Q & A with Brian Percival (director), Markus Zusak (writer), Geoffrey Rush (actor), and Sophie Nelisse (actor) of “The Book Thief”
Dallas, Texas, November 5, 2013
Question: What was your greatest challenge in this production?
Answer (Brian Percival): The casting decision of finding just the right choice for Liesel. We saw literally over 1,000 girls, and began to despair of finding exactly who we wanted, and then we saw her audition, and we knew right away.
A (Geoffrey Rush): At first, to be honest, I was reluctant agreeing to work with a child; that’s the cliché, right? But when I got a look at how she responded in front of the camera, just so natural and free-flowing, I had to admit that this is a girl who can act. But more than that, she put everyone else at ease.
A (Markus Zusak): I had the easy part. I didn’t have to worry about scheduling or casting. When you’re the writer, you can make the characters do anything you want, right? And you can summon them at your will, you know? Plus, I had the privilege of being able to pursue all the little subplots and nooks and crannies because I had 500 pages to do that.
But I will say that I am very pleased with how the adaptation turned out.
A (Sophie Nelisse): Kissing the boy. Nico (who played Rudy) and I are friends, and we’d just hang out together, you know? We’re like brother and sister, so the idea of kissing him was very difficult. All during the rest of the shoot, we talked all the time, but that day, when we knew we had to shoot that scene, we hardly said two words to each other.
Q: What about those German accents?
A (Brian Percival): I made the decision to go for that because I wanted to make the impression that this was just a small town in Germany where everyday people lived, but since Geoffrey’s from Australia and Emily (Watson, who played Liesel’s Mom) was from England and Sophie from Canada, we felt we had to come up with some common ground among them, and I think it really worked.
A (Geoffrey Rush): I’m not particularly good with accents, but we had a great dialogue coach, the same one who taught Renee Zellwegger to talk like a Londoner (in “Bridget Jones’s Diary”), and she stayed with us on the set, which also was a great help.
A (Sophie Nelisse): Once they taught us how to say certain things, it wasn’t so bad, but my problem was that between scenes I kept having to go do homework, in French – that’s my first language, you know – and then switch back.
Q: What do you want us to take away from this movie?
A (Brian Percival): That this could happen anywhere. What I liked about the book was how it saw this whole horrible thing from the perspective of a little girl, an orphan girl who’d been abandoned, and she was able to find a refuge in this little home where the husband is a house painter and the wife takes in laundry, and she’s glad to even have a school to go to, because up to know she’d been illiterate. As she finally learns to read and write, she becomes fascinated with words, and the stuff going on around her is just how things are. And she doesn’t know enough to be alarmed by the Nazi flags. And she doesn’t understand when villagers are taken away. Here’s some ordinary people who bought into a mindset, and that’s a dangerous thing that can happen anywhere.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.