folks about balancing out his directing slate, giving some hints about Star Wars and what he thought about Wonder Woman.
Kristen Lopez: You’re a chameleon as a director, from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World and now Book of Henry. What entices you to a project?
Colin Trevorrow: I would say fear might be the only connective tissue there. Making my first film was scary and making Jurassic World made me very afraid, even though I had all the confidence that I could do it; I think those two things can coexist. It’s such a challenge to balance the narrative and emotional requirements of this movie into something that feels cohesive. I don’t know what it is about me. I guess I just can’t help myself that I stare failure in the face very easily.
You definitely keep people on their toes. When you look at some directors, like Spielberg for instance, you can identify them through their work but with you it’s always surprising to see your name pop up.
I feel like I almost live a double life in the movies I make. I can’t begin to have the same kinds of wants and motivations with these larger films as I do with the smaller ones. My mission can’t be to go inside something that we love and try to break it and tear it apart, that’s not what any of us want. I do feel the need to do that a little, in the way that chefs I appreciate will shut their restaurant down and start something else and try to discover a new way to make food. Whether I succeed or fail, it’s something that compels me.
A lot of people were surprised you didn’t immediately jump onto directing the Jurassic World sequel. What drew you to Book of Henry as opposed to directing another big franchise film?
I did write Jurassic World 2 and I’m producing it. I’ve been on the set everyday as a creative adviser and helper as needed with J.A. Bayona, whose the director I chose to carry it on. That choice was really based on a genuine feeling that the franchise would be better served by a new director and new voice with every film, even if there’s at the same time a larger story being told by me. At the same time being able to collaborate with someone like J.A. Bayona to tell it will make it a better movie and will make the audience more interested. My self-awareness is high and my directorial arrogance is pretty low, so as a result I didn’t just grab the money or the assured success of something like Jurassic World 2. I did have a little window between this and my next film to do something and I read a lot of scripts. I don’t know if I can explain about why I felt the need to do something as challenging and risky as this, but I did and here we are.
You’re dealing with some weighty themes in Book of Henry. With the young cast was there a need to keep things light on set?
The amount of time in the shooting of this film that we were dealing with those weighty issues with children present is actually very little. The times we did it was heavy; it was a challenging movie, emotionally, for all of us to make. A lot of times they were a blast and you have three kids running around having dance-offs and schoolhouse in the basement. The weight of the moments that we were shooting dictated the weight of the tone of the set on that day.
Is the tone of the set different from every movie you’re making or is there a consistent atmosphere?
They’re consistent in that we’re always having conversations about what we’re doing, and we’re constantly talking and communicating about our intentions, the character’s intentions, what we’re trying to say at any given moment. I try not to stay behind the camera, behind the video monitor and bark orders. I really make sure the actors feel supported, even if it’s something that isn’t a tonal gauntlet to run as this movie I still feel it’s necessary. Everything you see in any movie I’ve done will always come as the result of my communication with the actors, not orders that they’ve been given.
Book of Henry has such a wonderful cast. What were the rewards and challenges of working with the young actors, including the internet’s little boy Jacob Tremblay?
They’re young but they’ve been surrounded by adults and have excellent parents. As a result they were so in-tune with the characters and the challenge of what we were doing. There wasn’t that big a difference for me between Jaeden Lieberher and an established classical actor like Naomi Watts. Everybody came to the set knowing exactly what they intended to do, understanding their characters, and because we had so far to go…the level of professionalism on this film was extremely high for a movie that had a 9-year-old in it.
Is there a way you come to strike a balance between small, independent features with your big blockbusters? Is it a “one for the studio, one for me” mentality? How do you find a happy medium?
They’re both for me, because I didn’t make Jurassic World for the studio and I’m certainly not making my next film for the studio. I’m in partnership with them because they’re massive endeavors, but I have to approach them from a different mindset in that even though you want all of these to feel fresh and original I didn’t invent Jurassic Park; I didn’t create Star Wars. I’m more of a custodian of those things as opposed to somebody who’s trying to push something genuinely new and, in certain cases, disorienting. We don’t want to disorient anyone in a Star Wars movie.
Of course everyone wants to know about Star Wars and I’m sure you can’t say anything. Do you have specific goals that you’ve set out to achieve with it? Can you say anything about the awesomeness of working within that universe?
It is awesome and not really – is your answer – only because this is a moment that we are anticipating The Last Jedi, which comes out in December. Once we’ve all seen that movie then we can start having some conversations about the future. Right now this is Rian’s [Johnson] moment, and it’s his film and I’m so excited for people to see it.
You picked Bayona for Jurassic World. Do you have a wishlist of directors you’d be interested in seeing tackle the Star Wars universe after your installment?
I do, but I feel if I named any of them it might give away….
Yeah. There’s definitely suggestions that I make and even in the context of who has a voice I would love to see approach that galaxy. I have my opinions but I don’t want to show my cards, like everything!
You’ve taken some lumps regarding comments you made about female directors and franchises. You’ve almost become the de facto name for the Hollywood double standard. How do you deal with those comments, especially in the wake of Wonder Woman’s success?
I definitely wouldn’t laugh it off. I don’t think it’s a laughable subject. It’s so important to me, and has been important to me for so long that I was just speaking to experience I was having in the moment and conversations with many directors I knew. I was pushing to higher women on movies I was producing; at the time we ended up hiring women for both of them – a movie called Powerhouse and a movie called Intelligent Life that Ava DuVernay was going to direct and got an even bigger opportunity to go do A Wrinkle in Time. The only thing that was frustrating about that for me is because it was taken as a broad generalization it suggested that’s not something I care about. Arguably more than anything it’s something I’ve done everything I possibly can to help to remedy because it’s an institutional problem that we’re finally bringing into the mainstream how absolutely preposterous it is that we’ve reached this point and have this discrepancy. All I can do is, with my actions, show how much I care about this by hiring women and that’s what I’ve done.
Did you get a chance to see Wonder Woman? What’d you think?
Of course I have. I saw it with my daughter. Her reaction to it was elemental and deeper than it could have been for any of us. She’s four, maybe a bit young, but she walked out of there holding her body a little differently, changed her posture. She was confident and she was Wonder Woman. It was amazing to see. I actually posted a before and after picture of her on my Twitter. It fundamentally changed her so I don’t think we can underestimate how important that film is.
The Book of Henry is in theaters now.