Category Archives: Interviews

COLIN TREVORROW ON “THE BOOK OF HENRY”

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Director Colin Trevorrow made “Jurassic World” and is currently preparing “Star Wars IX,” but between those two franchise behemoths he’s sandwiched a small film—with a budget of only $10 million, shot in a mere thirty-five days—from a script by Gregg Hurwitz that’s been around for two decades. “The Book of Henry” might be dismissed as nothing more than an odd exercise—a film that begins almost as a sunny Hallmark Hall of Fame depiction of small town family life but turns into something much darker, even tragic. As Trevorrow explained in a recent Dallas interview, however, it was precisely that challenge that attracted him to the script years ago. “It starts out being about one person, and ends up being about someone else. That was something that fascinated me as a storyteller,” he observed.

So Trevorrow, who had enjoyed critical acclaim with his first feature, the independent sci-fi dramedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” in 2012, committed himself to helming “Henry.” But then there arrived an irresistible offer from Steven Spielberg to direct “World.” Trevorrow accepted that challenge, but vowed to return to Hurwitz’s script after finishing the dinosaur epic. He proved as good as his word, and after wrapping the monster 2015 hit he returned to the far more modest project, working with Hurwitz to refine the screenplay.

“The script is twenty years old,” Trevorrow said. “It changed a lot during that time [as Hurwitz rewrote it over the decades], but there are some scenes that stayed exactly the same. The work that I did with Gregg in structuring it, thinking about how to make it work, was largely focused on turning it into something that could be as tonally consistent as possible in a movie that does what it does, something that would allow the audience to accept the shifts and not feel like they were being betrayed. I think that’s the biggest challenge of the movie.”

As Trevorrow observed, “If you come in the middle of this movie, you will have no idea what’s going on, because it changes as much as it does. It is structured like a thriller. When you first watch it, you don’t realize that—because it feels like a family movie in the beginning—but for anyone who watches it again, it’s very carefully laid out. My editor [Kevin Stitt] is an excellent editor of thrillers—he was brought up by Frank Urioste, who was a great editor on “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” and those films—and we talked a lot about whether it would make the tonal shifts less jarring if the rhythm of it felt as if it was propelled toward a suspenseful thriller ending. We tried it many different ways, and ultimately that’s where we landed. The movie moves quickly, and the layers build on top of each other, and by the time you realize what’s going on, it’s changed again and changed again. I hope that’s something audiences will respond well to right now, because I feel we all know the structure of movies; we know it from seeing a thousand of them—you almost find yourself waiting for the turn that you know is inevitable. I don’t think you can do that with this movie.”

Trevorrow added, “You’re planting pieces of information in the audience’s mind that you need them to have as they process and progress. This movie does that in a very delicate way. We cut it for a long time. It took a long time to find our way through these very complex turns, and I knew even in the script stage and the production stage that in the end this movie was going to be made or broken by my editor and me in that time that we spent together.”

“The Book of Henry” centers on a suburban family, a single mother and her two young sons. The older of them, Henry (Jaeden Lierberher), is a genius-level kid who essentially runs the household for his somewhat scatterbrained mom Susan (Naomi Watts) while protecting his smaller brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). But he’s also concerned about Christina (Maddie Ziegler), the girl who lives next door and seems to be in emotional turmoil, and constructs a complicated plan to help her. When he’s unable to follow through on it, he hopes his mother will do so, and she tries to fulfill his wishes, but only to a point.

“I like to think of it as a coming-of-age movie for a parent,” Trevorrow explained. “We get to see a lot of coming-of-age movies with teenagers, but we don’t want to think about how long it takes for us finally to come of age as a parent. Hopefully you do it soon enough to be able to give [your children] the guidance you want to give them, to teach them how to make the right decisions.”

Watts was drawn to Susan immediately upon reading the script, and Trevorrow was enthusiastic not only about her handling of the role but her interaction with her co-stars. “It was a family,” he said. “When you’re dealing with that kind [short] schedule, no one really has time to experiment; we didn’t even really get to rehearse. We had to go in and try to create something spontaneous and real, and move very quickly through a very complex movie. As a result she became the den mother of our shoot, there to support those kids if I was unable to because I was shooting another scene.”

