NEW ORLEANS – Being up all night in The Big Easy isn’t unusual, but this May, I skipped revelry on Bourbon Street and, like many a teenager, I stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing “Beautiful Creatures,” the first book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles series.
The novel — you can find it in the Young Adult Occult Romance section of your local chain bookstore — was hard to put down and I’ve subsequently finished the sequel “Beautiful Darkness” (I’ll get to “Beautiful Chaos” at some point), but I was really doing my homework. The following day, I joined two other journalists in crossing the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to Covington, Louisiana to visit the set of Warner Brothers’ feature adaptation of the book, set to hit theaters on February 13, 2013.
Garcia and Stohl’s Gatlin, South Carolina may be fictional, but on that steamy May day, Covington was doing a terrific job of playing the archetypal Southern town, with humidity and Spanish moss dripping from every surface.
For the uninitiated, “Beautiful Creatures” is the story of fairly ordinary high school student Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), who falls in love with the exotic Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) and discovers that Gatlin is actually a hotbed for supernatural activity, including witches and other… well… beautiful creatures.
While the young ensemble of “Beautiful Creatures,” which also features Zoey Deutch (playing Emily Asher) and Thomas Mann (as Ethan’s comic relief buddy Link), may be dominated fresh-faced relative unknowns, what should draw viewers beyond fans of the wildly popular genre is a supporting cast that features Oscar winners Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons, Oscar nominee Viola Davis and Emmy winner Margo Martindale.
Those are some heavy hitters and they were drawn, no doubt, by the presence of Oscar nominated writer-director Richard LaGravenese.
“I know people are going to compare it to ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Twilight’ or whatever, but those are just big franchises with heightened and/or supernatural themes,” says “Shameless” star Emmy Rossum, who plays the bewitching Ridley. “So we definitely fit in that realm, but I think even moreso than the book — I mean the book was definitely different than those in that the core of it being a love story between star-crossed lovers, very Romeo and Juliet: one’s a witch, one’s not, and they can’t be together, that whole thing. That’s totally a universal theme — But to me, when you’ve got somebody Richard, who’s such an amazing writer to adapt the book, because it’s really an adaptation, it’s not verbatim the book. A lot of things are changed. Some plot points are changed, some things are explained further than they were in the book or changed, and the world is completely visually created by [cinematographer Philippe Rousselot] and Richard in a very — going with what we did with Ridley — a very haute couture, kind of fantastical, magical place, some of which references when you read the script directly from paintings that Richard loves. He’s going to visually recreate the world in that way. So I think, visually, we’re going to be very different from those films.”
Rossum, it should be noted, is a big fan of the books and although her Ridley looks very little like Garcia and Stohl’s description of the character, trust me when I say that nobody will be disappointed by her interpretation.
And Thompson offers reassurance that one needn’t be fluent in the world of casters and incubi to enjoy what the “Fisher King” and “Bridges of Madison County” scribe is doing here.
“I haven’t read the books yet, I will,” Thompson says. “But I love the script, I thought the script was funny and witty and very much a kind of intelligently-told very fun story. And the part was one of the most interesting I’ve been asked to play in a long time.”
In our day on the “Beautiful Creatures” set, we saw the filming of two scenes and chatted with Deutch, Mann, Ehrenreich and the marvelously gracious Thompson, who swapped in an out of her Southern accent during the interview, and the equally gracious Rossum, who delivered cups of melon water during lunch when we were initially skeptical at the beverage’s magical properties.
Stay tuned for those conversations, plus on-set production details — Spectacular craft service fried chicken and more! — as we get a little closer to the February 13 premiere.