After years of development, Lois Lowry's famous YA novel The Giver has finally arrived to theaters, in an adaptation directed by Philip Noyce and starring young talent Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush, acting opposite the likes of Alexander Skarsgaard, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bridges. The film arrives in a time after other YA dystopia franchises, such as Divergent and The Hunger Games, and at least sets itself apart from these behemoths by making its revolution more intellectual than physical. In the future dystopia of The Giver, in which all senses of emotion and individuality have been been muted, Thwaites plays a young man named Jonas who is chosen to carry on the memories from a past failed society, as shared with him by The Giver. His love interest is Fiona, a friend whom he doesn't understand his true feelings for until he has a revelation that threatens to change the entire society. Bridges plays the film's title sage, while Streep plays the society's stern leader who attempts to control people like Jonas.
Thwaites previously appeared in 2014 films Oculus, The Signal, and Maleficent. Rush has acted in movies like The Odd Life of Timothy Green and We Are What We Are.
I sat down with Thwaites and Rush to discuss The Giver, how they acted like blank slates while remaining human, the experience of being behind a microphone at Comic Con, and more.
The Giver opens nationwide on August 15.
Why do you think modern filmgoers are so interested in images of dystopia?
Brenton Thwaites: It’s a metaphor for our real life. Because when you read about it in the papers, it really is going to shit, and maybe we wanna see movies where it’s going to shit but in a different kind of way. And it’s a little less real so we can involve ourselves more in it emotionally without such consequences. The Giver is especially about that.
What connection to the past do you make with the laws within 'The Giver'?
Odeya Rush: I think it is just about Communism, thinking that if you take everything away, it would be an ideal life. I think with Lenin in the beginning, that’s what it seemed like. These people were going through such terrible times and they didn’t have money, and they said, “we’ll give everyone equal things, there won’t be jealousy, there won’t be war,” but then you realize with these people that you’re assigned your jobs, there’s no differences, there’s no celebration of differences, you can’t do what you love, you’re not even given the ability to discover what you love. You can’t be with who you love, you’re assigned to who you marry, and you’re not really living life, it’s just kind of existing.
If you had to pick one, is there any rule within the society of 'The Giver' that you would advocate for the most?
Thwaites: The idea that I like the most is that of same food, if our food was controlled. We’re all such fat asses, and we eat so much sugar and we eat so much crap, especially in this country, you know? I think it’d be kind of a good idea if someone could control that, not to the extent in The Giver, maybe a little more than they do now.
Rush: In Israel, we eat pretty healthy. But yeah, you come here and you really realize that maybe here it’d be a good idea. I think [I'd choose] "no war." I come from a place where war is kind of a common thing, a struggle and really a terrifying thing. I think lots of people are so far away from it that it seems like a foreign idea, but it’s really terrifying. I think with people being at peace and not hating each other so much, you’re taking away love but you’re also taking away animosity. But maybe, [it would be good], because there’s just so much hatred in this world. And I don’t really understand why. In Israel, it’s like the enemy is right outside. Here, it’d be like if Canada was doing something to America.
I was reading in the press notes that Jeff Bridges filmed his own 'Giver' movie. Can you give me any more intel on this?
Thwaites: He’s got it somewhere, no one knows where.
What kind of wisdom did Bridges or Meryl Streep impart on you as people with a great amount of experience in the industry?
Rush: Well, a lot of the time Jeff told both of us, "don’t take anything too seriously, and make sure to enjoy this, and have fun and be loose and don’t be afraid to be a fool and to jump in." And I think with Meryl, just by watching her you can see how open, vulnerable and accepting she is with everything.
Thwaites: Movies consume your life, it’s hard to relax and it’s hard to be light. You take it so seriously. It’s nice to work with someone who encourages the opposite.
Because you’re acting in a world where emotions are kind of muted essentially, did that tensity make you want to act in a more serious fashion, which made it more difficult to be lighter?
Thwaites: Yeah, it did. The challenge was being a blank slate without looking like you’re an idiot.
Rush: We’re not robots.
Thwaites: So there was a fear of comfort. The opening scene with us riding our bikes is a nice feeling. We’re friends. The idea is to create a community that is not so bad because you look at it from the outside.
Within the rules of the film there is the challenge to create a chemistry as actors where the audience understands feelings, but the characters don't necessarily understand their own. How did you guys achieve that?