The casting of Lieberher and Tremblay, on the other hand, was more a matter of serendipity. “I hadn’t seen anything of Jacob’s, because ‘Room’ hadn’t come out yet,” Trevorrow recalled. “I’d seen his audition…and hired him immediately. Jaeden I’d seen in ‘St. Vincent’—I didn’t see ‘Midnight Special’ until we’d shot this movie. I’m very much that way—I’ll see an actor and know immediately that either they’re perfect for what I would love that character to be or just that I want to work with them. Maddie Ziegler is another one. When I watched the videos of her dancing, there’s something about her capability to communicate emotion without speaking, which is what her part required. I knew there was no one else who could have done it. It’s a role played in a series of looks, a series of single shots of her face where she has to show a tremendous amount of pain and fear, so many emotions.”

Trevorrow admits to real uncertainty about taking on the project. “I was never anywhere near as terrified on ‘Jurassic World’ as I was on this movie,” he said. “I had moments of abject fear that I wasn’t going to be able to make it work after a pretty big success. The scope, I can do that. It’s finding an emotional truth in the characters that is hard to manufacture.

“The anxiety came before [the shoot], because ‘Jurassic’ had come out in June, and I started shooting this in the fall, and I had a moment where I was just terrified—what are you doing? Just take your chips and walk out of the casino. Then I steeled up and I did it, because I felt very deeply that this was a story I had to tell, and in the past six or seven months since we finished, I’ve had plenty of those moments again. Is it possible to know how something this different is going to be received? There’s just no guarantee at all.”

Trevorrow believes, though, that “Henry” will find its audience. “This is a movie that not everybody has to love, and yet the people who do, will love it very much,” he opined. “I think there are a lot of people who will be refreshed by something that tells a different kind of story, and does it differently. And I think those people will tell other people. I think it’s a movie for the moment. I’m not looking to project my politics on anything I do, I’m looking to find universal themes and ideas we can all share, values we can all share. And safety for our children is something we all share, the sense that evil exists is something we all share. I think there’s value in that, and I think the audience is going to respond to that.”

Trevorrow also takes comfort in the very modesty of the movie from an economic standpoint. “It doesn’t have to make ‘Jurassic World’ money at all,” he said with a smile. “It can make ‘Jurassic World’ first two showings money, and they’d be thrilled.”

Asked whether he’d like to continue alternate big=budget films with more intimate ones, Trevorrow simply responded, “I would like to continue challenging myself and being afraid of what I’m doing, and pushing myself to try to do something that could go horribly wrong. This is a movie that could have gone way off the rails, and there may be some people who feel that it does.” But he added. “I’m very confident that it’s a cohesive structure and that it sticks to landing.”

THE CAST OF “SABAN’S POWER RANGERS” ON THE FILM

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The Power Rangers have been around on U.S. television for nearly twenty-five years in various incarnations, and though they’ve appeared in a couple of movies over that time, neither was a major studio effort. Now, with “Saban’s Power Rangers,” the team of teens who morph into costumed superheroes to fight evil invaders from space come to the big screen again. The film is essentially a reboot that takes the story back to the beginning, a feature-length origins episode in which the characters have become more textured, as the young actors—Dacre Montgomery (Red Ranger Jason), Naomi Scott (Pink Ranger Kimberly), RJ Cyler (Blue Ranger Billy), Becky G (Yellow Ranger Trini) and Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin)—discussed during a recent Dallas interview. “We landed on February 8 in Vancouver last year, and we were friends by February 9,” Cyler said of the quintet.

Asked about director Dean Israelite’s comment that he looked for actors who shared qualities with their characters, Montgomery said, “I think I’m very similar to Jason because you see him and…he’s kind of like this jock douchebag, like I am. But he’s multi-dimensional, I’d say. He doesn’t really want to do his sporting career, and in school I wasn’t a sports person at all. He’s struggling with his relationship with his dad, not something I experienced, but something I found interesting to touch into. And I think he’s endearing, he wants to know the people in the other social groups in his school. And in high school I didn’t really have any friends, so any social group I would have taken.”

Lin added, “For me, with Zack, we share some background. I was raised by my mother, and so was Zack. He’s an outside at times, and so am I. I’m outside a lot. I backpack a lot, I travel a lot looking for adventure, same as Zack. And the other side is that Zack is kind of insecure, because he’s missing a lot of things in his life, and I have that side in me, too. With that being said, with our characters—and all the characters—I think the movie is about the specific lives of these characters as individuals, and how once you can accept yourself as you are, you can start doing good for yourself and for others.”

