I’ve said it before, but I get something of a kick talking to up-and-coming young actors who are still finding their footing in the acting world, but seem highly likely to make something of a splash with audiences and fans. Certainly filling those shoes is Australian actor and THE GIVER lead Brenton Thwaites, who starred just in this calendar year in such films as MALEFICENT, OCULUS, and THE SIGNAL; and his female co-star Odeya Rush, who did some great flashback scenes in last year’s WE ARE WHAT WE ARE and will be seen in one of next summer’s tent pole offerings, the big-screen adaptation of R.L. Stine's GOOSEBUMPS.
Talking to younger actors can be a mixed bag. They’re still getting their feet wet on the press tour circuit, and after what has inevitably been a series of softball questions about their fashion sense and who they’re dating from many in the press, actually getting inquiries about acting and trying to dig into the messages of the film might throw them for a loop. Their thoughts aren’t always formed, or perhaps they have been over-prepared by studio publicity types. I’m not saying any of this applies to my talk with Thwaites and Rush, but it happens, and you just roll with it and make the best. I happened to have a great time talking to these two and were clearly in awe of some of the folks they got to work with on THE GIVER, including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Steep, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård. With that said, please enjoy my talk with Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush…
Capone: People have been telling me for years that this book is the one that set certain rules in modern sci-fi for many other things that came after it, but because it’s taken so long to get made into a movie, a lot of people might not be aware of that. Do you think it’s important that people understand that before they go and see this, or does that really matter?
Brenton Thwaites: I don’t think it matters, no. Lois got her ideas from somewhere about a certain type of dystopian society. So I think everything originates from something else, so I don’t think that’s really necessary to compare different dystopian worlds. But the interesting thing about this film is that it has remained relevant despite the fact that it was written in 1993. It seems like it’s very in our time. For some reason, it has no specific era.
Odeya Rush: It’s timeless.
Capone: What are some of the ideas put forth in this story that you’re hoping people sort of walk out of this film thinking about, contemplating, and talking about when the film ends?
OR: I think it should encourage people to really appreciate things we have in life that we don’t look at as wonderful gifts, like being able to feel, being free, doing as you choose, being able to see color and have holidays and spending time with your family—a family that you love—and knowing what love is. That’s what this community has lost.
Capone: The idea of stripping humanity down to its working parts and watching it become complex in the mind of this young man, layer by layer, is a really dramatic experience. It’s like watching someone become fully human.
BT: There’s a saying, when I’m learning about the world, Jeff Bridges passes me in his library and he says, “Be curious.” And I feel like that’s the tagline for the film. It’s like a hidden message for the audience. I wish that that could be like a caption at the end of the credits or something. Be curious. Because it’s really about the questions that will develop from this kind of movie, not the answers. It’s about what kind of world we live in, and what kind of society we live in.
Capone: I know you just came from Comic-Con. I saw little bits of video, but how was that experience for you? Was it a first time for both of you?
OR: Yeah. First time for me. It was just fun to see all the fans and to see everyone who loves this book so much, and them asking all these questions for Lois that I was really curious about knowing too. So it was learning what inspired this genius story from her. It was really fun to reunite with everyone again. I think Jeff has this whole mentality of always having fun and always keeping it light, and not talking anything too seriously, so when you’re with someone like that, and with Jeff leading us in that mentality and light spirit, I think that’s what made it so much fun.
Capone: Did you get a chance to walk around a little bit, to go into the big convention hall where the thousands of people in costume are? Did you get to do any of that?
OR: No, I missed that. I was just there for the whole day of press, then I had to fly out the next day. Did you?
BT: I did.
Capone: Did you have to disguise yourself, or did you just walk in?
BT: I just walked in. No one knows me yet.
Capone: I was going to say, I know you because I’ve seen you in like three other movies this year. THE SIGNAL’s an incredible film. And I saw OCULUS at SXSW, and obviously MALEFICENT.
BT: Was Karen [Gillan] there? She loves going to SXSW.
Capone: Was she there? I don’t remember who was there. I don’t believe so. But my point is, you’re not a complete unknown to some of us at least.
BT: Yeah, yeah. Well, thanks man.
Capone: And it sounds like you’ve got some pretty awesome stuff lined up, too. Like what did I just read? GODS OF EGYPT, right?
BT: We just finished it.
Capone: I met Geoffrey Rush late last year, and he was just getting ready to do it. So he didn’t really have that much to say about it.
BT: Oh, cool.
Capone: I know the whole black-and-white world turning into color is also the way they talk about it in the book. Did they have a way of telling you what was going to be a certain color, and how much color was in this particular scene?
BT: Yeah, they did. There were two colors that really stood out to me, and it was the greens in the trees, as you see at the start of the movie, and the red in Fiona’s hair, and it was the bright red of the apples. So those are the three things I payed attention to. Red is a big color in this one. But apart from those, it was just Phillip informing me at the time of what was happening.
