UTG Interview: ‘The Giver’ Author Lois Lowry and Film Stars Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush

The Giver Film Adaptation 2014

Earlier this month I had an opportunity unlike any other up to that point in my writing career. For nearly thirty minutes I was able to sit next to author Lois Lowry and discuss her classic novel, The Giver, as well as the recent film adaptation. I also spoke with the film’s stars, Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush. It was the kind of meeting that seemed to pass lightning fast, but I was able to gain a lot of great insight to the film’s creation and all the hard work that goes into adapting a novel recognized around the globe as a cornerstone of young adult fiction.

To be perfectly honest, the interview was part of a press roundtable with three other writers from the area. We each took turns firing questions at the trio, and together we crafted a thrilling conversation that allowed us to appreciate the story of The Giver in a whole new way. You can read highlights from our conversation below.

The Giver opens nationwide today, August 15.

UTG: Brenton, in the past year, you have played a multitude of ages in film (17 in “The Signal,” 12 in “The Giver,” and 21 in “Oculus”). Do you approach those different ages in certain ways?

Brenton Thwaites: No I don’t, because I can’t change how I look. It’s more of a character study, more of an obligation to the character. For this film for instance, it was important to capture the innocence with Jonas (his character in the film). Keeping the happiness and the comfort to a level where it’s nice to watch, was imperative. However, adding a touch of strangeness, you need to feel that it is disconcerting in a way. Phillip (Noyce, director of “The Giver”) told me at the beginning, “Don’t play young.” He just told me to bring as much of myself to the character as possible.

UTG: What made you want to make the film now instead of 10 years ago? The film has been through years upon years of being put on the back burner.

Lois Lowry: Oh, I wanted to do it 10 years ago! It was 18 years ago that Jeff Bridges acquired the rights to the book and stuck with them for all of this time. Of course, he wouldn’t have been able to play the role of”‘The Giver.” It’s probably a good thing that it took so long. With creative input into the film (from development to casting), the producers sought my advice on things. They didn’t always take my advice but it’s unusual for the author to be asked. I think as time went on and I got to know Phillip, he seemed to be more & more interested in what I had to say. He had me out to his house in Los Angeles last summer and I met Brenton there for the first time. Jeff (Bridges) was always on board but we went through a few screen tests, which included Odeya’s. They then asked me to go to South Africa, which I had not planned to do nor wanted to do. It was fun when I got there, although it was a long trip.

Odeya Rush: Yeah, it was two days but then you lose two days because of time change.

Lois Lowry: They have been very good about including me in the process even though they aren’t obligated to do so.

UTG: Was there a particular scene that you wanted to see enacted on the screen?

Lois Lowry: Oddly enough, the scene I thought was pivotal and was concerned that they would leave it out, which they did not, was the scene in which the father (“True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard) lethally injects the infant. Every scene is done well but in this particular scene, they chose camera angles so that they wouldn’t show the baby actually getting injected. There you have it, I also really enjoyed the early scenes with Jeff (Bridges) and Brenton (Thwaites) as they begin to get to know each other. Oddly enough – and I have not told you this Brenton – I wasn’t present for those early scenes but they let me go in the editing room when I was. I went in and talked with Barry (the editor). He showed me a scene where Jeff and Brenton came together for the first time. I kind of murmured under my breath about one of the lines of dialogue that Jeff had and I said “I hate that line.” When I saw that scene later, the line had been taken out because the editor went to the director and said “she hated that line!” The line in question was when Jeff said “swirling vortex.” I said to myself, “swirling vortex?” Come on.

Brenton Thwaites: I think that’s ‘The Dude’ coming out in ‘The Giver!’

UTG: So much of acting has to do with conveying emotions; was it difficult to play these characters who were supposed to showcase little to no emotion?

Odeya Rush: I mean, we did do some multiple takes of certain scenes with differing levels of emotion. The beginning scene is carried out the way it is not because we don’t have emotion but because we are kind of naïve and content. The fact that the jokes we were telling weren’t funny, definitely helped. I think with Phillip, I started doing multiple takes in pivotal sequences where in some I would look horrified and then another where I kind of looked like I didn’t know what being scared meant. The way they edited together, where we are saying things like “I will miss the nurturing center,” without knowing what ‘missing something’ feels like, is great.

