A couple of weeks ago I got an email asking if I wanted to be part of a press junket for The Book Thief. It meant going to see a screening of the movie the next day and then talking with the actors and the director/producer the following Monday. And, because I'm not brain dead, I said yes.
I'm still trying to get over the fact that it happened. It's not going well.
So, that night, I stayed up until 6 am to finish reading The Book Thief (someday I can maybe talk about my feels for this book in a coherent review. But let's not hold our breath), so I could get up at 9 am for the movie (which I probably won't talk about much because this is a book blog, but it's so freaking amazing, guys, you should see it this weekend if you can!). Then got up early (for me) on Monday for the interview.
Everyone in the room I was in was a blogger, mostly book bloggers, but a few general/parenthood bloggers as well. So talk about the book definitely came up.
Sophie Nelisse, who plays Liesl in The Book Thief, told us "I started to read the first 20 pages of the book. I was about there in French, and I stopped because I got the part. And then, about a month ago, I started to read it again, but in English. I loved it, but it's hard to say because I've already watched the movie, so when I was reading the book, it's like if I was reading the movie, more like a documentary of the whole shooting."
Sophie's only 13 and doesn't have much acting experience - she's only been in two French Canadian movies - but you would never guess it from seeing her play Liesl. She considered herself to be mainly a gymnast, and even intended to try for the Olympics, before being cast as Liesl. "When I auditioned, I just really auditioned for fun and really tried just to know what it'd be like to audition for an American movie. When I got the part, I was just so happy, but at the same time, I was stressed, because if my performance is not good, then maybe the movie is not going to be as good." (Nobody stress. It's all totally good. And she's phenomenal.)
At this point in her education, Sophie hasn't gotten the chance to study the Holocaust, so the movie also created a learning experience for her. "To know what happened in that period, I had to watch a lot of movies like Schindler’s List, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and also The Pianist. When I was in Berlin, I went to see some bomb shelters or some historical things like the Berlin Wall."
Geoffrey Rush, an incredibly gifted and versatile actor, plays Hans Hubermann. He's been in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, been in The King's Speech, and does theater often. The draw for him to play Hans was chiefly Hans himself.
"On my CV, there's a fair list of eccentric flamboyant idiots, really. And Hans was seemingly at the beginning so simple, so ordinary, for me, anyway. On my kind of barometer, Hans is almost like neutral. I thought this would be a real challenge for me. And in and around that, I just adored the story and the perspective of looking at that horror scenario in Germany during the Second World War through the eyes of a very small country town, the community of a country town and a young girl."
Geoffrey also felt a strong connection with the story of The Book Thief. "My starting point was that this is a film about a community on a street. When I read the book and read the screenplay, it was so intrinsically the culture of Southern Germany. But it could also be an Outback town in Queensland. It could be a small town in the Midwest."
Emily Watson, from War Horse, Corpse Bride, Gosford Park, and dozens of other movies, plays Rosa Hubermann, which also presented an interesting challenge for her. "Kind of the opposite of Geoffrey, really. It was a chance for me to do something really extreme and out there and a sort of transformation kind of job. I really, really enjoyed that. I enjoyed being mean and spitting at everybody every day, and it was very liberating. And I could, you know, eat and not worry. "
As for how she built Rosa's character? "The book was really the resource for us. For me, anyway. That was where all the detail was."
Geoffrey agreed, explaining, "The screenplay was the Bible, and the book was the great companion piece."
Both Geoffrey and Emily drew from their former educations on the Holocaust, as well as movies and books they'd taken in over the years. All three of the actors were sure to use the best resources - their location. The set had a lot of German workers and German actors who could give them little details and provide them with life years ago. It also enabled them to better visualize what happened and the still-present effects. They also had a dialect coach on hand before shooting to make sure they spoke properly.
As someone who had just fallen in love with the book and the movie and the story as a whole a few days before, and as someone who studies history, hearing how the book and the history affected how they played their roles was really interesting to me. I also think it was amazing that these roles were all a big challenge for the actors, yet they pulled off the roles so incredibly well.
I'll talk about the chat we had with the director and the producer in another post, but basically, if The Book Thief is releasing near you this weekend, you need to go see it. If it's not, you need to buy tickets to see it next weekend. Like...need to. Here's the trailer if you don't believe me: