The Anglo-Saxon and The Mediterranean talk about their collaborative effort on this emotional work.
In 2011 Patrick Ness wrote a dark and touching children’s book. Five years later the film adaptation of A Monster Calls is on the verge of release. Spanish director J.A. Bayona has been tasked with bringing Ness’s vision to the big screen. The end result is a visually striking film that hits quite the chord when all is said and done. The Knockturnal spoke to both the writer and director at an interview roundtable during the film’s premiere week in NYC.
Q: What was the process of putting it together on your end?
Patrick Ness: there was this really wonderful English writer called Siobhan Dowd from an Irish family. And she wrote four novels for teenagers. she wrote them all when she had terminal cancer. And this Monster Calls or her version of Monster Calls was intended to be her fifth book, which she was quite excited about, but she died before she could really begin. And we shared an editor at the time and the editor brought me the materials and said, would you consider turning this into a book? And I was reluctant at first because I worry that, uh… you can’t write a memorial. You know, you can’t write a eulogy.It’s gotta be a story, because that’s what she would have done.
Q: The material is so kind of heavy. Who do you picture as like the ideal audience for this?
PN:It’s only adults who think it’s heavy. Kids respond to it very, very differently. They respond to it and they see themselves in Conor. They see themselves in a story where their concerns are taken seriously and their emotions are taken seriously. And they’re the ones who drive the story, drive the action. That’s who I think about when I write for young people. I think of the teenager I was and the things that I wasn’t getting, because I felt like I was being lied to a lot. That I was being presented aworld as it should be rather than a world as it was. And the balance and why it’;s always between is and should be. You know, you’ve gotta have both in there.
Q: I believe the film is less about grief and more about guilt. Can you speak to that?
PN: I would put it in slightly different terms. I think it’s definitely about guilt, but the way that I see that is that I see it as not so much about loss, but about fear of loss. And the things that fear of loss does to you. And fear of lossdrives him to the point where he just wants it to finish.And the guilt there is enormous. And, you know, withguilt comes anger. And the angry part of grief was really interesting to me. It felt slightly different than the way the story is normally told. And so that to me I think is the
universal thing because we all know what fear of loss islike. We all know what it’s like to be afraid that you’re gonna lose your most beloved thing.
Q: The film really resonated with me as a parent in such a profound way. But also as a survivor. Was that your intention for those like the bullying and the cancer stories to really connect with the audience?
PN: I really wanted to get past what I call sort of the pretty crying, you know, the-the picturesque tear on the cheek,you know. I wanted it to be ugly crying. And to just try to get to the power of it. And if I didn’t feel emotional about it, I figured I was doing it wrong. There’s only one hug in the book and it’s a comedy hug. Nobody says I love you in the book. It’s a book filled with love I hope, but nobody says it, because I didn’t want any easy fall backs. And so for the film that’s we talked about that a lot, about how tomake that accurate. You know, there’s a few more hugs in it, but, you know, Bayona’s Spanish. Whenever we do Spanish language interviews, I always have a translator in my ear and healways calls me the Anglo Saxon. And he calls himself the Mediterranean. That’s why we get along.
Q: What did you learn as the Mediterranean?
J.A. Bayona: When I was working with the actors, I always ask them the Latin take. Let’s go for thee Latin take. So let it go, don’t be shy. Show me your emotions. And it was veryinteresting. When I direct actors, Ialways need to get the very wide range of what the scene is about, you know. So I used to joke with that Latin take all the time.
Q: What is the process of working with a kid and getting that right scene where they’re either crying or they’re laughing or feeling the Latin take?
JAB: I treat them entirely the same as the other actors. Even the youngest actors, I always treat them with a lot of respect. Like they are actors. They’re working in the film. They wake up at the same time the other actors are waking up. So they need to feel that you treat them as the other ones, you know. They need to understand how important what they’re doing is.
Q: Can you talk about creating a cohesive world out of all of these different parts? Like it’s already difficult to direct acting and the motion capture, but then you added on the additional layer of the animated sequences.
JAB: You know, it’s such a rich but unique puzzle with so many different pieces. That finding the right architecture was pretty challenging. We were going from scenes very intimate with the Mother and the kid and to spectacular animations with fairy tale characters. And then we had the motion capture or the visual effects. It was quite difficult to find the tone.
Q: Can you also tell us a little bit about, uh, making the death and dying so authentic?
JAB: Yeah, I-I remember talking with a lot of people about the process of going through the experience of having a person that you love sick, and I remember there was a friend of mine, an illustrator, that his Mother died from cancer. And he told me that he was 30 at the moment. He was quite a grownup at that moment. And he was absolutely mad about his Mother’s sickness and he was blaming her for leaving him alone. And being 30 years old and blaming your Mother for leaving you alone is such a selfish emotion. You know, it’s so unpredictable but so true. So I think, I think that’s what makes the whole thing so human, the contradiction.
A Monster Calls gets its American release on December 23rd.