Jeff Bridges has been trying to make Lois Lowry’s 1993 classic The Giver into a film for nearly 20 years. In that time, his kids became adults, his father Lloyd, who he’d wanted to play the Giver, died, and he got rejection after rejection from everybody in town till Harvey Weinstein came along.
“He said, yeah let’s go man,” laughs Bridges, who took on the role of the Giver and is serving as a producer on the film (out Aug. 15), which recently wrapped its Cape Town shoot. Australian newcomer Brenton Thwaites plays Jonas, a boy living contentedly in a seemingly perfect community of sterilized, controlled “sameness” till he is assigned to receive all the memories of history — sublime and evil alike — from the Giver (pictured above in the Library of Memory — a set specifically constructed for the film on location in an old factory in Cape Town).
“The past is considered to be potentially polluting,” says director Phillip Noyce. “This is a world where complications are eliminated. Jonas himself goes on a journey as he finds out what’s missing. He starts to investigate what’s causing it. And that’s the beauty. That’s what makes the book so popular, it’s an investigation in ways of living.”
A generation has already grown up with the novel, so any new take on the beloved, Newbery-winning book is bound to be scrutinized by adoring fans. That’s why everyone on the film wants to be up front about how they’re choosing to tell the story. “The movie will not be an exact duplication of the book. It’s taking a lot of licenses,” says Bridges. The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep, Bridges’ first choice for the role), for example, takes on a more significant role than in the book.
Also, somewhat controversially, Jonas has been aged to 16-years from the book’s 12. “I originally kind of balked at the idea of making the lead character older,” admits Bridges. Even we were skeptical of the decision. Noyce was more on board, and says that their take is just another interpretation of Lowry’s world. The change also allowed them to heighten the stakes. “In the book, the younger pubescent Jonas has a flirtation with a young girl of his age. That’s almost a love affair in the film,” explains Noyce. Bridges came around too. “We were so lucky to have Thwaites play this role. He does a beautiful job,” he says.
Fans can rest easy knowing that Lowry has worked closely with Bridges and Noyce to ensure her vision is represented — right down to dressing the extras on set. “I was happy to hear from Lois that she wasn’t so concerned about all the facts being the same as in the book,” says Bridges. “The spirit of the story is there.”