Cast Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Director Phillip Noyce, Author of “The Giver” Lois Lowry, writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, and Producer Nikki Silver all participated in a press conference about their new film “The Giver” out today August 15.
Q: Jeff, you act as not only a star but also a producer of this project, and initially you wanted to direct it for your dad. Can you tell us why this resonated with you on a personal level and a little bit about the history of that?
Jeff: It goes back 18 years. I wanted to direct my father in something, and I wanted it to be something my kids could see; they were all young, but they’re in their 30’s now, and so I got a catalogue of children’s books, and I’m looking at the different covers and I see this photograph of this old, grizzled guy, and I said, ‘Oh my dad could play that part.’ And I noticed the Newbury award stamp on it and I said, ‘This looks like it might be good.’ I read it, and of course it knocks me out as a kid’s book. As an adult, I’m just loving this story and the themes in it. I was very excited about it, then I bring it in to tell my wife about it, and the kids say, ‘Oh we know that book. We were taught that book in school.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She says that there’s a lesson plan and everything and I’m like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’
My excitement grows, and then I find out that it’s also on the list of banned books, and I get more excited because these are the kind of movies I like, a little edgy, a little danger, and I thought, ‘This is going to be a synch to get made.’ Over 10 million copies sold in over 21 countries, the money guys are going to go crazy over this. That did not prove to be true. The controversy being both on the banned books and selling so many copies and being popular in school, it freaked them out. Also, when we finally got a script together, it was very challenging to put this world that Lois had created in the book up on the screen because so much of it was inner dialogue, Jonas was having with himself. Bob Weide, he was our first writer, and we spent a week up at my place jamming on the story, and it was challenging, but we dug it. We took it around and the guys, the financiers, were too shy about it. So it took this long and I’m really pleased it did take this long because this is the right team. We have the right director, the casting is everything, not only the actors but also the crew, certainly our director of photography, Ross Emery, who was so great and Phillip Noyce was like the key to the casting that we scored. But, if it was made earlier, Odeya wasn’t born, so we would not have had Odeya with us, just the whole team wouldn’t have been there so I’m glad that the gestation period was so long.
Q: What struck you about it Taylor, the first time you read it?
Taylor: When I read the book, it was one of those things that really changed my perspective on a lot of things. I think when I read it I was probably in 5th grade and I didn’t do a lot of thinking about the distant future as far as our society goes, at that point in my life. This really, kind of, switched that up for me, and really kind of blew my mind in a way that stuck with me and when I got the script, I just immediately thought, ‘I am going to say yes to this. I really hope it’s a good adaptation, I really hope it’s a good portrayal of this, because if it is, if it’s anything like the effect the book had on me, then I’m going to do this.’
Q: For you Ms. Streep, with your varied career, this is a new part that we’ve never seen you portray. What boxes did this check when the script came in that said, ‘This is for me, I need to do this right now’?
Meryl: Well, I like to be boss, so that was a good thing. I’ve always wanted to work with this gentleman my entire career (Jeff Bridges) but never got the chance. Somehow he eluded me, so that was a big, big part of the draw. Also, a big admirer of Phillip’s films. I think he is a pure, pure filmmaker with great taste, and I knew to bring this to life, especially the colorless parts of it, would take a great artist so I was really happy to be pulled in.
Q: Did your kids read the book?
Meryl: Yah, mine did. They had a list of required reading for over the summer … But that one was put in front of them and they devoured it, the two younger ones did.
Q: When an actor makes a film, it’s all about the emotion, that intensity of emotion, and in here your character is deprived of them, so how do you build something which you deliver still, with that level of construction because of who the character is?
Meryl: It’s an interesting thing to play people who have suppressed emotion, but I felt that the chief elder didn’t take her medication as well on certain days. Do you know what I mean? Like we all skipped probably. Clearly, she had some deep history with The Giver, the receiver of wisdom, and I think that was something that intrigued me about this script. But, I think that’s sort of the point of the book, you can’t keep things in; you can’t suppress the things that make us human.
Q: Taylor can you reflect why this was the right role for you?
Taylor: Like Meryl said, it’s unbelievable to even think about having the opportunity to work with Jeff, so that for me was such an unbelievable concept that I would get to do this dream scenario, where I get to have a very small role that has a pivotal part in the story, but isn’t jumping into too deep water your first time in a serious, dramatic movie. I think that the fact that it was all those things put together, the fact that it was a story that stuck with me from my childhood, the fact that it was written by an author that I really respect, the fact that it celebrates all the things that I hold really dear, and the things that are most important to me like our history, our music, our art, our intellect, and our memories, I think that really had a great deal to do why I wanted to be a part of this. In a world where, right now, I am seeing so many of my fans and these people who write to me on Instagram and Twitter, or in letters saying they’re having such a tough time with life because they can’t imagine that we can experience such great pain, such intense loss, such insecurity, and the thing that I just wish I could tell them, over and over again, is that we live for these fleeting moments of happiness. Happiness is not a constant. It’s something that we only experience a glimpse of every once in a while, but it’s worth it, and I think that is what they’ll take away from this movie.
Q: Phillip the film is beautiful. Can you speak about your vision?
Phillip: That’s a long story. Lois had conceived a certain type of community, which was based on her experiences growing up in military bases all around the world. And one of the places that she lived in was in Tokyo just after the Second World War where she like Jonas, would leave the walls of the base and venture out into the madness that was post war Tokyo. Another story she told us was growing up on Governor’s Island, surrounded by water. When you read the novel, you can see those two influences. I went for holiday in Cape Town, South Africa; I took a shot of my son on top of Table Mountain and when I was coming home on the plane, I looked at it, and I looked into his eyes as he looked out into those clouds, and I thought, ‘Wow, that could be Jonas dreaming about going to the benevolent version of Elsewhere.’ And that became one of the ideas that we explored, which combined two of Lois’s ideas or experiences — which we combined to produce this community, one of several communities on top of a mesa and surrounded by a cloud bank, that was a barrier to the outside.
Going to shoot the film in South Africa was a big decision because it meant that the quality of light, the vegetation, and everything would just be a little different than most of the rest of the world down there in south, South Africa, right at the bottom down at the Cape. So, the world looks a little bit different –a little familiar, but there’s something weird about it. The color schemes, as I’ve said, were inspired by Lous’s wonderfully visual writing. And Ed Verreaux, our production designer, we sort of had a make up of what those houses would look, starting with the military style houses of the 50’s, that Lois had imagined, and going right through to mid-21st century housing, egalitarian housing as it might be built. We sort of ended up with about twelve different designs, passed them around, even to our writer- she chose the same one as the rest of us and that ended up being the architectural style, but, I could go on and on about the look of the film. A lot of it is of course, CG. And a lot of the buildings were not built when we started filming, but were built much later, designed by Ed Verreaux and then built by our CG team. All in the name of sameness and all in the name of creating a supposedly egalitarian world free of conflict, so design came from Louis’s ideas, both written and also ideas that she told us.
Photo Credit: Getty Images for The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company with LEXUS and Fathom Events presented the world premiere of the film on Monday at at the Ziegfeld Theater. Director Phillip Noyce, Author of “The Giver” Lois Lowry, Writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, Jeff Bridges (star and producer), Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Ryan Tedder of One Republic and Producers Neil Koenigsberg, Nikki Silver and Scooter Braun were all in attendance. Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis were also in the building. Before the film began, OneRepublic treated guests to a live performance of “Ordinary Human,” their original song for the soundtrack.
The fabulous party followed at The Loeb Boathouse Central Park.