Following their successful collaboration on the Academy Award nominated Bridge of Spies, director Steven Spielberg and actor Mark Rylance (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the movie) reunite for Disney’s The BFG, the screen version of Roald Dahl’s best-selling children’s novel of the same name.
The movie tells the story of 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who encounters a giant (Mark Rylance) known as BFG, Big Friendly Giant, who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.
The BFG opens next Friday, July 1st 2016, for the holiday weekend.
This is a story that in some ways is Spielberg-y, with a child meeting a being. What made this variation, with The BFG, appealing to you, to come back to that kind of story?
Spielberg: What really appealed to me was the fact that the protagonist was a girl, not a boy. And it was a very strong girl. And the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point, to believe that a four feet tall (girl) can completely outrank 25 feet of giant.
I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story, and her courage, and her values, was going to turn the cowardly lion into the brave hero at the end, which is what she turns BFG into.
I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, “Oh, here’s a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion – just the two of them.”
Mark, the first time you saw your character on screen you must have felt like you were hallucinating.
Rylance: Yeah, a little bit. I never watch rushes, but normally as an actor, you see yourself in the mirror before you go on set. But I had no idea what this would look like. I thought a lot about whether I should ask Steven to be involved in the input. But I thought, ‘Well, he’ll know what’s right.’
But it wasn’t as uncomfortable as seeing myself normally on film, which I usually just can’t bear. This was different enough that it was a little more distanced, and actually it was more comfortable watching it.
Steven, what is the challenge to balance the advances of technology and the humanity of the storytelling?
Spielberg: The whole nature of my approach to The BFG was to be able to do both; to be able to use technology to advance the heart, and create a flawless transposition between the genius of Mark Rylance, to the genius of Weta, as they were able to digitally translate Mark’s soul onto film in the character of the BFG.
I knew Mark was gonna really knock this out of the ballpark, but I didn’t want the ball to land at the end of a motion capture volume. I wanted the ball to land in the lap of the audience. And I think Weta spent more careful attention to how to preserve what Mark had given us on the day.
Their artists did an amazing job translating Mark accurately. There’s about 95% of what Mark gave me on the screen now. And that’s because technology today allowed us to do it. Five years ago, we could not have made BFG this way – the technology wasn’t there for it.
Do you ever think about Jaws and just go, ‘Oh, my God.’ Do you think about what you could have done with that shark?
Spielberg: I think if I had digital artists the way we have them today, in 1975, ’74 – I probably would have ruined the movie, because you would have seen nine times the amount of shark. And I think what makes the movie is the dearth of shark.
Mark, what was shooting the scenes like with Ruby like for you?
Rylance: I was wearing a funny suit with silver nipples and sliver ping pong balls all over the place, and I’m in a volume. I’m existing in a computer. There were hundreds of cameras.
I’d have a doll on the table, which would be Sophie. And then Ruby would be kneeling behind the table, so I could actually have eye contact with her. If (her character) tried to run away, Steven would be have a tennis ball on a stick, and I’d follow that.
Steven, what was your favorite scene to shoot?
Spielberg: I think my favorite part of the filming was when BFG and Sophie were chasing dreams in Dream Country; they were catching dreams. And BFG says to Sophie, ‘Use your titchy little figglers. Go on.’ And so she just starts chasing dreams.
That was a fun four or five days, that whole sequence, chasing dreams and talking about dreams — that was my favorite part.
Mark, is there a favorite dream that you’ve had?
Rylance: Dreams are so fascinating. But other people’s eyes go a little bit hazy when you tell them your own dreams. But they’re so special.
I don’t know that I have a favorite dream. I think of dreams differently than ambitions – ambitions to be a working actor, which was my ambition, and I suppose, to be an admired actor, maybe would be a nice thing. But that’s different than dreams. Dreams are more like our blood, or our nervous system, aren’t they? They’re a way of helping us to keep alive. They’re a very profound, weird thing.
What did you learn making this film?
Spielberg: I just learned something that I guess I’ve known before, especially working with child actors. It has to be fun.
All the movies I’ve made about history, it’s not really fun because you’re trying to get it right, and you’ve got history telling you how it was; and then your imagination, my imagination, it’s telling me how I wished it had been, but I can’t go there.
So I have to kind of censor myself. And I’m very good about stopping myself from creating history that never occurred. So it’s frustrating.
So this movie for me was a tremendous release, where all I needed was my imagination, and my respect for Roald Dahl’s writing, to be able to say, ‘This is going to be the most (fun) I’ve had in a long time.’ And it was.