Last week I got the chance to join in a roundtable discussion for the upcoming film, The Giver. We got to talk to the two stars, Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush, as well as the author of the book, Lois Lowry. The movie hits theaters this Friday, August 15th.
Question: You’ve had a pretty good year and have played about a dozen different ages – do you approach the different ages any differently?
Brenton: No, I don’t, because I can’t change how I look, I am who I am. It’s more of a character study, you know? It’s more of an obligation to the character. This film for instance – it was important to capture the innocence of Jonas, keeping the happiness and the comfort at a level that feels nice to watch, however adding a touch of strangeness that feels disconcerting in a way. So I guess it’s more of a character study. Our director Phillip (Noyce) told me at the start, “Don’t play young, you’re going to want to try and play 12 or even, you know, 16 – asking questions that I already know the answer to and try to make it believable.” He just told me to add as much of myself to the character as possible.
Question: My question is for Lois and everyone I guess – I didn’t know how much you collaborated with the film, and what made you want to do it now instead of ten years ago?
Lois: I wanted to do it ten years ago – I wanted to do it 15 years ago. It was 18 years ago that Jeff Bridges acquired the rights to the book and stuck with it all that time. Of course he wouldn’t have been able to play the role then; he would have been too young. It’s probably a good thing that it took so long. As far as how much input I had – from the beginning he consulted me and sought my advice. They didn’t always take my advice, but it’s unusual for the author to be asked. I think as time went along and I got to know Phillip, the director, better, he seemed to be more interested in what I had to say.
He had me up to his house in Los Angeles last summer and I met Brenton – the rest of the cast hadn’t been cast yet – and Jeff was always on board. I saw a couple of screen tests which included Odeya’s. So they were always interested in my opinion and then they asked me to go to South Africa which I had not planned to do and had not really wanted to do, but it was fun once I got there. They’ve been very good about including me throughout the process, which they weren’t required to do.
Question: I have a question for Lois – when it was all coming together, was there a particular scene that you were the most excited to see come to life onscreen?
(Although this book was published a little over 20 years ago, I still feel compelled to give you a SPOILER ALERT for the answer below. If you wish not to be spoiled, skip to another question. Or, just another suggestion, go read the book: it’s very much worth your time)
Lois: Well, oddly enough, the scene that I believed was pivotal and I was concerned that they would decide to leave it out – which they did not and I happened to be in South Africa when they filmed it – was the scene when the father kills the newborn infant. Every scene is done well but they certainly filmed this one very carefully. They chose camera angles for example so that they would not show the needle.
There are a lot of wonderful scenes. I loved the scenes between Jeff and Brenton as they begin to get to know each other.
Question: Since so much of acting is about conveying emotions, was it difficult playing roles where your characters weren’t supposed to have so much passion?
Odeya: I mean, we did do some takes of certain scenes – at the beginning it’s not so much that we don’t have emotion, we’re just kind of naïve and innocent and content. The lines help, the dialogue, the jokes that we’re telling really aren’t that funny – so you can tell something’s a little bit off. There are some takes during [spoilerish scene here] where I did do some takes where I was told to look horrified, but I also did takes where I’m saying “I’m scared,” kind of knowing what scared is, kind of playing a little bit frightened, and I think it’s edited together so that we start off very naïve and innocent and saying things like missing each other but not really knowing what missing is, and kind of saying it very casually and then at the end Fiona gets very angry.
Brenton: You know one of the greatest things about this film when I first read the screenplay and before I read the book was the fact that Jonas goes through such an extreme emotional journey. He experiences so many emotions and so many different feelings throughout the story. As an actor we really love to emote – crying, being angry, sad, happy – you tend to kind of just jump it and go as big as you can and that feels great. The challenge with this was bringing it all in.
I’ve got this ingrained in my head when I sleep at night – it’s Phillip saying “take it inside.” In this film that’s one of the things he’d say, that less is more. Don’t do anything, just feel.
Question: Brenton, tell us how you became involved initially?
Brenton: My manager and agent sent me the screenplay. I was in L.A., I had auditioned for maybe five cool movies, and I got down to maybe the final two to three kids and I was having a great time auditioning. I just thought it was another one – another great story. I’d met Phillip a year before auditioning for him for a different movie so we had a relationship at the start. And then I read the book and realized what a powerful message that it conveys.
Question: So were you aware of the book before you got the part?
Brenton: No, I wasn’t. It was the screenplay and then the book. In one of those moments where you want as much material as possible. Also, if Phil asks me you can’t say you haven’t read it.
Question: You’re working on a lot of low budget projects and then you’ve got a lot of bigger budget projects as well – how’d you feel on this production? Did you feel it was so big or much more familiar?
Brenton: You know it’s funny, every movie no matter how big they are feels like a low budget movie. It’s just how it rolls. Money goes in places you can’t even imagine. It was nice being in South Africa for this film because it wasn’t huge; it didn’t feel like millions and millions of dollars, it felt like a low budget movie. It felt like, well to me, I’ve come over from Australia and this was big budget for us. So for me it was a huge budget film and these actors were crazy, but in comparison to other young adult books that have become movies it was quite ambitious.
Odeya: I have done movies where you can feel the difference. I did a movie once and it was fourteen days. Phil really takes his time with this and he does pay attention to the little things that we say and it’s not like everything has to be approved by Harvey [Weinstein]. Sometimes you do a movie and every single line has to be approved by the studio and that changes the whole story and that’s the whole message. Phil really took his time with this and would try so many different things. The camera operator and DP would all experiment with different things; Lois had a big voice in this, Jeff could voice his opinion and sometimes we could say this doesn’t feel right.
The big difference between the big budget films [and smaller budget films] is how much they let the actors be involved.
Question: What was the most rewarding part of making this film?
Brenton: I have to say that this film has such a beautiful message. It has inspired millions of people around the world and our goal is to continue that and to try and broaden this story into places that haven’t familiarized themselves with the story – like Australia! You know, having Lois on board with us even in this room feels like it’s a little easier to have the fans connect with us. We’re all together in this; it’s not just a movie trying to make a lot of money. It’s a story that’s really trying to reach out to teach people.
Question: There are a lot of scenes where Fiona is working at the nursery and Jonas is with Gabe – what was it like shooting scenes with babies?
Odeya: I mean, I have four younger brothers and I did help take care of them when they were younger, and when I was in South Africa I just volunteered at a hospital there, just to get the feeling of Fiona. Fiona has this natural touch where she can do one quick thing and the baby just stops crying. We needed to make it believable that this is her destiny to take care of babies unlike the book where she’s taking care of the old. For me I think it was fun because it’s just a part of nature – you look at a baby and it makes you smile.
I think I had like two weeks where I was at the nurturing center working with them. It was really fun for me.
Lois: Should we reveal to them that some of those babies in the bassinettes were fake?
Brenton: This just occurred to me, Lois. Eighteen years ago when you and Jeff were trying to make this film, were you worried about the baby scenes? Usually it’s like, don’t work with kids or animals, right?
Lois: I didn’t even think about it – he may have. Brenton was the one of course who had to lug a baby around.
Brenton: And he got bigger and bigger and I got weaker and weaker!
Odeya: By the end of it you’re carrying a toddler.
Brenton: Mothers are strong, man, mothers are strong.
Question: Lois, when you were trying to make the movie, is there footage anywhere of Jeff’s father playing the role of the Giver?
Lois: He’s trying to find it now – it is in somebody’s garage. They filmed it in his father’s living room with his father playing the role, Jeff directing and his brother was involved somehow.
Look for part two of the interview and the movie review to be up later this week!