Catching up with the cast of 'The Giver'
It took 18 years for producers Nikki Silver and Jeff Bridges to realize their wish of adapting The Giver, Lois Lowry’s popular children’s book (it was still considered a children’s book in those days, before the publishing industry had, like realtors bestowing a trendy name upon a neighborhood whose boundaries are disputed, established the trendy subgenre of fiction for the indefinably aged known as “Young Adult”). And a good thing, too, Bridges acknowledged at this morning’s press conference for the film, held at the Marriott Essex House in Manhattan. If they hadn’t suffered delays, they would have been unable to cast 17-year-old Odeya Rush, for instance. “Odeya wouldn’t have been born,” Bridges pointed out.
“I’m just glad it didn’t take any longer,” quipped Lowry. “Because I’m 77 years old.”
The Giver first came to Bridges’ attention while he was searching for a project in which he could direct his father, the late Lloyd Bridges. A photo of an old, grizzled man adorned the copy of the novel, and Bridges thought, “Oh yeah, my Dad could play that part.” His interest was further piqued by the book’s Newbery Medal, and its controversial reputation: The Giver was banned in certain schools. Award-winning material and real-world drama? “The money guys are going to go crazy for this,” Bridges remembered thinking. “That did not prove to be true.”
Though he was able to enlist the support of his manager at the time, Neil Koenisgberg, who would become a fellow producer on the film, and Silver, even hiring screenwriter Robert Weide to pen a draft of the adaptation, Bridges saw his project languish for nearly two decades. However, “I’m pleased it did take so long,” he affirmed. “This is the right team.”
The actor/producer’s ideal assemblage includes Salt director Phillip Noyce; playwright and screenwriter Michael Mitnick, who worked off Weide’s script; Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) in the lead role of Jonas; the aforementioned Rush as Jonas’ love interest Fiona; Katie Holmes as Jonas’ mother; “True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard as his father; Taylor Swift as Rosemary; Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder of their dystopian community; and Bridges as the titular Giver, or, as he’s properly known in the story, the Receiver of Memory. The Giver is set in a world of uniform “sameness,” an era following an undisclosed horror so awful, it prompted the community’s forefathers to do away with individuality and strong emotion, as well as popular memory of the two, in order to safeguard against future conflict. The Receiver of Memory alone knows how it feels to hurt, or lust or love, knowledge he or she retains so as to advise the leaders of the community. Only, the current Receiver is growing old, and must train his successor – enter the sensitive Jonas.
“It really kind of blew my mind in a way that stuck with me,” said Swift of the book. She, like Mitnick, and Streep and Bridges' own children, was assigned the novel in school, when she was in the fifth grade. Upon receiving the script, the singer, whose previous film credits include 2010’s Valentine’s Day and voicework on The Lorax, knew “if it was anything like the effect the book had on me, I’m going to do it.”
Streep was similarly enthusiastic. “Well, I like to be boss,” she deadpanned in response to a reporter who asked why she felt drawn to the project. A bit more seriously, though still in-keeping with the actress’ general bonhomie, “I’ve always wanted to work with this gentleman my entire career,” she said, referring to Bridges. “So that was a big, big thing.” At one point, Streep threw up her hand and mimed cracking a whip, a theatrical means of expressing the (approximated) lengths to which she was formerly driven to ensure her children completed their summer reading assignments. (“That’s one of my parenting methods,” she joked, cracking the air whip a second time.) When it came time to read The Giver, however, her kids needed no forceful prompting.
“She’s a little young,” Holmes said of her daughter Suri, when asked if the 8-year-old had seen the film. Politely, she added, “I think so many people are going to be happy with this adaptation.”
A second question directed at the actress, about her “brush with Scientology” while married to Scientologist Tom Cruise, was swiftly dismissed by the conference’s moderator. The dud of a query followed one that touched upon religious readings of The Giver. Theological interpretations of both book and film seemed to surprise Noyce, though Lowry had heard various takes on her work before. Its ending has apparently led some to view The Giver as Christian in tone and message. “You think [Jonas] finds Christianity exclusively?” Noyce questioned the journalist who raised the issue. “I don’t think it was anyone’s intention that he should be discovering Christianity exclusively.”
Lowry, the understated, welcome wit, offered, “I’ve discovered over the years… many people give the book as a bar mitzvah gift.” After all, in the novel, Jonas is 12 and embarking upon a journey toward adulthood. At any rate, “I did not intend it as a Christian allegory.”
The DVD of The Giver may be less frequently gifted to those celebrating the Jewish rite of passage, which corresponds with a teen’s 13th birthday. In the film, Jonas, Fiona, and their friend Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are several years older, around 16. “In the book, they’re 12, but for various reasons, some on the team wanted to make them older. That was a real struggle for me,” said Bridges, who nonetheless came to embrace the group decision once the filmmakers cast the then 24-year-old Thwaites.
The Australian actor and star of the film spoke little during the conference, though he did once briefly interrupt Rush with a few playful punches after she said he and Monaghan were like her brothers.
“Ok, it’s my turn to talk now,” Rush shot back good-naturedly, if decisively, continuing to praise the close-knit cast and crew. “Aside from Brenton,” she joked, “everyone’s really easy to get along with.”
Perhaps the roundest note of positivity was struck by Bridges at the very beginning of the gathering, when he shared a few words about Robin Williams, who passed away Monday. “I just want to acknowledge the fullness of life,” Bridges said. “I miss him, [and] I’m sure you guys do, too… What a gift he was to all of us.”
Swift later echoed these sentiments of the actor, who co-starred with Williams in 1991’s The Fisher King. “We live for these fleeting moments of happiness. It’s not a constant. But it’s worth it. That’s what I think people will take away from this movie.”
The Giver opens nationwide August 15th.