In the sci-fi drama “The Giver,” which is based on the young-adult novel by author Lois Lowry, actors Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush play Jonas and Fiona, two teenagers who begin to learn there is more to life than the uniformity they have been taught in their utopian community. After being given the pre-determined jobs they will work at for the rest of their lives, Jonas, who is chosen to manage all past memories of a world that no longer exists, realizes the world he lives in is void of history and human emotions, including love.
During an interview with me, Thwaites and Rush talked about how “The Giver” is different from other recent dystopian movies targeted at teens and young adults and what they’d miss the most if they lived in a society as static as the one in the film.
With as many dystopian-themed films that have come out over the last few years where there is a central teenage character like in “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “Never Let Me Go,” what makes something like “The Giver” so different? Some people might argue this genre is getting a bit diluted.
Odeya Rush: I think a lot of those movies are different. Some have violence and action. [“The Giver”] is a really deep story and something really thought provoking. The book is considered a young-adult book, but I don’t see it as a young-adult film. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Brenton Thwaites: I think the film focuses on the characters’ reactions to the world as opposed to the consequences of the world towards the characters. I feel like people will be able to connect with these characters and the story.
Talk about the love story in this film. I think a lot of moviegoers who are not familiar with the book might go in thinking there is going to be this grand romance between your characters. But it’s not like that at all.
BT: You can tell them, “Sorry, but this isn’t a love story.” It’s about people that are depressed and are experience all these things, including love, but also pain and laughter and war and color. There is a multitude of different things that have been kept from our characters. This is a story about finding the truth and searching for what’s right. Still, one of the reasons Jonas fights for what’s right and for the truth is because of his love and his passion for Fiona.
Since this novel has such a strong following, what kind of conversations did you have with director Phillip Noyce about why scenarios would change in the film and what the thought process was behind those changes?
BT: Well, I have to say it wasn’t really our decision. Those were decision by [author] Lois [Lowry] and Phillip and the producers and Jeff Bridges, who was also a producer. They had conversations about how to bring as much of the book into the film as possible while making it an entertaining movie. There were things left out like how the young [characters] interact with the old [characters]. There were story plots left out that people might be disappointed with, but the main ideas were still brought to the screen.
One of those big changes was making the characters about six years older than they are in the book. What do you think a decision like that does for the film?
OR: I think making the characters older allows Jonas to discover his emotions on a deeper level. You’re only capable of so many emotions at the age of 12. You look at the world through different eyes. When you’re older and discover something like love, you can really expand on that in a movie. It makes the community around him seem harsher because you see that all the people are being deprived of such a strong, beautiful feeling.
Author Lois Lowry said in a recent interview that the film “stays true to the spirit of the book.” Was that something you feel was a major goal of this film, or were you looking at the project as something that could standalone cinematically?
BT: We had to stay true to the story in order to capture and bring in the people who read the book. That includes the original ideas and the beginning and the end. We even incorporated a lack of color to the start of the movie. If you read the book, the experience of Jonas finding the color red is a shock.
If this society that “The Giver” is set in was something you lived in today, what do you think you’d miss most about your life now?
OR: I think I would miss my freedom. I’m so fortunate I’m able to do what I want to do. It’s something that some people don’t have in this world today, but I feel for these characters because everything has been decided for them. There’s no way to grow or develop. Everything is out of their hands.
BT: The greatest memory I have of this film is discovering new music. That was so important to me. Now I can’t imagine a world without it.
Odeya, since this story is based in a society where uniformity and sameness is advocated, was it a challenge to allow yourself some flexibility with your character and not stay so static all the time?
OR: Yeah, it was a challenge, but Phillip allowed us to approach every scene in a variety of ways. There are takes where I would have to keep [all my emotions] inside. Then sometimes he would tell me to look at Jonas with love or with anger. I am a little more static and calm at the beginning, but it wasn’t like that through the entire filming process.
“Precision of language” is a phrase that is said a lot in the film. Do you think it’s something that will be trending on Twitter soon?
BT: (Laughs) I think that’s definitely something that should be said to me more often.
OR: I agree with that statement.
OR: No, it would be great. That would be funny if it started trending on Twitter.
BT: Precision of language. I meant “Fuck off!” not “Fudge off.”
OR: It’s a trending topic now!