Jeff Bridges is one of the stars and producer of the new big screen adaptation of the classic young adult novel “The Giver,” but at times it sounds like he was channeling his famed character, “The Dude” Lebowski.
Trying to keep his young co-stars, Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush, mellow to the harsh realities of the world both real and cinematic, Bridges who plays the title character in the film, gave them some valuable advice.
“Jeff actually sat me down a few times and gave me some advice about how I should never take life too seriously,” Rush, sitting with Thwaites, told me in a recent interview. “He also said not to take what we do so seriously, especially with a movie like this that has a really dark side to it. Jeff said it was OK to allow yourself to be the fool and just jump in, and that’s he does, and Meryl Streep does and Brenton does.”
“The Giver,” based on author Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Medal-winning children’s novel of the same name, is set in the future in a seemingly utopian society where the “Sameness” has eradicated the pain and strife” of peoples’ lives, but also their capability to experience emotions because of daily injections.
However, the society begins to unravel when the teen Jonas (Thwaites) has inherited the position of Receiver of Memories from The Giver (Bridges), a person who stores humankind’s past memories before the Sameness came about. Even though Jonas is under the watch of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), he begins to defy the system as he discovers their existence is in more of dystopian environment that one of bliss — a discovery that puts his and the life of his close friend, Fiona (Rush), in danger.
Opening in theaters Friday nationwide, “The Giver” also stars Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Swift
“The Giver” is a unique project for Thwaites, 25, and Rush, 17, in that the actors were born in Australia and Israel, respectively, and didn’t have exposure of the American-penned book growing up. In some ways, Thwaites found that to be advantage when tackling the role.
“I wish I had read it growing up because I would have had an understanding of the story going in,” recalled Thwaites, who most recently starred opposite Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent” as Prince Phillip. “But I’m glad I didn’t because it gave me a fresh, new feel for the material.”
One of the biggest differences in “The Giver” compared with its original source material is the age of Jonas, who is approaching 12 in the novel and is a teenager in movie. Thwaites is hoping diehard fans of the book understand why Bridges, director Phillip Noyce and their fellow filmmakers opted to make Jonas older, as well as other changes.
“In the book, Jonas talks in first person, but in film, you can’t really do that, so his character had to be structured in little more to make sense,” Thwaites said.
Plus, Rush added, some characters in the book have been given expanded roles.
“A lot of the characters became more complex. The Chief Elder in the book doesn’t have that big of a role in the story, but in the movie is played by Meryl Streep, so of course it’s bigger because it’s Meryl. In the book,” Rush observed. “Fiona is a lot different and is more developed in the film. On the whole, the film carries the same spirit of the book.”
Thwaites and Rush admitted that they were put at ease at the heavy presence of Lowry on the set.
“Lois came to the set and with us at San Diego Comic Con, and she also has a good relationship with Jeff and Nikki Silver, who is another one of the producers,” Rush said. “When she came to the set, I asked her about everything I could. I felt like, ‘If she’s OK with something, then nobody else can get mad at me.’ I would ask, ‘Are you OK with what I’m wearing? Are you OK with how my hair looks?’ She was really cool with everything. She was just happy about the whole situation.”