My first official film of the festival was The Fault in Our Stars, followed by a Q & A with SIFF artistic director Carl Spence, actress Laura Dern, and executive producer Isaac Klausner. I wish I had photos of the Q & A, but I received an email before I was about to see the film, stating that 20th Century Fox would be checking cell phones and cameras at the door. So, I decided not to bring my awesome new camera or my cell phone, only to find that the cell phone check had been replaced with a sign in the theater telling us not to take photos during the movie, and a bunch of security personnel making sure that we followed the rule. Well hell, that’s not what I wanted to take pictures of. I wanted to take pictures of Laura Dern! And the reopening of the Egyptian! And the lines! In lieu of that, I have supplied a stick figure drawing of the Q & A below, for which I apologize to all involved:
As to the film itself, I found it unusual that it has distribution, and yet it is not on the “hold review” list that I received from SIFF. In fact, the showing I saw is only the third screening this film has had. Still, I will hold my official review for a few weeks, and only write here that it starts off a bit disjointed, but the acting of Shailene Woodley (as the realist Hazel Grace Lancaster) and Ansel Elgort (as the always upbeat Augustus “Gus” Waters) is phenomenal. By the time the film catches up with its actors (hint: it happens in Amsterdam), the movie had me, and then left me with tears running down my face and lips quivering. Good thing I brought tissues.
Spence started the questions, asking if Dern had read the book before being cast for the movie. She hadn’t, but immediately read it once she was cast. Klausner, on the other hand, was a big fan of John Green (the author) and had bought The Fault in Our Stars around 5 am on his Kindle the day it was released. Then it was a matter of bringing it to Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen (who are part of his producing team) to figure out how to convince Green that they were the right people to do the adaptation.
Spence then asked Dern what it was like working with Shailene and Ansel. Dern answered that she had heard about Woodley from Alexander Payne when he was filming The Descendents, as the director and she are very good friends (Dern starred in Payne’s first film, Citizen Ruth). Payne called her up and told her how much Woodley was like her. Then, Dern was invited to one of the premieres and sat next to Woodley’s mom, who was watching her daughter appear on the screen in a leading role for the first time. She added, “They were beautiful, amazing…until you’re doing press and they ask who David Lynch is.” Klausner added that there was a huge casting call for Hazel, but Woodley was heads and shoulders above everyone else. She auditioned with the eulogy scene and had everyone in tears when she was done (and while I won’t spoil the scene for you, it’s the scene in the film that had the entire audience weeping, myself included). She also sent Green a 20-page email explaining why she needed to be a part of this film, even if it was to serve drinks on set. As for the actor who played Gus, Elgort had played Woodley’s brother in Divergent, but they were able to create a different kind of chemistry here. While the younger guys auditioning for Gus were a bit intimidated by Woodley, Elgort put her on her heels a little.
Then the audience was allowed to ask questions. Most of the questions came from young girls, some of whom wanted Dern and Klausner to pass on their names to Elgort and tell him that they either loved him or that they thought he was cute.
What was your favorite scene to shoot, and what was you favorite scene in the book?
For Klausner, his favorite scene in the book was when Hazel and Gus are talking on the phone and neither one of them wants to hang up. To him, that scene has such truth to it. In the movie, he loves the scene where Dern’s character walks Gus into the hotel room, and there’s Hazel, looking beautiful, and we in the audience knows what she’s had to go through to get to that point.
For Dern, she loved that after the director yelled “cut,” Green would “jump out of his chair and run over to hug us.” She also loved the scenes in Amsterdam, the eulogy, and the scene in which Hazel is leaving the house and her mother says “if you die,” which Hazel corrects to “when.”
What was the hardest scene to film?
Dern said the scenes with the 12-year-old Hazel were tough, as was working with actual child cancer survivors, patients, and the doctors who care for them. For Klausner, it’s the scene where Hazel’s in bed, the phone rings, and she starts crying. Woodley threw herself so emotionally into that scene that the crew, filming downstairs, had to restrain themselves from going upstairs and asking if she was okay.
For Laura Dern: what advice would you have for an aspiring actress?
Dern said to do something out of the ordinary: read books. Also, go to film festivals, be honest, and be compassionate.
Is John Green really as deep metaphorically in person as he is in the book?
Dern said, “Yes,” but she also pointed out that he’s funny and self-deprecating. Klausner mentioned that he’s very authentic: he is what he is.
(Final question) What would you like the film’s legacy to be?
Klausner said he hoped that people would call the people they loved and tell them that they love them after seeing this movie, for that would be in keeping with the spirit of the book. Dern thought that was so beautiful that she only had one thing to add: she has struggled to feel gratitude in the moment, and so she hopes that experiencing this movie with us will help her to feel gratitude in the moment, which is one of the themes that the movie tackles.
P.S. If you want a better picture than the stick figure drawing I drew, go here: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/executive-producer-isaac-klausner-actress-laura-dern-and-news-photo/491601139
P.P.S. While making sure I spelled John Green’s name correctly, I came across this interesting article about the girl who inspired the character of Hazel: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/160132/meet-esther-grace-earl-the-girl-who-inspired-john-greens-hazel
The Fault in Our Stars plays again tomorrow at 10 am at the Egyptian Theatre, minus the Q & A.