Brenton Thwaites, who played Prince Charming in “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie earlier this year, now will be seen as the lead actor in “The Giver” (opening Friday) — this time playing opposite a couple of other Academy Award winners: Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges.
In the film, based on Lois Lowry’s best-selling YA/sci-fi novel, the young Australian native portrays Jonas — tapped by his seemingly “perfect” community to be his generation’s Receiver of Memory. Bridges plays the title role in “The Giver,” acting as Jonas’ mentor and conduit of historical knowledge — both good and bad. Streep is this society’s Chief Elder in a literally colorless world that has been totally programmed to eliminate all kinds of unpleasantness — but has also removed vibrancy, individuality and creativity.
Thwaites was in chicago recently (along with his co-star Odeya Rush) to talk about the film.
Q: What was it like to meet and work with Meryl Streep? This is certainly a different kind of role for her isn’t it?
A: Yes. But of course, she really never does the same thing twice. A good thing to think about as we choose films to do going forward. But what I’ll remember most about Meryl was how awesome she is as a person. She could end a scene and then immediately break character and come over and talk to us and be so nurturing. And even while working, she’s so down-to-earth. She’d laugh if she’s messing something up, like blowing a line. She’s very relaxing to work with.
Q: This film is really Jeff Bridges’ “baby,” in the sense he has tried for two decades to get a movie made based on the novel. You had some very intense scenes with him. What was that like?
A: It was really cool. It was such an open environment. The set was so beautifully built in a very theatrical way. I’m talking about the set for The Giver’s quarters — his library. It was almost like a Broadway stage set. It had an old 16th century theater feel.
That had a big impact on me, as we had a lot of our scenes together where it was the giving of the knowledge stuff. That all happened on that set. All the books were real, too. So we could kind of draw on anything at any time, depending on which book I would pick up. Philip [Noyce, the director] was very open to playing around with the script and ad-libbing a bit during rehearsals to feel out the scene to discover what would feel right and natural.
Q: You can’t make a film like this without thinking what it would be like to live in such a controlled and controlling society like that. Your thoughts about that?
A: I think it’s kind of important now to reflect on that, as we see so much corruption in so many countries around the world, plus all the wars and things like that. You think maybe if we took everything bad away, it would be good. But you realize, it’s not going to be, because you realize there would be no point to living, because that’s what makes us human. To have love for people or love for whatever you want to mention is what drives us and keeps us moving. To see the beauty and great things in the world, we have to see the terrible things — just so we know the difference.
Of course for those of us in the world who have had hard lives and upbringings — fortunately I have not — but those who have had really horrible lives and are unfortunate, they would love to be in this community as depicted in “The Giver.” I’m sure of it. They would love to be taken care of, be comfortable and have a small touch of happiness — compared to what they’ve experienced in the real world.
But those of us not like that and have been fortunate to follow our dreams — it’s not for us. So, at the end of the day, I think some people would like it and some people wouldn’t.
Q: What was it like working with your fellow Aussie, the director Philip Noyce?
A: He’s just so passionate about what he does. With this movie, like all movies, time is really never on your side. To have a director like Phil, get the days and be so open to ideas from the actors is really rare. He drove it like a train — straight to the end. We all kind of matched his energy and his passion. Philip Noyce, for some reason, never gets tired and never seems to sleep or backs down. He’s the most energetic old man I think I’ve ever met!
Q: What was your most challenging scene for you to shoot?
A: I’d say it was a series of scenes — the giving of memory scenes I had with Jeff [Bridges]. We were in the same space and at such close quarters, so we had to find visual contrasts in the prior and future scenes. We couldn’t have all the same scenes in the same space. So it was a task for myself, Jeff and Philip and Ross Emery [the cinematographer] to really find out visually what we would do — to make story and sound and picture really work. It was almost like blocking scenes for a theater production, in a way.