As I watched the extensive of footage for The Giver at the Hall H panel, I must admit my first thought was “Wow, that really looks a lot like Divergent.” While it will be very easy to dismiss this film as just another copycat, Lois Lowry‘s 1993 novel was actually the inspiration for the current YA dystopian craze. Jeff Bridges discovered the novel almost twenty years ago and optioned the book with the intention of directing the film with his father, Lloyd Bridges, in the role of The Giver. Now years later, his dream project has finally made it to the screen. We sat down with Jeff Bridges, the star and producer of the film, author Lois Lowry, and stars Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Cameron Monaghan to learn more about the making of the film.
Jeff, you first optioned this novel almost 20 years ago with the intention to direct. What was it about this book that made you not give up on the project?
Jeff Bridges: I loved the story. And that kept me involved in wanting to see it made into a film. And also my partners, Neil Koenigsberg and Nikki Silver, who were along for the whole ride, we kept inspiring each other, saying come on, we can do it.
At what point did you decide to not direct the film?
Lois Lowry: When you got old enough to play The Giver?
Bridges: Yeah, when I got old enough…[laughing] Gee, I don’t know when that actually happened. I’m not really sure, I know when it got closer and closer to getting made and as we started to get into the story, I started to feel maybe this wasn’t the movie for a first-time guy. There’s a lot of stuff to do. For a while, we were trying to pitch it and get finance as a very big budget movie. But a lot of movies are ruined when they have too big of a budget. It’s kind of a shame, but the mid-budget movies aren’t really made anymore. You’ve got either low-budget movies or big 200 million dollar movies. So when it started getting down to this is going to be a low-budget film, I thought whoever is going to have to direct this is really needs to know his stuff.
Lowry: And he did.
Bridges: Philip Noyce is so creative and smart, but his work ethic—God, he could work us all under the table. I happily bowed out from that position and turned it over to him.
Lowry: Would you have directed yourself? Could you have directed it and played the role?
Bridges: That would have been tough I think. I don’t know how that would work. My brother’s done that before. I know what a director has to do and what that means, and that’s a lot of work.
Are you still interested in directing?
Bridges: Yeah, sort of. What really peaked my interest in this project was the material that I loved, but it was also working with my dad, I wanted to do something with my dad for my kids. I might but I’m not chomping at the bit like “I have to direct. I don’t have that kind of urgency and maybe that’s what you need as a director, because I know there’s so much work. It’s easily a year out of your life.
Brenton, your character is the receiver of memories and you were playing opposite Jeff Bridges who bestows this knowledge to you. As an actor, what did you learn from working with Jeff?
Thwaites: I learned so much. He has a great language and he uses these very collaborative, creative words to describe the work. Like, when we’re jamming on set with our dialogue and our acting, it’s like we’re jamming with music. He also taught me the importance of relaxing and playing around on set. He teaches you to go in with a certain attitude: lighten it up, have fun, and trust yourself.
The movie is part black and white, and part color, and you are one of the few people to see that color. What was your approach with these scenes knowing that your character was seeing something no one else could?
Thwaites: For my approach I used sense memory, and I learned it from a teacher of Eric Morris, who has a studio in Los Angeles. One of his students was my acting teacher, Charles Allen. He was very strict on sense memory because it’s a very hard thing to find. To smell something and focus on it for an hour is a hard thing to do. To ask yourself questions like, [taking a deep breath] “What am I smelling now in the room?” And you try and suggest things. Say you were working for the memory of a hat, “What was it like when I smelled my hat for the first time?”
With color it was a visual, so I would ask myself questions like, “What was it like to see New York for the first time?” “What was it like to jump out of a plane and see the world in a dome shape for the first time?” It’s insane, these feelings create emotions inside of you. I had a bunch of different choices that I would work for and try and recreate on set, connecting it to what I have experienced.
The Giver is being compared to other YA dystopian films, like The Hunger Games and Divergent. How is this film different?
Thwaites: Well, for starters, the main hero in this film hasn’t got an M16 or a knife-throwing skill, or any physical advantage over anyone. His main power is knowledge. And I think in our world, knowledge is so easily accessible. We have that at our fingertips, but how do we access that within ourselves? What choices do we make, and what do we study? My character learns a bunch of memories from The Giver. Those memories and experiences teach him to follow his heart and trust his instincts. And I feel like this film is a tool of the same sort.
Cameron Monaghan: This is one of the originators of this trend of YA sci-fi novels. It was the inspiration for Divergent and I’m sure you can say the other ones. What’s amazing about this story, while it still has action and excitement and all that stuff, at the end of the day it’s a really beautiful story about love and humanity. Not to diss the other ones, but they are a little more focused on the action side of it. I like people, and this story is about humanity.
Lois, how does it feel to finally see your book come to life? Did it take a new form or do you see it as the original story you wrote?
Lowry: It feels true to the original book, but I knew from the get-go that it would have to be different, because a book and a movie are different things. So I think if I had been a writer who wanted to cling to the book, I should have just stepped aside because it would have been difficult. But I was willing and eager to see it expand into what a film becomes. And to watch it take different forms and go in different directions. But it’s still very true to the intention of the book. I don’t think readers who loved the book will be disappointed at all in the film.
What was it like introduce the film here at Comic-Con to a huge audience of fans of the book?
Odeya Rush: It’s so exciting because when you look out into that crowd you see how many people share the same love for this film and this story as you do. It’s kind of exhilarating. Sometimes you do a movie and nobody knows about it so there’s a lot of anxiety. I mean, there’s anxiety about this one not knowing how people will react to it. But just seeing how excited people are about it just gives you a level of comfort.
Lowry: I’ve never been to this convention and I didn’t really know that much about it, but my grandchildren do and they told me how cool it was going to be. Sitting up there on the panel with an audience of I think they said, 6100 people, we couldn’t see them. With the lights it was like looking into darkness. So we didn’t get a sense of the magnitude of that audience but there was a good feeling from the room.
Bridges: I remember, I asked the question, how many of you guys out there read the book in school, and over half the audience raised their hands. Most of the questions were for Lois and they were fascinated fans of the book. It’s such a great asset of the film to have a book like that.
Lowry: And to be so passionate about the book as it was clear the audience was, it was good to assure them that they are going to love the movie just as much.
The Giver opens in theaters on August 15, 2014.
- Michelle Nelson