Thwaites: We did takes where I was huge, and really in love, just to start with something. And we played with takes where I’d do nothing, and then we’d meet in the middle somewhere. Philip [Noyce] is great at seeing the intricacies in your performance. If he likes a little smile that you do or he likes the feeling of a gesture. So I guess I have to give him credit as well, he really guided us in how much to give away in terms of love and at the start of the community when we’re all blank slates.
Compared to others of its field, this movie has comparatively less action and more dialogue. Was that a particularly scary challenge when taking on this story?
Thwaites: There’s so much happening in Jonas’ mind. In the book, it’s very clear and descriptive. Lois [Lowry] does a great job of sucking the reader in so you feel how Jonas feels when you go on these journeys. You can’t really do that with film, so I guess it was just a balance of myself and the other characters trying to explain what’s happening while at the same time feeling it. There’s scenes where there’s no dialogue were kind of hard because I wasn’t thinking or feeling. If the scene had to be shot, and the story had to be told in a way that visually describes very clearly how everyone feels at that moment, I guess that’s the challenge of all books to movies.
There’s a lot of action special effects happening. People are under the impression that a lot needs to happen in a movie for us to be entertained, but instead 'The Giver' offers more of a conversation.
Rush: Yes, that’s when I watched Chef. I was like “how great is it to watch a movie where not everything turns to shit?” It’s just a sweet, feel-good movie. This movie has such an arc and things do go wrong, but there’s such sweet moments like with Brenton and the baby that are so touching.
What is it like to be behind the microphone when you’re interacting with a massive fan base at Comic Con?
Rush: It’s exciting because they love the book so much, and it’s not like, some people like they love you and you don’t really know why or how, but they just love the book and they love your character, and they’re just so curious about what you’re going to say. It’s just nice to see how much people love the story and how excited people are.
Thwaites: It’s nervewracking, putting the mic in your face. It’s never happened to me before. I don’t know. I guess you just have to in a way watch what you say. You have to be excited and honest about the story. They give you such great energy because they really listen to you. It’s nice to be heard sometimes.
It sounds like performing. You’re on a stage, improvising, and trying to make people laugh.
Rush: It never works when you try to make people laugh. The only time people laugh when I say something it is accidental. If I tried to plan a joke it never turns out well. Comic Con was actually not as bad. There was a woman at a dinner the night before who said, “it is going to be the scariest room you’ll ever go into,” and everyone was like, “no, no, no, you’ll be okay,” and she was like, “I’m just saying, I’ve seen a lot of kids crumble and fall.” But when we got onto the stage, everyone was just so nice. Every time they’d be like, “This question is for Lois,” I’d breathe a sigh of relief. And the questions they ask me were smart questions.
When you guys were making the film did it help to imagine the film in black and white, was that the mindset, or was that just taking as is?
Thwaites: The [black-and-white] idea was tossed up between the filmmakers. We didn’t really know at the time whether they were going to commit to that. Philip really was fighting for it, and he did do that which is cool. I wasn’t really thinking about it.
Do you think in modern times there is a certain stigma in the mainstream against black-and-white?
Thwaites: I don’t know, I like it. I think we’re going back to black-and-white.
Rush: Frances Ha, Nebraska ...
What do you think black-and-white adds to a movie like 'Frances Ha'?
Rush: I don’t know if this makes sense, but it just, it’s like shooting with film, there’s a romantic warmth to it. And with this movie it’s so important because you’re really going through the journey with Jonas, and you feel like you’re seeing things through his eyes. The first time he sees red, you see red, the first time he sees color, you see color. And the thing I really love at the end how he goes back and forth, how it goes back to black-and-white and shows Jonas on the outer edge suffering and going through the journey at the edge with the baby, and then he comes back to us and he’s in black-and-white, it just shows the good versus evil.
Thwaites: I think black-and-white grounds us to the characters a little more. It attracts us to the material, to the writing and the acting. A part of the cinematography is taken away in that they don’t get to use great sunsets, but Nebraska was really cool because you felt like you were with the characters.
Quick Questions with Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush
What did you have for breakfast this morning? Thwaites: Fruit. Rush: Oatmeal.
Favorite fruit? Thwaites: Apples Rush: Strawberries.
If you could be someone else for 24 hours, who would you be? Thwaites: Richard Branson. Rush: There’s just so many people … maybe a guy, just to see what it’s like? The simple life of a guy, a high school guy.
Age of first kiss? Thwaites: 12 or 13. Rush: 8th grade. It was during recess.