Lois Lowry might just be the godmother of dystopian YA fiction.
The author of over 40 books is best known for her 1993 novel “The Giver,” a story set in a utopian society where people no longer feel pain. But a sinister side is revealed when Jonas, a young boy, is selected to be the Receiver of Memories — responsible for painful recollections of past suffering so that he can advise a council of elders on how to best serve the community. Jonas is trained by the outgoing Receiver, now called The Giver, and realizes there is a price people pay for living without conflict.
Since “The Giver” was published, books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” have emerged and proven to be popular at the multiplex. But plans for a film version of “The Giver” actually predates them all.
For years, Jeff Bridges hoped to bring “The Giver” to the big screen, even going so far as to shoot a version on his home camera with his father Lloyd Bridges in the title role. Enough time has passed for Jeff Bridges to now play The Giver, with the feature film finally hitting theaters on Friday. Directed by Phillip Noyce, the cast includes Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent”) as Jonas, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgaard as his parents, and Meryl Streep as the community’s Chief Elder.
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The 77-year-old Lowry splits her time between homes in Massachusetts and Maine, but admits “My favorite place is to be alone in a room, working.”
I could be wrong, but it seems like this genre of dystopian young adult fiction didn’t really exist 20 years ago.
No. People in the know say “The Giver” was the first young adult dystopian novel. I majored in English in college so I read the classic dystopian novels like “1984” and “Brave New World.” But apparently it hadn’t been done for kids before “The Giver.” So I’m not sure what happened between “The Giver” and maybe 15 years later when these others suddenly burst forth. Nobody copied “The Giver.” Those ideas are out there and emerge. But I’m glad it happened. Although there’s too many of them now. But I think that trend is ending. We’ll go on to the next trend and we all wish we knew what that was so we could go out and write it. Dystopian fiction is passé now.
Jeff Bridges came to you 18 years ago hoping to adapt “The Giver” into a film. Over the years, who were some of the actors you heard mentioned for the roles?
I heard a lot of names bandied about. I didn’t hear any names for the role of The Giver because it was always going to be Lloyd Bridges. Anyway, any bandying would have been in Hollywood, not my hillside in Maine. A number of kids were talked about for the role of the boy, but of course they’re all grown now. Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense” was one name I remember, he would have been great.
Do you remember other directors who were interested?
Briefly there was David Yates. He was slated to direct and the last “Harry Potter” book was divided into two movies and he was going to be tied up for five years, so he dropped out. I met with Vadim Perelman, who wrote and directed “House of Sand and Fog,” which was a terrific movie. I’m not sure what happened. Things would get set and then you’d never hear about it again.
Did you ever give up hope that it was going to get made?
I didn’t really think about it. It was out there and now and then I would hear from Jeff and Nikki (Silver, the producer.) Every now and then it would ratchet up, then it would disappear again. But I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. My mind is always on whatever next project I’m working on. That was where my attention was. I would have been disappointed if at some point they had called and said they were giving up, but that didn’t happen.
Was there anything in the film you thought improved upon the story?
I wish I could go back and rewrite the book and beef up the character of the Chief Elder. It was beefed up by the writers and then blown sky high by Meryl Streep’s performance. She’s become a complex character, which she was not in the book. There is no conflict between her and The Giver in the book. And there’s so much in the film, and it’s riveting.
Did you get to spend any time on the set?
I did. I didn’t stay very long, but I was glad I went. I watched the scene where they have the ceremony where they announce the new Receiver of Memories. They asked if I wanted to be one of the elders sitting on the stage and I said no. I’d rather watch from the sidelines. And I’m so glad I said no because I left after 11 hours and they were still filming and all those elders were still sitting on stage. And I was so glad I wasn’t one of them.
You also got to see The Giver’s room. Was it as you imagined it?
It was much larger than I pictured it in my mind. It was quite a remarkable set. Phillip would email me now and then asking questions and at one point he asked what books The Giver would have. I sent him a list of about 200. I had no idea they were going to bring in 22,000 books to furnish that room.
There are three other books in “The Giver” series; has there been talk about adapting them to films?
They’ve murmured about it. But I think it will depend on how well this movie does. Having been through this process, it would be fun to go through it again.