There are a number of book-turned-movie adaptations hitting the big screen this year but the one on the top of our list is The Giver.
Growing up, I had to read Lois Lowry’s award-winning book for school and I was fascinated by the world the main character Jonas lived in. Can you imagine a world without pain and strife…a world of “sameness”? Sounds great until you realize just what you’re missing.
In case you’re not familiar with The Giver, here’s a brief synopsis (for the movie). The story follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before.
Along for the ride is Jonas’ best friend Asher played by “Shameless” star Cameron Monaghan. We had the chance to chat with Cameron who assured us that we’d be happy with the movie despite the changes from the book.
Cameron was only about a year old when The Giver was published so by the time he hit grade school, it wasn’t as much part of the curriculum. He ended up reading the script first and found the material “real interesting” and then went back and used the book as reference during his audition. After multiple auditions with the filmmakers in person and over Skype (he continued his audition while he was in London filming Vampire Academy), he finally landed the role of Asher, a character who appears in the book but becomes more fleshed out on the big screen.
“Asher’s story is a very interesting and complex arc more so than in the book,” Cameron told us. “You know, certain things had to be expanded from book to screenplay because the book is very short. One of the things that got fleshed out a little bit is Asher. It’s a really interesting arc throughout the movie, where, without giving too much away…he starts the beginning of the movie as someone who doesn’t quite fit in in this society. He’s a little bit unruly and a little bit clumsy in a place that’s so by the book and dry and somewhat humorless. Sameness. But then as Jonas comes and is rebelling against the system, Asher becomes shaken in his beliefs between this society that he’s raised in and at odds with how Jonas is acting against it.”
If you watched the most recent trailer, you can see a bit of Asher’s character change as he starts the trailer BFFs with Jonas and Fiona and is later seen fighting with Jonas. Speaking of the trailer, Cameron shared another part of the visual he was excited to see come to life. “One of the things that was kind of neat that I hadn’t had a chance to see yet was a shot of us standing atop this huge dome landmark. Of course, when you’re filming the movie, it doesn’t actually exist so being able to see it in the trailer was wild. It looks great and you’d never be able to tell it wasn’t real.”
Now, when a movie is based on beloved source material, there are bound to be skeptics that yell out, “this isn’t like the book! Why did you change that?!” Already, The Giver raised some eyebrows after it was learned the characters in the movie would be aged up to 16 from 11 in the book. Brenton Thwaites recently shared in Entertainment Weekly that even he was concerned. He said, “To be honest, that’s why I put the script down the first time I read it.” After talking with Lowry and the director that argued that an older Jonas would make the stories even more unsettling, he said, “Why doesn’t this boy know about girls, love, color or anger? These are things that you come to terms with as a teenager.”
Cameron reassured us that the other changes we see from book to movie will only enhance the story and make it more gripping. Most books are so long that much of the content has to be trimmed down or cut out altogether. In the case with The Giver, the book is relatively short which meant more characters and plotlines could be expanded. Case and point – a more fleshed out Asher and getting to see the character of Rosemary (Taylor Swift) who is only a quick mention in the book.
“Jeff Bridges and these guys have been trying to get this movie made for years and years and throughout the process the script has kind of changed and evolved in interesting ways. Having a straightforward and simple short story kind of gave them the opportunity to change it and shift it to whatever it needed to be,” Cameron shared. “What’s great is all the core components are still there. All the major beats are still there but they’re able to create an entirely new work of art at the same time through this medium through these interesting character moments and events and exciting sequences that would have otherwise never been able to exist.”
If you’ve watched the trailer, then you’ve seen the beautiful setting of the film which is thanks to South Africa. “What’s kind of amazing about Cape Town is it’s surrounded by very diverse landscape which is perfect for filming a movie. It has beaches, it has mountainous areas and desert and sand dune areas. Pretty much any type of terrain you can imagine. It was important for our movie and the story. Besides that, being able to actually film there was very cool. The people there are great and hospitable, the food is great and being almost literally on the other side of the world, it’s kind of fun to get away for a few months and have an isolation with the people you’re working with and really focus on the project you’re working on.”
Being on the other side of the world also meant the cast had a lot of time to bond. The movie has an all-star cast including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard. In addition, it features a slew of rising stars like Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Cameron and even Taylor Swift. On working with the cast, Cameron told us, “It was great. It was phenomenal. I respect Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep so much as actors. I’ve grown up watching them and admiring them and having the chance to work with them was pretty incredible.”
He continued, “our younger cast was great too. Alexander Skarsgard was lovely, Taylor Swift was very sweet. Brenton was great to work with…Odeya Rush, we became very good friends. She’s like a younger sister to me. It was a cast that we had no issues bonding. We bonded immediately and it was a dream working with them.”
The Giver hits theaters August 15 and we before we let Cameron go, we had to ask why people will love this movie. “I think the themes are pretty clear and will reveal themselves as you’re watching which is something that is inherited from the book…many of the themes and ideas. That said, I think that the audience is actually going to appreciate the places where it does diverge from the book and some of the new surprises that are introduced to the story that really do add some interesting dimensions to it. I think what’s really interesting about the movie is that there are no villains per say. There’s sides to both arguments presented in the argument and there’s something really interesting about this idea of ‘what are the costs of living in this utopia. Of having this amazing place and what are you willing to sacrifice?’ That’s a conversation that is going to be spurred by the movie that people will be talking about for a good amount of time.”
You’ve definitely sold us on the movie, Cameron! Be sure to mark those calendars for August 15 and watch the latest trailer below. For all our coverage of The Giver, go here.