Nicola Yoon what it's like watching her YA adaptation on the big screen

By Isabella Biedenharn
May 20, 2017 at 09:00 AM EDT

In the new film Everything, Everything, adapted from Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, 18-year-old Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) is allergic to, well, everything — and the illness has kept Maddy inside for her entire life. But when she sparks a connection with Olly (Nick Robinson), the intriguing boy who moves in next door, their love story drives Maddy to take increasingly dangerous risks.

Yoon sat down with EW to talk about seeing her book come alive onscreen, why her family’s cameo in the film kept going awry, and the challenges of working on a second novel when your first one is a huge success.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s go way back to the beginning of Everything, Everything. Where did the initial spark for the book come from?
NICOLA YOON: It was inspired by me being a new mom. I started writing the book when my daughter was 4 months old, and I was a totally nervous mom. I was the mom who thought she would catch a cold and eat dirt and somehow crawl out of my house. And I wondered what life would be like for a mom who had to take care of an 18-year-old the same way you take care of an infant. What if this was always going to be the same? And then I switched to thinking about it from the girl’s perspective: If you had been stuck in your house your whole life because you were sick.

Tell me about the moment you found out they were interested in making this into a film.
It got optioned right before the book came out — the book had sold at auction, so there was some movie interest. But a lot of books get optioned, and so I was like, “Okay, that’s really awesome,” but I didn’t actually believe it was getting made until my agent sent me the call sheet. I saw names and locations, and I was like, “Oh, they’ve hired people, and money is being spent. So this thing is actually going to get made.”

Was it already cast at that point?
Yes. By the time I got the call sheet it was cast. But when it was optioned — or maybe very soon after it was optioned, Amandla [Stenberg] was attached and the director [Stella Meghie] was attached.

What was your role in the adaptation process?
MGM has been really really nice and gracious, so I got to give notes on the script. But the lucky part for me was I met Stella Meghie, and we just hit it off really well. We spent a lot of time talking about it, and her vision for the movie was to try to capture the spirit of the book. She had such a specific and wonderful vision, and we just had a Vulcan Mind Meld.

What exactly was her vision? What did she bring to it that you didn’t expect?
She had these ideas for the color palettes, and she had brilliant ideas for how to translate the non-traditional parts of the book. That was the thing I worried about the most — because there are text messages in the book, and drawings, and there’s a recipe in there. It’s sort of quirky, and I didn’t know how she would pull off making that quirkiness transition from the book to the movie. But she really did. She did these flights of fancy with Maddy’s imagination, and she really figured it out.

I didn’t know how they were going to do the text messages onscreen. Maddy and Olly communicate so much by email and text, and on a screen that would be so boring.
Yes, and I really worried about that, but she made it feel dynamic and kept the chemistry. The actors have such great chemistry, it would have been a shame to keep them apart for that long. She just made it feel really whimsical.

Tell me about your experience on set. Which parts did you see filmed?
I got to see a couple parts. My favorite probably is when we got to do a cameo for the in the movie. So my husband and my little girl and I are in it for two seconds. We’re on the beach in Hawaii. So Nick [Robinson] and Amandla are sort of frolicking in the waves and we are a family on the beach. We go by very quick.

Oh, I need to see it again!
We’re like splashing in the waves. It took 45 minutes to film a two-second scene because my little kid would not stop pointing at the camera on the drone as it flew by. She just kept pointing at it and they’re like, “Cut! Reset! Don’t point at the camera!”

Did Amandla or Nick ask you for any backstory or creative input about their characters?
No, they got it. They just read the book and they were totally [fine]. They have such good chemistry, but I think what Amandla brings to it is that she’s got a kind of innocence, but she’s really smart, too, which Maddy is. She’s sort of innocent, but brave and curious. And Nick has got this whole charming, sort of self-deprecating thing going on which really fits with Olly. So yeah, they didn’t need me!

What surprised you most about seeing the final product on screen? You were saying earlier that you’ve seen it three times now.
I especially remember reading the script, and there was one scene that was added that I wish I had thought of myself. Reading the script, I was like, “Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that when I was writing the book?” Which is a nice realization to have! And there’s a moment at which I sort of separated and realized there was a new piece of art that had been made from my thing. Now there are two stories about Maddy and Olly. I think that’s what surprised me the most: enjoying watching someone else’s work that was based on my work.

When I saw it, the thing that stuck out to me the most was the music. In the beginning, when Maddy is stuck in the house, it’s quieter and softer, and when she goes outside, the music gets richer and bigger.
Right! And then the camera, too: In the beginning, the camera’s very steady and stuff, but by the time they get to Hawaii it’s like on a drone or a crane and sort of flying around. And that’s on purpose. Stella and those guys are geniuses.

At what point did you start writing your second book, The Sun is Also a Star?
Everything, Everything had come out, and I was already halfway through that one. I finished it at the beginning of the Everything, Everything tour.

What’s it like working on another book when there’s all this stuff going on with your very successful first book?
The second book is kind of hard anyway. But I think the thing that’s interesting about writing a book when your first book is successful… it’s not even that it’s successful, it’s just that it’s out, so you know what everyone’s opinion is on stuff. You know the good and the bad, and I don’t necessarily think either thing is good for you. Because of your temptation, then, is to sort of go with the thing [people like]. If someone really likes a passage, it’s like, “Oh, maybe I should write like that more.” Or if they really hate it, it’s like, “Oh, maybe I should avoid it.” So it took a little while for me to turn down all the external voices that were so new and coming into my head, and just write the book that I wanted.

Did anything you heard help you at all, or did you really just have to put your blinders on?
I went on Goodreads at the very beginning, and that was just a colossal mistake, because there was this review that was like, all in GIFs, and the person hated the book. Like, with a passionate intensity. I read it and it really sort of knocked me over for a couple days. My husband sat me down and told me that I was not allowed to read these things because my mojo was the only thing I had, and I was gonna smash it by doing that. So then I stopped reading them. He was totally right. You have to be able to make the art you want to make.

A lot of people I’ve talked to say they love The Sun is Also a Star even more than Everything, Everything. What is it like to hear that as an author? You obviously want your work to keep getting better and better…
I mean, I think it’s wonderful! I’m used to hearing both the negative and positive. The trick is not to repeat yourself, right? Otherwise, I’m not growing as an artist, and no one wants to see the same book again. I’m working on book three, and it’s wildly different from either of those two.

Everything, Everything is out now