SAN DIEGO – The latest young adult novel to head to the big screen, “The Giver,” showed its wares at Comic-Con 2014 on Thursday. Oscar winner and movie legend Jeff Bridges was on hand, but none other than original author Lois Lowry stole the show.
Based on Lowry's 1993 novel, “The Giver” is actually a drama set in a dystopian future that precedes “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” by almost 15 years. It finds the remnants of the human race living in a very controlled world after an apocalyptic “fall.” When Jonas, a young man played by “Maleficent's” Brenton Thwaites, is chosen to replace the society's Giver (Bridges), a chain of events occurs that could unravel this utopian society. Meryl Streep makes arguably her sci-fi debut playing the political leader of this world. She's joined by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, who play Jonas' parents. Newcomer Odeya Rush (the upcoming “Goosebumps”) plays Twaites' potential love interest and music superstar Taylor Swift has a small role as a member of the community.
As previous Comic-Cons have shown, Jeff Bridges' storytelling instincts and sense of humor usually dominate any panel he's on. This time around, however, Lowry stole the spotlight as she openly discussed her feelings on the book being labeled “controversial” (she never understood it) and how she had no qualms giving performance advice to none other than Ms. Streep (more on that later).
Here are five intriguing things we learned from the panel for “The Giver”:
IT TOOK BRIDGES ALMOST 20 YEARS TO GET THE MOVIE MADE
Not only does Bridges play the older Giver in the film, but he also was a producer on the movie. About 20 years ago he was looking for material where he could direct his father, Lloyd Bridges, and stumbled upon Lowry's book, which appealed to him because of its striking cover. Bridges recalled, “It was a terrific children's book and I enjoyed it so much as an adult and found the themes so important and the poetry I just loved. I thought this was going to be an easy one to get made. We tried for 18, 19 years. It proved to be difficult because it was controversial. We were at a banned book conference – it was banned in many areas and many places. It was also taught in many places. That controversy scared some financiers away, but it also inspired me, the energy of this thing. I'm so glad The Weinstein Company and Walden got the courage to put it out.”
TAYLOR SWIFT CAME TO PLAY
Taylor Swift earned a rare acting role as Rosemary, someone important to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites). Bridges noted, “We actually wrote the character as a piano playing character before Taylor was cast and the executives at TWC had a crazy idea that she should be on board. She was there [in South Africa on the set] and played with us for awhile.”
It turns out her character in the book is just talked about, but in the movie version she has a real physical presence. Producer Nikki Silver said, “In the book she's talked about and described. In the movie, given the magic of technology, she reappears and appears to the giver because she is very special to him.”
LOWRY WANTS TO REWRITE THE NOVEL BASED ON STREEP'S PERFORMANCE
The character of Chief Elder, played by Meryl Streep, isn't as pronounced in the book as the movie. Lowry loved Streep's performance so much she admitted, “I realized after seeing what I've seen…I wanted to go back and rewrite the book and rewrite it as it is with Meryl Streep playing the role. She makes it into something so complex and so fascinating.”
LOWRY TOLD MERYL STREEP TO REDO A LINE. YES, THAT MERYL STREEP.
She may have loved Streep's portrayal, but that doesn't mean Lowry was shy about criticism. The author sat in on an ADR (voiceover) session in New York and thought that one of the lines Streep was saying didn't make sense. She told her to say it a different way. The line was obviously written a specific way in the screenplay, but the fact that anyone would tell the three-time Oscar winner to say a line differently? Only a handful people outside of a film's director would even think of doing that.
BABIES, BABIES AND MORE BABIES
Not only does Jonas work in a nursery, there is a newborn living with his family. That meant lots of babies on set. Like, seriously, a lot. Lowry joked, “Many women in Cape Town were willing to let their babies be in the bassinets. Should we let them know there were some fake babies?” (That's a yes.) The panel also joked that at one time Streep remarked, “The end of the film should say, 'No actual babies were harmed' at the end of this movie.”
“The Giver” opens nationwide on Aug. 15.