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Compelling Young Adult Fiction: Behind the Scenes of ENDER'S GAME
By Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
ENDER’S GAME is a highly anticipated science fiction action movie based on bestselling author Orson Scott Card’s award-winning novel. It’s about a 12-year-old genius Ender Wiggin, who’s recruited to train with an elite group of children to defeat an alien race that almost wiped out earth many years ago. Movieguide® had the opportunity to hear from the cast, director, and producers of the movie, including Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld.
Harrison Ford (STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, 42) plays the role of Colonel Graff, Ender’s commanding officer who believes Ender is the only person with the intelligence and skills to defeat the aliens and save earth.
Q: Could you talk about how it [ENDER’S GAME] appealed to you and have you read the book in the past?
Harrison Ford: I actually read the script before I read the book. I thought it was an interesting subject that I hadn’t seen in a film. I saw an interesting character, who was responsible for supporting some questions about responsibility, the military and relationships between young people and old people. When I met with the filmmakers, I had a sense that they were very ambitious, and focused on making a film that I thought would be useful to a young audience. So it was altogether attractive to me.
Q: The movie is very intellectual. Are there any themes or questions specifically for young boys or girls that you feel might come up, or should be discussed because of this movie?
Harrison Ford: I think a lot of questions will be raised. I think it’s a really good family movie. Young people are likely to drag their parents to this movie, require answers from them about what’s going on here. And, the other way around. Parents may wish to bring their young people to this movie as well. The themes are individual responsibility, [and] what the military does to create leadership capacity, but this is a strange situation here: we’re talking about a world government meeting the threat of an alien invasion. So, there’s not the usual issues of militarism and military adventure. This is not one country with a national interest trying to control another country. This is not a national patriotism. This military is in aid of protecting life on earth. So these themes, while they seem familiar, are a little differentiated by the context.
[On the topic of video games and bullying]: I grew up in the city. Instead of playing games in space, we played cowboys and aliens. We played games that were built on imagination. Kids will always have imagination. Right now, their imagination is stimulated by electronic devices. I have a 12- year-old. I see all of his friends. They play outside a lot. Their parents limit the amount of time they can spend playing with a video game or on their little iPhones. There’s a huge responsibility in parenting. There was in the time that I was growing up, and there still continues to be that responsibility. This film is one of those opportunities to do some parenting. Engage your kids with some of the issues this film speaks to.
Q: Gavin (Gavin Hood, the director), what did you see as your biggest challenge? Was it the casting? Was it taking this story from this novel, adapting it for a movie?
Gavin Hood (Director of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and ENDER’S GAME): To the question of the challenges, obviously a film like this has a number of challenges. First, in the adaptation of the book, which I’m a huge fan of. The tricky thing about the book of course is that it’s a very internal story. The author writes beautifully of what the character is thinking and feeling and translating that into film is not always so easy. We worked very hard, all of us in the scriptwriting process, on how we could capture the spirit of the book using our medium. Of course, we have living breathing actors who can reflect emotion. So in some ways, it’s difficult, but, in other ways, it’s easier, because the book might need two or three paragraphs to describe what a character is feeling and with great actors like Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, or Viola Davis or our young actors Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld, you can get in a second, off of a great reaction shot, information about what the character is feeling. You have to have great actors to achieve that.
Q: You’ve been a fan [of the book] for a long time. Can you talk about discovering the book. What it meant to you then and how you see it now.
Producer Gigi Pritzker: I got this book many, many years ago from my nephew who was in eighth grade at the time. He was a young boy, and he had a hard time reading. He came to me (we were very close), and he said, “I’ve read this book and it was really great.” My first thought was, “You read a book.” Then, I read the book, and we talked. It was a great conversation. I remember very clearly thinking, this book allowed these two people, a young boy, and a middle-aged woman to have an incredibly interesting conversation. That’s really interesting. He then said, “Wouldn’t that make a great movie?” To cut to the end, that little boy, is now a father and is studying for his Ph.D., and we just finished the movie. So, it’s been a really long journey, and I’ve loved the book from that moment.
Producer Robert Orci: I read it at the same age. I read it when I was in junior high. My uncle, who got me into all things sci-fi, got me into it.
Gigi Pritzker: It’s always an aunt or an uncle [laughs].
Robert Orci: It is. It’s actually a family affair somehow. At the time, I just loved that it didn’t talk down to me as a young dude. I liked that it celebrated intelligence, I liked that it was complicated and had adult themes. Never imagined that I’d be working on it.
Asa Butterfield (HUGO, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS) plays the leading role of Ender, a 12 year old, who is physically, emotionally and psychologically pushed to his limit because some adults in his world believe he can save earth from impending doom.
Q: Can you talk about the first day you met Harrison Ford? What was it like to work with him?
Asa Butterfield: I think I can speak for a lot of people in that we were pretty nervous about meeting Harrison Ford. I was definitely one of those people. For all of us, once we got to know him, you do get on very well. He’s such an amazing person and an amazing actor. Because there were so many young people on the sets, I think he really brought the best out of us.
Q: We have Ender who is dealing with this hostile environment that’s not about the individual, it’s more about the system. I wanted to ask if you as an actor ever felt something like that working in Hollywood, and how you deal with pressure and expectations like Ender does.
Asa Butterfield: That’s a good point. I think that’s one of the things we have in common, myself and Ender, obviously nowhere near to the same level. As a young actor, there is often pressure to be this star and to be in the limelight. One thing that has helped me stay away from that is simply living in London, which allows me to [be] much like any other 16 year old, when I’m not here filming or doing press: playing football, hanging out with mates, listening to music. It has not changed my life at home as much as what people think. I do think that’s really helped me become a more developed actor.
Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT and ROMEO AND JULIET) plays Petra Arkanian, a fellow classmate who befriends and encourages Ender.
Q: The book, when did you first read it, what did you think about it? Then, back to back with ROMEO AND JULIET, filming that to this. Mindset wise, how did you change it up?
Hailee Steinfeld: That was somewhat of a culture shock I’d say. Going from filming a period piece to spending 90% of your time in front of a green screen is weird, and uncomfortable and unnatural. I find that with period pieces, you’re sort of really able to take advantage of what’s around you, prop wise, wardrobe wise, location wise. It’s all so specific due to that time. Having done both TRUE GRIT and ROMEO AND JULIET, both period pieces, I was really sort of almost used to that. Then going to shoot ENDER’S GAME in front of a green screen was really weird, but I was able to sort of use my imagination in a way that I never had before. So that was something that I really loved about this experience. That it was so completely different. Gavin Hood was so incredible. I read the book right after I read the script. I just thought it was so cool. I couldn’t get over thinking about how much fun it was going to be to shoot, and two, how in the world they were going to pull it off. All these things were going through my mind and realizing it was a very character driven story, and there’s so many incredible relationships within the story that I found really interesting.