Finally the best selling novel, THE GIVER, comes to the big screen. Jonas lives in a dystopian society, when he receives the memories of the past, he learns his community is missing out of some of the greatest elements of living, in THE GIVER. THE GIVER has a romantic worldview with some politically correct elements, but overall has a positive message.
Movieguide® had the opportunity to hear from some of the cast of the movie, including Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Katie Holmes, director Philip Noyce, novel writer Lois Lowry and some other cast members. Read on to hear what they said about their experiences of bringing this novel to screen.
Question: Jeff, from what I understand, you alone have spent twenty years on this project?
Jeff Bridges: That’s a little exaggerated. Maybe about 18. I originally wanted to direct my father, Lloyd Bridges, in the film. I wanted to make a movie with him that my kids could see. They were all young kids at the time, and I was looking at a catalog of children’s books and came across this wonderful cover of this grizzled old guy with a Newberry Award stamp on there, and I thought “Oh this is great,” and I read it and not on a kid-book level, but also as an adult I thought “Oh this is a movie I’d love to see be made.”…So much of the success of a film …people see depends not only on casting the actors, but [also] who’s gonna be the director, whose gonna be cinematographer, and all of those slots, were just filled in such a beautiful way that the movie kind of transcended my high expectations, really.
Question: I feel like I should call on Mr. Noyce now. Phillip, what attracted you to this, was it the script or the book you read first?
Phillip: It was the book. It was the ideas of the book. I think we all…embrace technology, but …also fear it. In some ways I think that we are losing contact with each other. So the portrait of the future society where technology ruled completely seemed like it was something like looking in the mirror in the morning and not actually speaking-my face. Just sending one words – texts – and so it felt to me like it was a cautionary tale about the future, and about the present as well.
Question: I understand that, embracing but fearing, because part of me kind of wanted to live in that village – like it was really nice – that you created.
Phillip: Well it would be good to have no pain, wouldn’t it? And you know, everyday I wake up at the moment, I keep thinking about Meryl Streep and that scene that was the end of the movie where she’s arguing with Jeff’s character and says at the time: “Human beings have a choice, and they make the wrong choice.” There’s something right about that. …I think the fundamental question is about what makes us human. That’s what Lois has forced us to consider.
Question: What attracted you to your roles and was it intimidating at all working with legends like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, and Phil Noyce, for that matter.
Brenton: Jeff was great to work with. To work with a fellow Aussie was pretty cool too.
Question: Katie, for you?
Katie Holmes who played the mother: I was very excited to be a part of this film. The book is so beloved and to work with and be a part of this project-Jeff, Meryl Streep, all of these amazing actors-was a pure delight, and to work with Phillip was wonderful and I think that it was interesting to play this character because this world is-there’s no emotion. There’s no pain. For an actor, you’re always trying to emote, but you can’t. So it was interesting. And to play someone who, playing Brenton’s mom and having him have these experiences that were so foreign to my character and also being guardian of the rules of this world, was really interesting and quite a challenge, but mostly it was just an honor to be a part of something that I think is a very valuable piece of work.
Odeya Rush who played Fiona: I think my character takes such a journey too because I’m not completely like the Giver and Jonas, I’m not fully feeling things, and I’m not getting memories, but still I start off really naive and happy and thinking I’m in a good place, and then once I stop taking my injections it’s just kind of like a state of confusion, and I don’t really understand what I’m feeling, and he’s trying to explain it to me, and then towards the end it kind of goes to anger because I realize the cruelty behind this community, so I think that arc was really interesting and it’s such a great story. I’m really fortunate.
Cameron Monaghan who played Asher: I read the book when I was auditioning. It’s just a really beautiful story about humanity and what it means to be human and love and all these great things. And it was just something I wanted to be a part of.
Question: Alongside the other movies that are sort of dystopian, how would principles of distinguish this film? How was it, in your words, different?
Jeff: It’s interesting that you didn’t even mention Hunger Games. Which I think both of those movies were inspired by Lois’s book. The tone, I guess is what comes to my mind from those two films, there’s quite different. There’s suspense and action in our films as well, but there’s a more subtle, deeper themes I think.
