After the enormous success of “Twilight” on screen, Stephanie Meyer’s fans are undoubtedly looking forward to Andrew Niccol’s adaptation of her novel “The Host,” another romantic triangle involving three attractive young people in distinctly unusual circumstances. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is a girl possessed by an alien life-form that uses her body as an instrument even while her original consciousness survives within it. And she’s loved by two of her fellow resistance fighters, Jared (Max Irons) and Jared (Jake Abel), who are attracted to the different sides of her now bifurcated personality.
In a Dallas interview, Irons and Abel talked enthusiastically about the film. Abel said, “For me personally, I think this is his closest return to ‘Gattaca’…his premier science-fiction film…in style and form and story-wise. He’s one of the most meticulous directors I’ve ever worked for, Peter Jackson being the second. Andrew would come in and move a piece of gauze because it wasn’t in the right place in the background. Literally that would happen. His office in pre-production was papered 360 degrees; the entire movie was stuck to the wall—all the locations, every scene. So you could walk around and you’d watch the movie.”
Irons added, “And I think what’s important to know is that every single detail in this film—cars, weapons, costumes, extras (he cast every single extra)—he is responsible for—which is so often not the case.”
Abel noted, “He gave himself hives because he worked so hard. I think it’s a testament to his nature.”
The ensemble work on “The Host” was the result of concerted effort, the actors explained. “We had two weeks of rehearsal that we were all a part of,” Abel emphasized. “I believe that was at the request of William Hurt. And it made all the difference. The movie would not be what it is without that two weeks of rehearsal…because we found everything that was hidden, that wasn’t on the surface.”
Irons seconded Hurt’s importance: “He is Jeb. He was our father, so to speak. He was our mentor, he was our teacher. He was our guardian—he fought for us, the actors. To get two weeks of rehearsals out of the producers—that’s a tall order. And he did it.”
Abel said, “I’ve never seen anyone fight so ruthlessly for the actors’ protection. He has his own way of doing it, and the actors always come out protected on the other side of it.” Irons added, “And when he’s on screen, he’s always spellbindingly good.” And Abel continued, “Effortlessly good. You learn a lot—people like him elevate your work. And you just hope that the next project has someone like that.”
How did they become attached to the project? “I initially auditioned for Jared,” Abel recalled, “and then they called me in for Ian. I had a conversation with Andrew Niccol about why he thought I should play Ian, and I immediately got what he was saying. And I read with Saoirse and then a few weeks later got the call. They gave us some of the intimate scenes for the audition, too. And she was seventeen at the time, so we had to kiss cheeks.”
Asked whether it was difficult to interact with a character that embodied two different personalities, Irons said it wasn’t—at least for him. “It was difficult for her,” he said. “She had the tough work—she had to inhabit independently two quite clearly defined characters. The producers struggled to find an actress capable of doing that, and they found Saoirse, who did it amazingly. So what we have to do—Jake and Chandler [Canterbury, who plays Melanie’s young brother and accompanied Irons and Abel to Dallas] and I—was to respond to her as a human would.”
Niccol wrote the script for “The Host,” but Meyer was intimately involved in the process. “They worked very closely together, I know that,” Abel said. “I think his first draft was around three hundred pages. He even doubted himself at the time [about] boiling it down to a hundred pages. I know a few characters were left out. But what’s surprising is out of over a six hundred page novel I think he found the quintessential moments that define not only the story, but each character. And he was able to boil them down, the nucleus of each one of those, into the final film. And I don’t think it jeopardized the integrity of any character or the story. [And] Stephanie has said that visually, Andrew has made it better. The aesthetic…was all Andrew’s heightening of her vision.”
Asked whether the inevitable comparisons to the “Twilight” behemoth caused them any concern during the shoot, Abel added, “Maybe a lot of other people felt that, but that was never a cause of concern to any one of us. We tried to, not avoid I at all cost, but we’re lucky it’s not our job to worry about past work. That allows us to make this film at this moment, and Stephanie’s not thinking about ‘Twilight.’ Maybe the people with the money are.”
Irons added, “It is what it is. I think Stephanie created a fantastic universe in ‘The Host.’ And ‘Twilight’ was such a success that every new young adult fiction—book, film—is being compared to it, or anticipated to become the next ‘Twilight.’ And that’s just because we had never seen a phenomenon like ‘Twilight.’
Abel noted, “For me, the thing that actually drew me to it—because I think it’s such an interesting and unique problem for a character, for an actor to have–[was that he loses the woman he loves, but then the physical form comes back as a daily reminder of what he’s lost. But then… he not only has to deal with that problem, but then to discover that the girl you once loved isn’t in fact dead, but is in fact trapped inside [that form]. And two guys deal with the problem completely differently. I think it’s a unique love square.”
Irons agreed: “I think Ian’s big obstacle is that she’s not of our species. And that’s what Andrew told me before I went and read for Ian…. One reason I love Ian is because he’s got this inter-species emotion that’s developing in a very strange, peculiar way.”
“The Host” is a love story, but it’s also a sci-fi piece in which the aliens can be perceived not so much as threatening, but as beneficent, attempting through their connection with earthlings to eradicate human frailties from the species in order to leave a peaceful, harmonious society behind after their departure to yet another planet. Abel emphasized how that makes the picture different from previous ones: “That’s one of the questions it poses—do we deserve this earth, [given] what we’re doing to it and to each other? And in the end I think it allows you to figure that out for yourself. I think what’s more important and interesting than Team Ian and Team Jared is Team Humans and Team Aliens, really, because that’s the bigger question.
“It’s the kind of spectacle we haven’t seen before, because we’re so used to the ships coming in and blowing up the White House and Will Smith saving the day. I love that, don’t get me wrong! But it’s cool to see something like this that hasn’t been done before.”