It’s been over a decade since Lois Lowry’s award winning novel “The Giver” was first optioned for film, but now it will finally hit screens on August 15. In the interim, Lowry has written numerous books, including three more in the series (ending with 2012’s “Son”), and clearly “Giver” is being positioned as the next “Hunger Games” or “Divergent.”
While the post-apocalyptic YA novel shares elements with both, the thought-provoking story of a boy who’s life is suffused with “Sameness” until he finds color, song and maybe love has a lot more on its mind.
Oh, and the movie adaptation has Taylor Swift. So there’s that.
In advance of the film’s opening, MTV News hopped on the phone with Lowry to talk about Swift’s role, changes from the book to screen, and how she almost filmed a nude scene for the movie:
MTV News: Obviously this had a very long development as a movie, I’m curious to hear what went on on the process on your side…
Lois Lowry: Well, I wasn’t behind the scenes, so I’m not exactly sure about the details, but I will say from my point of view it involved a whole lot of waiting! Getting to know a number of people involved.
From the first, Jeff Bridges was one of them, he’s hung in there for all of these years and gotten old enough over those years to play the leading role himself, which is great. He does a great job. For me, I was just sitting at home, aware that it was out there and I was writing other books and publishing other books year after year after year.
Every now and then things would ratchet up in Hollywood, and sometimes I would be sent a plane ticket and I would fly out there and go to a meeting and meet one more screenwriter and then I would fly home and hear nothing for months and years and then it would happen again.
So I didn’t really know if it would come to be or not. I will say that Jeff, as I said, hung in there, for year after year he would call occasionally and he was still trying to get it done. And then, all of a sudden, he did. And they did. It almost took me by surprise, after such a long way, but it was quite exciting to have it finally come together.
In retrospect, it was a good thing that it took so long, because by then Jeff was old enough to play the role, by then Meryl Streep was willing to get involved, and by then some of the technology required for the movie had advanced. So that probably makes it a visually more compelling movie than it would have been 20 years ago.
MTV: It’s interesting to hear you say the last part because reading the book, it’s very much about language and the use of language and figuring out language. Certainly there are very strong visual elements, but did you have any concern when bringing it to screen? Did you worry you might lose that element, going from the page to something that was purely visual?
Lowry: Yeah a concern, I don’t think a worry. I mean, what was gonna be, was gonna be. I thought it was in good hands and they would do it as well as possible which they have proven to do.
I was aware all along that words are often the least important part of movies. As a writer, I hate to acknowledge that, you want the words to be primary, but they really aren’t. It’s the visual stuff and the action, the other stuff… Although, certainly there’s been a lot of wrestling with words in this movie and much tweaking of the screenplay in order to get it right. But I’ve just sat back and watched with interest rather than alarm and I think they’ve done a terrific job.
MTV: Similarly, a lot of the book is based on things being revealed… What an apple is, or what the color of an apple is, something that, when you’re seeing in a movie theater is you’re just seeing an apple. I know as an audience member it’s either red, or green, there’s no real mystery. So how do you deal with that on screen?
Lowry: Well, I had no hand in it. Aside from having written the original material from which they created the screenplay and the script, but they do do it. You know? They start out in black and white, and as the boy begins to see — oh, well this is not a spoiler, this is in the trailers that are out there, it changes gradually to color. And so it’s done quite effectively. I’m not sure how effectively they would’ve done it 20 years ago so they seemed to pull it off now just fine.
MTV: Of particular interest to the MTV audience is Taylor Swift’s role as Rosemary. She plays a relatively small and crucial role in the book, but once you brought on Taylor Swift was it expanded at all in the movie?
Lowry: The role in the movie is still a small role, but it’s a crucial and very important one.
I have a copy of the movie in its final stages here on my computer, and I had my two grandsons here for the Fourth of July weekend — they’re 13 and 15 ,and I showed it to them–probably against the rules–anyways, I asked them was there anything special that they liked best and one of them selected the scene with Taylor Swift.
I don’t think because of Taylor Swift particularly, but because the elements of that particular scene he found very gripping. So her role in the movie is much the same in the book, except in the book she’s only remembered… And in the movie you can see the memory of her. She appears in, I don’t know the technical term would be, but you can see her. And it’s very compelling.
MTV: Do we get to see her sing and play the piano at all in the movie?
Lowry: I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you that! I will tell you, she does not sing. I don’t know if it would be an appropriate thing for her to sing. It would’ve turned the movie into a musical, which it isn’t! So no, no singing.
MTV: What was the experience like finally getting to see the movie on screen in its final form… Even if you were watching it at home, rather than with full audience?
Lowry: Well, I’d also gone into New York and seen it in a screening room, but I have not seen it with an audience around me and that would have an effect, I think. It’s fascinating because it’s available to me on my computer. I can go back and re-watch things and perceive things that probably slip past an audience quickly. And there have been, in the process, little things that I worried about.
Oh, with dialogue for example, and then watching it on the screen, rather than reading it on the page I can see that it goes by so quickly and that an audience isn’t going to worry whether a word is the right word… That’s just the writer in me. Obsessing about that.
MTV: You recently revisited the world of “The Giver” with “Son.” With the movie on the horizon, is the world something you’re looking to visit again, or do you think after the four books in the series, you’re done? Have you said what you need to say?
Lowry: I’m not going to write anymore books, because the fourth book gathers up all of the characters from the first three and brings them to satisfactory conclusions. And I felt, okay that’s it, that wraps it up. Unfortunately, now I get e-mail because I had to introduce a few new characters, so I get e-mails saying “Well what about…” And they name a character they’ve fallen in love with and I have to say, “nope sorry he’s fine I’m not going to write any more about him.”
There has been talk among the movie of a sequel, but I think they have to wait and see the reaction to the film before any decision is made about that.
MTV: I was going to ask about that! Obviously it’s very premature, but are there any thoughts in place to make it more of a trilogy, more a quadrilogy, if the movie works out?
Lowry: Given the amount of time that it takes to make a film, I’ll probably be long gone! I’m 77 years old. By the time they would get to a fourth one. But you know, it could lend itself to that. It’s hard to say. Certainly it’s not my decision to make.
MTV: I know everything’s been sorted out about this, but there was a little bit of a mistake with the first trailer… You must’ve seen the depth that people really love and feel about this book when people freaked out about the fact that it was in color, and there wasn’t black and white — so what was your experience when that happened?
Lowry: When the reaction happened? I was kind of amused by it, because I’ve been in on making of the film and I knew that the film, in fact, started out in black and white and it goes gradually to color. Why they decided to release that first trailer I’ll never know, but it was very interesting to see the depth of outrage. But I found it more amusing than anything else, because I realized of course that they were going to be all happen in the end.
MTV: Before I let you go, is there anything that was in the book that by necessity had to be left out of the movie? Something that ended up either on the cutting room floor, or just didn’t quite work out the way you needed to?
Lowry: Yeah, I guess I’m at liberty to say this, and it’s kind of amusing. There’s a scene in the book where the Boy is doing volunteer work at the Home Of The Old, and he bathes an old woman.
I think it’s a very sweet scene, it got me into a little trouble with people who found it offensive. I was on the stage with Jeff Bridges last week in Las Vegas speaking to the American Library Association. I said to him that I was sorry they left that out because I was going to volunteer to play the cameo role of the old woman. He almost fell off his chair! I think he realized I was kidding, but that scene is not in the movie.
“The Giver” hits theaters on August 15.