Producer Nikki Silver: I also think the theme of memory in this book makes it a very different thing, and that has been approached, and I think very important for today, and the world today. There’s a line in the film that memory is just not about the past, it determines the future, and the way it explores that, and Jonas, Brenton, and being able to go into the memories and us looking at our history from the perspective of now makes this look very different from all the other dystopian ones. I think for kids today, to answer that question for you as well, the concept of them understanding that we look at the past, and the concept of never forgetting is essential in the world and especially for this generation today.
Question: I also feel like the film has a very distinctive look. I love the look of this movie. The cleanness, it’s like the whole village is like an Apple Store.
Phillip: The look of the movie is inspired by Lois’s words. The way she describes the absolutely restrictive palette, the deception that Jonas starts with and the way he gradually starts to receive color and emotion. So the visual style evolves as his experience becomes more complex, but it’s as if it was composed from a primer written by Lois.
Question: An obscure little thing that I noticed in the film was you bookend the film with “Silent Night” and it happens to be the version by the Von Trapp children. Was this done intentionally in terms as the subtextual metaphor for what the Von Trapps actually endured in the real world?
Nikki: Actually, I will say that the specific of the version of “Silent Night” was not intentional, but that the importance of “Silent Night” being in the film was important to all of us in that I think that it’s very universal when you think of family, when you think of universal moments, the playing of “Silent Night” sort of represented that, that Jonas reaches this house, and there is something happening inside. How do you very quickly tell an audience there’s love and family and togetherness? That’s what it represented for us.
Phillip: In a way, it replaced one of the several memories in Lois’s book that we didn’t specifically include in the film, which was the memory of Christmas, which Jonas experiences in the book. So our adaptation of that memory was in seeing someone singing in the early sledding memory and then finally arriving at that place, which also happens in the book, we didn’t have the specific Christmas memory, we just had the sound of someone singing a song that might be sung at Christmas.
Question: Jeff, you have been doing this for so long, I have to imagine especially when young actors work with you, do they ask you for advice? Do you offer it?
Jeff: Yeah, I offer it, but we just jammed, you know, like it’s a musical expression, but it also works for making movies too. Brenton plays guitar, and we did a lot of jamming actually. My dad, Lloyd Bridges, he taught me all the basics of acting, and I remember when I got a part in Sea Hunt. I remember sitting on his bed saying and him saying ‘Now make it seem like it’s happening for the first time, listen to me, don’t just say your lines when my mouth stops. You gotta let what I’m saying come in before you say all those things’. The main thing I learned from my dad was really just observing how he worked and the joy that he had in doing what he loved doing. I got to work with him twice as an adult. In Tucker and Blown Away, whenever my dad came on the set, that joyful vibe kind of came with him and it’s contagious. It runs through the whole company and everybody goes “Oh ya! This is kinda fun! This is kinda advanced pretend! We’re the cool kids, we got the cool things.” You kinda relax when you’re feeling joyful and all of the good stuff gets to come through so we had little games we used to do, we’d play.
Nikki: We actually filmed in South Africa and it was a really magical set. Cameron, Brenton, they all play guitar, and Taylor came, and Taylor played guitar, and Odeya would sing, and Michael was playing piano. We were in a really interesting part of the world doing something really special, so it was a pretty amazing time.
Question: When I told my readers that I was going to The Giver they go, “Ya that’s my childhood favorite book!” We know that fans of the books are sometimes completely critical, they have this image in their minds of who should play this favorite character of theirs. So, even you Jeff, pictured the great Lloyd in the role, so in the sum of the production, has it always been well received by your choice of cast?
Jeff: It was tough for me. I had been willing to direct it myself, I had a certain vision of how it’d go, and I really was in love with the book, and I wanted to really put the book up on screen exactly how it was, and then as I got closer to the movie being at the start when it was actually gonna be made, I had a decision whether I was gonna come on board and play the Giver or if I was gonna say, “Bon Voyage, guys, best of luck but I’m not gonna join you.” I thought about that. Often what I do when I come to those cross roads in my life I try to project myself into the future and think, “How am I gonna feel if I let this one go, or engage?” I felt just terrible just thinking letting it go, so I decided to do an experiment on myself and just say “Just go for it” and dance with the universe. Look, you got Harvey Weinstein, Walden, look at the movies that have come out of their oven. I use this word again, but it comes to mind here: jam. Have the jam session, look at all the artists that came in, kind of give up your idea of control, which in a way is extremely moving. Just dance with this thing, and I’m so glad I did that, and made that choice because it kind of transcended all of my expectations and ideas. One of the things I was most concerned about was the age of Brenton and Odeya’s character, and I struggled to let that go, but I finally did and these kinda showed up and I was like, “Oh I’m glad, I’m glad I let that go” because that first shot of Brenton looking up at those trees, it’s like, “Oh this is a guy who’s at the crest of his life.” It’s perfect. Brenton came up with an interesting thing. He said, “The other day you were saying the Ceremony of Twelve in the book, well that could be the Ceremony of the Twelfth grade.” He’s young enough to pass for a twelfth grader, so I think it worked really well.
Question: Now I had heard that you had actually shot a version of this film with your dad in the Giver, is there any way that could be on the DVD?
Jeff: You know, Beau’s son, Casey Bridges, was our DP on that particular session at my parent’s house, and we read the whole book. Bud Court was the narrator (this was like eighteen years ago). Bud read all the narration in the book, Dylan, who now works for Universal in the publicity department, he played Jonas. We have this. It wasn’t a DVD. It was a BetaMax. We have this in our garage. Casey tells me he’s got it, so hopefully that will be something on the DVD or something.
Question: Jeff, your passion for this, is this unusual, or something that’s been going through you career for the past thirty five or forty years that you’ve been doing this? Do you will still have that passion, do you think, always, until you exit planet earth? Or, do you think you’d like to retire and go fish or something?
Jeff: Yeah, those are two streams that articulated. Exactly what you said. Those two streams in my soul. I’m 64 now, so I’m moving along pretty good, but there’s a lot of things I want to do, a lot of things I want to realize, and that creates a sort of kind of pressure or whatever. It reminds me of that thing in Walt Disney where there is two angels and one guy is saying “Come on, work, you got a lot of stuff to do,” and the other guy is saying to me “Come on, Jeff, just relax, do you want your whole life to be a giant homework assignment?” So, it’s balancing those two things, and it drives my wife crazy, but this movie, this is a one of a kind experience for me, I’ve never had that kind of passion for a project. I’ve been holding it for 18 years, so it’s very gratifying to see it finally come to fruition.
Question: As the person who’s sat with this the longest, what was it like for you to finally see it on the big screen?
Lois: Confession: I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen a version probably three weeks ago, and Phillip tells me that was not the final version because he’s been working night and day for the interviewing weeks. Also, what I saw did not have the music. So when somebody was talking about the music, “Silent Night,” I’m thinking, “Where was ‘Silent Night’?” I didn’t see it with the music and I’m told the music is wonderful. In answer to your question, I’ve been watching this project for many, many years, for the past year and a half of course, night and day, and it’s been wonderful. I’m accustomed to sitting alone in a room and doing what I do, and controlling everything that I do. I get to write the screenplay and the dialogue, and I design the costumes and the set, and I choose the camera angles when I’m writing a book. So, then to relinquish it to a collaborative effort is very different and interesting to watch. Not threatening, because I know it was in good hands all a long. Over the years, I talked to Jeff from time to time, and I could perceive his passion and that it was in the right hands. So, I wasn’t nervous about it. Well, sometimes I was a little nervous. Then, it was cast, and I knew whom the roles would be played by, although I hadn’t seen any of the kids, yet I did know the other performers, and I just felt as it was all going together-everything going into the right spot.
Question: How was it working with Taylor? What kind of actress is she?
Jeff: She was so remarkable. She flew in. I think her first day of work was right on the heels of arriving in Cape Town, and certainly exhausted. I had experienced that myself. I would have been exhausted, but she was such a pro and so up for being involved and playing and took right to it. I hope she continues the acting because I think she’s very talented as well as being a great songwriter, performer. She was just wonderful. I think she just really adds, and I believe she was Harvey’s idea. Harvey Weinstein, he’s involved. Who would be someone really great for that part, Taylor came to mind, and I’m so glad she stepped up on board. She had read the book, I believe, and was a big fan of that, she’s terrific.
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