Brenton Thwaites: You know, one of the greatest things about this film having read the screenplay, is that Jonas goes through such an emotional journey and experiences so many different emotions and feelings throughout the story. As an actor, we really love to emote. Whether it is crying or being angry, being sad, you kind of just tend to jump in and go as far as you can. I have Phillip saying “take it inside,” ingrained in my head. He would say things like “be smaller,” and “less is more.”

UTG: Brenton, how did you get involved with the project, initially?

Brenton Thwaites: Well, my agent and manager sent me the screenplay. I was in LA at the time and I had auditioned for 5 ‘cool’ movies and I had gotten down to the final 2 or 3 kids. I don’t remember feeling bad about it, I had such a great time auditioning. I just thought it was another great story (“The Giver”). I met Phillip a year beforehand when I auditioned for another film so we had that relationship already intact. Then I read the book and realized the powerful message that it conveys.

UTG: So were you aware of the book beforehand?

Brenton Thwaites: No actually, I wasn’t. The screenplay brought me back to the book. It was one of those situations where you wanted as much material and stimulus as possible. Also, if Phillip asks you if you have read the book, you have to say yes. He’ll punch you in the face, otherwise *laughs*. Jeff Bridges was onboard at the time of auditioning so it was all kind of very exciting.

UTG: Odeya and Brenton – over the course of your careers so far, you have been part of both low-budget and high-budget productions. How was your experience with “The Giver?”

Brenton Thwaites: It’s funny, on every movie, every day feels like a low-budget project. The money goes in places that you couldn’t even imagine. It didn’t feel like a production of millions upon millions of dollars this time around. I think it was 25 million, so it’s not like we had 200 million to work with *laughs*.

UTG: Yeah because then, Tom Cruise would have had the part of Jonas!

Brenton Thwaites: Then I don’t think Katie (Holmes, who is also in “The Giver”) would have been a part of it. I came from Australia, so one million dollars is a big budget to us. For me, it was a huge budget film and working with these actors was crazy but in comparison to other young adult books (“The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”), it was quite more ambitious.

Odeya Rush: You know, I have done movies where you can feel a difference in budget. I did a movie once, which was done shooting in 14 days, which felt really quick. With this though, Phillip really takes his time and does pay attention to the little things we say. It’s not like every little thing has to be approved by Harvey (Weinstein, the producer). Sometimes you do a movie where even if you want to change one line of dialogue, it needs to be approved by the studio. Phillip really just took his time with this and tried so many different things. Jeff could even voice in his opinions. I just did the movie “Goosebumps” which was a 60 million dollar budget but then they added 15 million dollars, just like that. It is a big movie but with Rob Letterman (the director of the upcoming “Goosebumps”), we would sit in on the writing sessions and during rehearsals, we could make pointers about our characters. We got to be part of the creative process. I think that’s the biggest difference between high and low-budget films, the amount of creative input an actor is allowed to have in his/her character.

UTG: What was the most challenging part of the film, especially with adapting this famous material?

Brenton Thwaites: I have to say, this book has such a beautiful message. It has inspired millions of people around the world. Our goal is to continue that and broaden the story to places who haven’t familiarized themselves with the story, like Australia! Having Lois on board and even in this room, it feels like people will be more connected since we have this feeling of togetherness with each other. It’s not a movie that wants to make a load of money, it’s a story that is trying to reach out and teach people.

Brenton Thwaites: You know Lois, 18 years ago, did you and Jeff ever worry about the baby sequences (including the death scene)?

Lois Lowry: I didn’t even think about it, I guess he (Jeff Bridges) may have.

UTG: Lois, is there footage out there of Jeff trying to make this film with Lloyd (his father) all that time ago?

Lois Lowry: Jeff is actually trying to find the footage right now in his garage. It was filmed in his father’s living room with Jeff direction, his father playing ‘The Giver’, and his brother Beau, was involved somehow. Their hope is that if they find this footage, they can put it on the DVD.

Written by: James Shotwell 

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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