John Green’s 2012 novel, “The Fault in Our Stars,” debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The film adaptation, wildly anticipated by myriad teenaged fans, hits the screen on June 6. It stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, whose love story with Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) transcends their shared battles with cancer. Isaac (Nat Wolff), plays Gus’ comically angsty best friend, who loses his sight to the disease. Together, the trio balance the classic travails of adolescence with the stark realities of living with disabilities.
The author and the film’s young stars visited Dallas recently, following an unprecedented publicity blitz driven by Tumblr, the social networking site, and 20th Century Fox. In their interview, Green, Woodley and Wolff spoke enthusiastically about the book and its film adaptation.
Nat Wolff said, “It’s such a small story…it’s so specific. Yet last night (at the fan event), we heard all these people chanting these characters’ names – it’s such a big stage. It’s really amazing because we are involved in something that’s going to reach a lot of people. John has really changed people’s lives (with the novel).”
Shailene Woodley added, “What (John) created…is a sense of community and of acceptance and of awareness…What (John is) doing is the answer to all those things that people complain about at that young age. (He is) creating acceptance and allowance for weirdness and for uniqueness and for being different; and creating a community that supports each other in their own quests. And that is so beautiful.
John Green spoke about the challenge of adapting such a beloved book for the screen. “My main concern,” he said, “What I expressed to (producers Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen), was not so much the preservation of the story as the preservation of the tone, which I thought was going to be really difficult to do. I was worried the tone would get watered down.
“We had a lot of conversations, and then they finally said, ‘We met with (Michael) Weber and (Scott) Neustander and they have an amazing take. We think they’re right.’ They said, ‘Read this script for the movie ‘The Spectacular Now.’ ‘ So I read it and I was like ‘Yes, these guys.’
“They captured something that was really essential, tonally, which was much more interesting to me than capturing the story.”
Green, who is in his late 30s, responded to the question on how he writes in the voice of teenagers. “I read a lot of YouTube comments, Twitter posts, Tumblr posts that are written by teenagers, obviously, just in the course of my work,” he explained. “But the main thing for me is that the emotional truths are there. I don’t think kids care if you capture slang properly. I think generally, when you try to capture slang properly it’s an epic failure. I just try to write with emotional authenticity and trust they’ll forgive me whatever mistakes I make.”
Twenty-two year old Shailene Woodley said, of her process for portraying sixteen year old Hazel, “All of me has to be in a role. I am never playing a character or I am lying. (I was) fully Shailene within the rules and restrictions of what Hazel’s world creates.”
Asked how he grew to identify with his character, Nat Wolff said, “I actually, originally, auditioned for the role of Gus. They offered me the part of Isaac. I guess they just thought I looked blind (laughs).”
He prepared to play Isaac by wearing blinding contacts. “On set, I wore (them) when I was supposed to be totally blind. When I was supposed to have one eye, I wore one…which just took my balance off. I thought it was going to be harder to act with the blinding contacts. It actually made me really free because I couldn’t see the camera or crew or anything. There wasn’t that element of shaking out the rest of the world.”
Green spent several years serving as a lay chaplain in children’s hospital. He said this experience laid the groundwork for “The Fault in Our Stars.” He came to know the “sick kids” as real people, and his aim for the film was to express that realness to his audience. He does this through the primary story as well as through the characters’ discussions about a fictitious work, “An Imperial Affliction.”
Protagonist Hazel Grace reads and rereads the novel, “An Imperial Affliction,” obsessively. A key plot element, the book tells of a young girl dying of cancer. Its reclusive author (played by Willem Dafoe) notably ends the book midsentence. This drives Hazel to contact him and to seek answers to her lingering questions.
When asked if he considered ending “The Fault in Our Stars” midsentence, Green said, “I thought it would be very clever. And I like to be very clever. But in the end I agreed… that it violates the contract between writer and reader. You have to end a book somewhere or else every book would end with the extinction of the human species. So I chose to end the book where I could. But I tried to give enough of an ending that it wouldn’t violate that contract between us.”
He later continued on the subject of “An Imperial Affliction.”
“The only parts of ‘An Imperial Affliction’ I ever wrote are the parts that appear and the book and the parts that appear in the movie. In the movie, Hazel is reading (the book), so I wrote three or four pages. It’s just four pages repeated for 700 pages. It’s really meta (laughs). I wanted ‘An Imperial Affliction’ to be an imaginary book. I think there’s a perfection to books that don’t exist that can’t happen for books that do exist. I liked that idea. I liked it thematically, but I also just didn’t feel like I could write it.
“In ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ one of the very few things that we do know about it is that it’s very concerned with identity and authenticity in the relationship between the perceived self and real self, which I think is interesting for people living with cancer. A lot of times they are perceived one-dimensionally. They’re perceived as kind of less than fully human in some ways because they’re thought of as these mere tragedies, or people who can’t have sexual desire, or can’t have full rich love in their lives or whatever… A lot of the time when we think about people with serious illness, we think of the popular representation of them… You confuse those representations of people living with disabilities with the reality that people living with disabilities experience.”
Nat Wolff added, “We all cared about the characters and wanted to do justice to them, not only to their illnesses but just to the characters.”
John continued, “(The characters) have the flaws that people have. The idea that illness and disability is a flaw is a really common trope in pop culture stories about serious disability.”
Nat said, “If you treat (disability) as a flaw, then the movie’s gonna be like, ‘O, the wise sick kids sit in their beds and spout wisdom to the healthy kids.’ ”
“And the healthy kids learn important lessons,” John interjects with rolling eyes.
Nat concluded, “Whereas in (‘The Fault in Our Stars’), it’s funnier and more painful that they’re so real, that they’re angry and funny.”
“Not that a movie should be a message, but I do think (‘Fault’ has) a good message,” Wolff said. “You don’t have to live your life to be remembered, just live your life… We are involved in something so much bigger than our careers, so much bigger than this movie, and so much bigger than…”
“Us,” Woodley completed the thought.
(This article was contributed to OGO by Kelly and Lily Wofford.)