Q&A: 'Spiderwick Chronicles' Director Mark Waters Talks Adapting Fantasy

Waters called MTV News to explain why he's only slightly exaggerating, how his film compares to the Potter-verse, how John Sayles got mixed up with goblins and fairies, and more.

MTV: Way to include all the books in one movie. We're talking no sequel money.

Mark Waters: [He laughs.] Yeah, but you know what? The good thing about the books is they're short -- they're about 100 pages with very big lettering. So they were designed to play as one big arc of a serial, whereas the "Harry Potter" books have 870 pages. So, on that, these things are little miniseries. As long as [authors] Tony [Diterlizzi] and Holly [Black] are creating books, I think there's always going to be new movie opportunities being created.

MTV: It's funny you mention "Harry Potter." When I spoke to "Chronicles" co-star David Strathairn, he made a point of saying it's not like "Potter." Do you bristle at the comparison?

MW: I embrace the comparison because in a weird way that's exactly what is cool about this movie. I actually believe that this is the first movie in the fantasy genre that is distinctively American. What if you have recognizable suburban kids going through recognizable family difficulties and suddenly have this fantastical world imposed upon them? That's something we haven't seen in a while. You could actually go play it out and think that in the forest beyond your backyard that there could be an alien or some goblins. You are able to imagine that. [It's not] England or Middle Earth or the extreme past.

MTV: How come all the most famous fantasies are British?

MW: I think it has to do with being able to believe that these fantasies could have happened. It's easier to buy it when it's distant. Like, if it happened in the past, somewhere in Middle Earth or in old England, I can believe that these creatures existed. It almost feels more folkloric when it's put into the past or a distant land. But that's also what has made the genre feel a little bit tired recently. I mean, do I want to watch some kids with a British accent get chased by a dragon again? Come on.

MTV: So of course you cast a British actor, Freddie Highmore, in the identical-twin lead roles.

MW: [He laughs.] Exactly! Because we were trying to do something quintessentially American, we've cast a British and an Irish kid. You just have to say you're going to cast the best actors.

MTV: Was there ever an option to cast two actors for Jared and Simon?

MW: We certainly tried that at first; it would have been a lot easier. You look for identical twins, and then I [auditioned] hundreds of identical kids around the country and none of them could act their way out of a wet paper bag.

MTV: I saw a name in the credits -- John Sayles. John Sayles?!

MW: We have to remember John Sayles started his career doing movies like "Piranha" and werewolf movies for Roger Corman. He's got this real fun fantasy horror side to his sensibility. I think he did rewrite work on "Raiders of the Lost Ark." He's got that part of him that loves working on these movies. The big thing that John did was he said, "Let's take on all five books of this series and tell a complete story as opposed to trying to make a piecemeal." He kind of was able to sift through that and find a general story structure, as well as ground it in the sense of a very real family going through some very real difficulties.

MTV: Fantasy is just a big coping mechanism isn't it?

MW: It helps you feel empowerment. Daydreaming allows you to play out scenarios where you miraculously save the day. You play out scenarios in your head that are kind of crazy, and then you personally, heroically resolve them. I sound like Tony Robbins when I say it out loud, but by doing so you gain a sense of empowerment that you might not have otherwise. It's like trying on a suit of confidence and empowerment and if it feels right then you can make it work in your actual life.