Scott said of Kimberly, “She has a maturity about her, which maybe I do. I think she is self-assured, but she’s the popular girl, and when that all goes downhill, she just sort of goes ‘Stuff it, I’m done with these fake people anyway.’ I think that’s what she’s searching for, which is really cool. But there are things I’m not. I’m kind of a tomboy, a little more like Trini in that way.”

Becky G interjected, “Trini is a loner, and coming from a musical background and having established what I like to think of as a successful music career and having toured the world and getting to meet fans, I wondered what [the director Dean Israelite] saw in me. And we had a conversation, and I realized that I’m a lot like my character—I am kind of a loner. It’s very easy in this industry to feel alone, even surrounded by thousands of people. Trini is in this high school, surrounded by people every single day…but feels invisible. People think they know you but they don’t know you—that was a kind of subconscious connection to my character.”

Cyler noted, “With Billy, the thing I feel like the thing that makes us similar is the whole-heartedness, he wants everybody to be happy. That’s why I’m so energetic. Sometimes people will say, ‘RJ, you’re a little bit much for this morning,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, you’re just too little for this morning.’ It’s that part of Billy that also tags with me. Also, the part that he’s this dude that just does it. That makes him similar to me. We both seek that adventure.”

The delicate balance of meeting the expectations of fans and doing something new was admittedly an issue, the actors said, but they emphasized that their first duty was to be true to the characters, portrayed in the script as kids struggling with personal problems they have to overcome in order to learn to work together.

Scott said, “My responsibility as an actress is to do the character justice, and we were able to do a fresh take and a blank slate, so I was able to come up with the character with the director and figure out who she was, like with any other movie or any other character. Everything that was iconic about the Power Rangers is built into the script. My job is to do the character justice. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Cyler added, “Y’all aren’t the only ones who used to watch it—we did too. But I’m not responsible for certain [changes], so I’m not going to take that on my shoulders. But I do take on the responsibility, as Naomi says, to do the character justice.”

“I think the key word here is imagination,” Becky G interjected. “This is an original story; although the character names may sound familiar, you are meeting our characters for the first time in 2017, dealing with real teenage issues that are very current and relevant. And that’s why it’s such a diverse cast—not just the colors of our skins, to start off with, but also the fact that we’re both boys and girls, female and male superheroes working together, literally saying that we are not one without the other. And on top of that, there are the different social groups that we come from.

“Growing up watching ‘Power Rangers,’ I was attracted to the colors, the power, the action—it wasn’t necessarily something about a specific character that made me think, ‘They’re going through exactly what I’m going through.’ This time around, it’s much more layered to who we are. Even the OGs—the original Power Rangers fans—we want to give them something new as well.”

Lin agreed. “I don’t think there’s any burden,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from fans. And there’s no point in re-imaging something the same way. If you’re going to re-imagine something, you have to do it differently. There’s a certain risk in that, but there’s a certain excitement to that if we’ve pulled it off. And with this movie the point for us was to deepen the characters and get people to become attached to these characters and view them as realistic characters that they can relate to.”

Asked about the pressure to look good in the tight-figure Ranger outfits, Becky G admitted, “Putting on the suit, to be honest, was not the most comfortable.” But she added: “It was important to me to be a real person on camera. We’re teenagers in high school.”

Scott added, “We trained really hard. We worked our butts off, like three times a day. As Naomi, yeah, I want to look good on camera, I want to be at my best, but it’s the stamina to get through the shoot. We’re girls in high school—we’re not Victoria’s Secret models.”

Lin said, “There’s the physical side of it and the sentimental side of it. The physical side was definitely uncomfortable, definitely restrictive—there are like five layers on you at some points. But there’s the mental aspect, the symbolic aspect, where you put on the mask and you feel like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m a superhero,’ and you feel the symbol, the image that they represent. And you know why superheroes are anonymous, because anyone could be behind those masks. Hopefully kids will watch this movie and see the imperfections in these characters, how realistic these characters are, and feel that if they get together and be themselves and find friends, they can go out and be heroes themselves.”