By David Canfield
September 09, 2019 at 09:13 AM EDT
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Donna Tartt‘s epic 2013 novel The Goldfinch is one of the more seminal works of American literature from this decade. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it’s also still incredibly popular: Just last week, it reclaimed its spot at the very top of the New York Times best-seller list. The book runs nearly 800 pages, though, which could present some challenges for adaptation.

Fortunately, the film‘s team really took to the book and used its rich descriptions and characterizations to inform their performances. Cast members including Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, and breakout Oakes Fegley (who plays the young version of protagonist Theo) stopped by EW and PEOPLE’s TIFF video suite to chat about their love for the book and what they gained from it.

“I read it right when it came out,” says Willa Fitzgerald, who plays Kitsey Barbour, love interest to Ansel Elgort’s adult Theo in the film’s later timeline. “It was my first book that I took on the subway with me religiously when I moved to New York. So it has a very special place in my past. I just loved it. I remember hearing that it was going to be made into a movie and kind of just hoping and wishing I would maybe have a shot.”

Warner Bros. Pictures

Paulson, who takes on the rather spiky roll of Xandra, went into the project with similar passion: “I love the book desperately and had read it very early on, after it had been released, and was completely possessed by it and obsessed with it. I was interested in playing a character who was as desperate as they come — because I can relate. [Laughs]”

But not everyone was so familiar with the page-turning story of a boy who spends his life reeling from unimaginable loss. Fegley tells EW that he hadn’t encountered it but, as he started preparing to play Theo, found great inspiration in Tartt’s “incredibly descriptive” language for the character.

For director John Crowley (Brooklyn), there goal is that the film translates no matter whether you’ve read the book or not. For fans, though, he hopes they see what went into the adaptation. “For those who’ve read the book, they can relish the way in which we’ve brought the book to life, and for those who don’t know the book, I want them to be able to experience the film completely as a piece on completely on its own terms,” he explains. “You don’t need to have read the book to enjoy it, hopefully.”

Watch the cast discuss The Goldfinch above. And below, see a bonus clip of Fegley discussing being “nervous” about working with Nicole Kidman, and what it was like playing a younger version of Ansel Elgort.

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