Capone: I think one of the big revelations at Comic-Con was Jeff Bridges talking about how long he wanted to make this.
OR: Twenty years.
Capone: Pretty much since it was written. Did he explain to you guys why he was so passionate about the material? I think he had eve shot parts of it with his dad and his nephew or something, which is incredible. I hope that he is able to find that stuff, because I want to see that so bad.
OR: Me too.
Capone: Talking to him, what did he tell about what he connected with initially about the material?
BT: Well, it was for his daughters. It connected with his daughters at the time, and now they’re all grown up. They are in their 30s now, but at the time, he wanted a story that he could direct his dad in, and for it to reach out to kids his daughters’ ages. It still does that now, and I’m sure his daughters will love the film now. They’re just not 12 anymore. But I think that was the original intention.
OR: I think he just really loved the story, like everyone else. I’m trying to think back to things that he said about it, but yeah he did mention the thing with his daughters, and he’s been in this from the very beginning. He’s part of the roots of this project.
Capone: It sounds like he kept it alive.
OR: Yeah. He was planning on, I think, maybe playing the father and directing his dad, and he didn’t think he would grow up and be able to play the Giver himself. That wasn’t the plan.
BT: Yeah, well he doesn’t look that old, really.
OR: No, they glued a beard on him for this.
BT: In THE GIVER he looks older for the role. He’s a little younger too than I imagined from the book. That old-ass dude with the huge beard [from the original book cover]? Jeff looks a lot younger than him. But I guess there’s no real age specifically for the Giver in the book.
OR: Lois took that picture on the cover.
Capone: I also heard somewhere, maybe she said this at Comic-Con too, that she had agreed to age up the characters once she saw your audition.
BT: Yeah, maybe. I think it was a mix of a lot of things. One of the reasons why I keep telling myself it’s okay, it’s okay, is because it just makes us more comfortable to connect with the love story for older kids. With younger kids, maybe life and death doesn’t have such high stakes for younger children, but with older ones, it allows us to really play on the love, that he’s fighting for love, that he would risk his life to be free and to save his love.
Capone: Yeah. It’s a love story that doesn’t entirely pay off the way we are used to seeing love stories pay off, and I think that’s actually a bold move. I don’t want to say what it is exactly, because it leaves you hanging there at the end.
BT: Yeah, it does. Yeah, it’s very altruistic.
Capone: You have Jeff Bridges, you have Meryl Streep; you’re in the company of acting royalty. I think that’s fair to say. What do you guys learn from watching them? Just being around them, and being able to observe.
OR: I think how open and vulnerable and just fearless. I think that’s what makes them who they are, the fact that they’re not afraid to make a fool out of themselves. They’re not afraid to try things and to get loose and to mess up and do it again.
Capone: Did Meryl Streep make a fool of herself at some point?
OR: She’d mess up a line and laugh, and be like, “Let me do that again.” She can break and come in and out. She’s not completely serious. She works incredibly hard, but still I think because she’s so open, that allows her to get to the point emotionally that she does throughout the film, to reach those places.
Capone: You got to spend all the time with Jeff. what do you learn just watching him?
BT: To be chill, man [laughs].
Capone: I knew you were going to say that.
BT: Totally. You work so hard to get to Hollywood, to audition, you run around town driving like a mad man, and then you finally get an opportunity like this to really delve into some cool scenes, and you learn that it’s just a movie. That’s hard to accept; I still haven’t accepted it. But it was a good lesson to learn about making films, which is you’re supposed to be having fun.
Capone: Speaking of just film royalty, Philip Noyce is a legend.
BT: I like how you say that. Phillip Noyce [pronounced like “Noise”}.
OR: Noyce [pronounced like “Noice”].
Capone: Is that how you say it?
BT: That is how we say it, yeah. “Noise”
OR: Is it Noise or Noice?
BT: It’s Noise.
Capone: I’ve always said like that, which I guess is the right way. I would go with what the Australian says.
OR: That’s where he comes from, so...
Capone: But he’s been, around making movies sense the 1960s and ‘70s.
BT: Yeah, I guess he was introduced to American markets then.
Capone: Do you have much of a history with his work?
BT: Yeah, I know his stuff. He’s a great filmmaker, going back to NEWSFRONT, BACKROADS, all these old films that he shot, produced, wrote, edited, directed. All himself.
OR: That’s what makes him so good. He’s thinking like as a DP, as a camera operator, as a producer, as a director, as a writer, all at the same time. He just knows how to warm the actors up, until he gets the shot that he needs. His brain just works in a different way.
Capone: Did he sort of encourage you to do use your brains in a different way when you’re making a movie like this?
OR: I think you have to, because he just moves like... He’s just always going. It’s like breathing and living this movie, and as an actor, you also want to be doing that. Yeah, he pushed us to places we didn’t think we could go. Sometimes you’re reading the sides or you’re in in hair and makeup, and you think “This is probably where the scene will go, and this is probably how I’ll do it,” and you get to set and that’s what you’re doing in the camera rehearsal, but that’s not what ends up happening. At the end of the day, Phil brings you to a place you didn’t know was possible for the scene.
Capone: Because this is supposed to be a fairly emotionless society, were there times when you were told to dial it back because you were emoting too much?
OR: We did a range of different emotional states in the takes. Sometimes he would say like, “Take it inside. Take it back. Look at him with so much love. Look at him with so much fear. You don’t know what he’s saying, you don’t understand what he’s saying.” We did a variety of different things, and somehow it all works together. Was that good for you?
Capone: Do you wanna add anything to that?
BT: [laughs] The answer is yes.
Capone: You were pulling double duty at Comic-Con, because I think you were on the GOOSEBUMPS panel.
OR: [mocks crying] I was not on the GOOSEBUMPS panel. I didn’t have time
Capone: That’s so sad.
OR: I didn’t see Jack [Black] or Rob [Letterman, director], but I was in the bathroom, and I saw one of the PAs and was like, “Wait, are you from GOOSEBUMPS? Take me to GOOSEBUMPS!” I just wanted to see the hair and makeup people and some of the PAs that I missed. It was cool, because I wrapped a few days before, then we got to re-unite.
Capone: Oh, you just finished?
OR: I just finished, yeah. We finished last week. They are done, we just have a lot of visual effects.
Capone: It sounds like the approach they’re taking is to pull characters from all of the books.
OR: It’s the monsters from all the different books.
Capone: That’s ambitious.
OR: It’s gonna be cool.
Capone: Brenton, I know you’ve got a couple of things coming up aside from, GODS OF EGYPT. You’ve got this Helen Hunt film, right? What are you doing in that one?
BT: Well, I play Helen Hunt’s son. And we live in New York City, and I’m an aspiring creative writer, I go to NYU, and it all just becomes a little too much and stressful. So I basically escape to Los Angeles to just breathe some fresh air, learn to surf, and reconnect with my father. And my mother, Helen, basically chases me to Los Angeles trying to figure out why I left college.
Capone: Or at least to tell you that Los Angeles is not the place for fresh air.
BT: Yeah, maybe, maybe [laughs]. It’s a very sweet family drama. It’s fun, light hearted. And it was great to shoot. It’s called RIDE.
Capone: So is it about her journey across the country?
BT: No, it’s just a flight. But the two cities are compared, and they’re a little different, and you feel that. It was just cool to have Helen say, “Go out and surf for an hour, and we’re going to shoot you.”
Capone: And she like wrote it and directed it too, right? And then you made a film with Ewan McGregor. Tell me about that.
BT: It’s called SON OF A GUN. It’s about a young boy who goes to prison. He meets a mentor in prison, who looks after him. And when he gets out, he runs a bunch of errands for this mentor, Ewan McGregor’s character, and helps him break out, and together they commit these little crimes across Western Australia.
Capone: Wow. So is McGregor doing the Australian thing?
BT: No, no. He’s doing his Scottish thing.
Capone: He’s just using his voice. That’s cool.
BT: A bad Aussie accent is the worst thing you can do.
OR: Should I apologize for all these days.
BT: I’m sure he could do it. If he worked on it, he could do anything he wanted, I’m sure, but it was just richer to use his own accent.
Capone: Yeah. And then after GOOSEBUMPS what do you have?
OR: Some things that could possibly happen, but nothing set in stone.
Capone: I found out you were in WE ARE WHAT WE ARE; I love that movie. Who do you play in that? Were you someone from the flashbacks?
OR: Yeah, I was in the first family that started the whole thing. So it was back and forth throughout the movie, and it shows the flashbacks, and I’m the last one standing.
Capone: That’s exactly who I thought you were actually.
OR: That’s me! Yeah, I had a small part in that.
Capone: Some of the things that happen in this film are shocking for a PG-13 movie. In the scene where Alexander is disposing of that baby, that’s a bit mortifying. Was there any concern that since this is aiming for a slightly younger crowd about getting that specific and graphic?
BT: That and a few other scenes were the whole controversy of the story. It’s the worst thing in the world to kill a baby. I think what saves it is that its’ not that visual and it’s not that gruesome. It’s the idea behind it. It’s subtextual, and the characters aren’t aware of the consequences. They don’t know what they’re doing.
Capone: Which is the main reason you can get away with it.
BT: And so you’re right, it is pretty awful
Capone: It was great to meet you. Thank you so much.