Thank you to Disney for sponsoring my attendance at the #TheBFGEvent!
Like most people, I have a bucket list. And meeting certain people is on that bucket list. And last week, well…the bucket list get totally destroyed by a Big Friendly Giant and the director who brought him to the big screen. From the moment the invite for #TheBFGEvent landed in my inbox, I was hoping that we’d get the chance to interview Steven Spielberg. But, I mean…come on…Steven Spielberg? Who gets the chance to do that?
Well, we did. Luckily, there’s photographic evidence or I might not actually believe it happened. And that thing where people say you shouldn’t meet your heroes or you’ll be disappointed? Trust me, you’re OK meeting Steven Spielberg. And Ruby Barnhill? She’s adorable. And charming. And, well…this was pretty much the perfect interview.
To set the stage, a few Spielberg-inspired toys were on the table in front of him when he entered. And The BFG toy immediately fell over.
Steven Spielberg: When you drink too much Frobscottle-that’s what happens.
So how did they find Ruby for the part of Sophie?
Steven: Well, I kinda believe in fate and I really believe that they save the best to last, because we were casting eight months and had not found Sophie after eight months of casting. I believe that Nina Gold saw maybe a couple thousand of qualified young people, both unknowns and working young actresses. And I was not giving up hope that I would find her, but I was starting to look at my third and fourth and fifth choices to accommodate people I had seen who I had liked but hadn’t reached my heart yet. And I was about to compromise when all the sudden I saw the audition that Ruby Barnhill and her parents had sent in to Nina Gold. And my whole life changed for the better in that instant. Everything was okay with the world at that point. And I was so excited. And I was shooting Bridge of Spies, but I didn’t care at that moment about Bridge of Spies. I didn’t care that Tom Hanks saw me so excited and it wasn’t about movie he was gonna be in. It was about another movie. I had already cast Mark Rylance. He was already our BFG by that time. And I came running in and I said I found her. I found her. I found her. That’s what happened. And then what’s your story?
Ruby: When I heard that I got part, I was so, so happy, because I literally thought, well, from the look on my mom and dad’s faces, I thought it was gonna be good news. Because they were literally like jumping up and down, they were so excited. And they said, “Ruby, Ruby, here’s the phone for you. Here’s the phone for you.” And I was like, “Okay.” I thought they were just kind of like pretending, like they were trying to trick me or something. I didn’t know what was going on. And so, then Nina Gold said, “Ruby, how old are you?” And I’m like “I’m-”
Steven: You were ten at the time.
Ruby: “I’m ten.” And she said, “Oh, well, that’s a shame.” And I said, “Why is it a shame?” And she said, “Because you’re not gonna be able to drink champagne when everyone’s celebrating, because you got the part.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And I was so happy and all my family-my Nana bought me like 100 balloons and it was so great. I was so, so excited, because I had like worked-well, I’d always wanted to be an actress since…my dad’s an actor. I’d watched plays of his since I was like three or four. And so it was really, really amazing for me to experience that, and my mom and dad were also really, really pleased.
Steven: And I put her dad in the movie, too. Remember the scene where BFG first enters the palace and he’s on his hands and knees, crawling up the hallway and there’s a guy guiding him saying, “Slow ahead, slow ahead. Okay, hard to port. All right, up, up.” That’s her dad, Paul.
What was it like for Ruby to work with Steven Spielberg?
Ruby: It’s so amazing, because I’ve-from working with Steven-I’ve learned so much not only about acting and directing, but also just general thing that are helpful and useful in general life. One of the things that I’ll remember is that I used to be very [perfectionistic] and I kinda still kinda struggle. I had a parent’s evening recently and my art teacher was saying, “Whenever you make a mistake you, you panic. You get worried and you mustn’t feel like that, because everybody makes mistakes and it’s fine.” But Steven really helped me realize that it’s kind of more-it’s okay to kind of make mistakes. And being on set, making mistakes but making it funny, making it like nobody minds it at all and it was just really good. Even if you have to do like 100 takes nobody would mind. And so, yeah, that was one thing I learned and it was amazing. And I had a great time, so it was great.
Steven: I don’t even call ‘em mistakes. I call them happy accidents because sometimes they wind up going into the movie.
How does it feel for Steven to reach a new generation with his films?
Steven: I think of it, in a way, as having a very, very…I have a very large extended family. And I didn’t even understand when I was first starting out making movies about the power that film has. I wasn’t really appreciative or even aware of the outreach of cinema until I was actually older. And it took-I thought Jaws was just a freak of nature that would never happen again. And then when ET suddenly happened and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema outlives the filmmakers. And that was everything, and becomes a part of the extended family of people from all walks of life who speak different languages and believe in different things, ’cause sometimes movies come along that make you see the same thing with the same feeling. And it doesn’t matter what languages we we share or who we are and what our backgrounds are, sometimes a feeling can be communicated all over the world without any signage. And that power that film has is something that I really…it intimidates me and I respect it a lot, but it also scares me, because it’s pretty awesome when that happens.
What was it like to tell the story under the Walt Disney name?
Steven: Well, I had never made a movie under the Walt Disney name as a director before, and it just turned out that way. I don’t know why, because Disney had been in my life for a number of years, releasing some of our DreamWorks films over the last six or seven years. They don’t do it now, but they they did do it. And then the other thing was that Disney had such a profound effect on my childhood, because I was raised in the world of Walt Disney. His movies scared me to death, thrilled me to pieces, and made me laugh and made me cry, and I never cried in a movie before I saw Bambi in a reissue. My parents took me to see Bambi in a reissue. And eight minutes into the movie they kill the mom, and I’m sitting here crying my eyes out. And, and my parents wondered they even took me to see Bambi in a movie theater in its like ninth reissue. But it also redeemed itself, in the time span of the movie, of the story. And that was a powerful, powerful time in my life. And Mickey Mouse Club came on television and I was like an extended Mousketeer. I was like millions of kids who watched TV back in the ‘50s and wanted to be Mousketeers. So, to finally make a movie that has Disney’s name on it…I’m so proud when the film begins and the castle shows up…and my movie (company) follows the castle. And that’s something I’ve been waiting for, in a way, all my life. And through BFG and through Roald Dahl’s genius, I got the chance to do it.
How does Ruby feel about becoming a Disney hero, a princess for a new generation?
Ruby: Wow. I never thought of it that way. That’s quite cool, Disney princess maybe? Well, it’s so exciting, because a lot of Disney films now, which I’m really happy about and I know lots of my friends are happy about, have very like strong female leads. Like Star Wars and Brave and those sort of things, and…
Ruby: Yeah, and Frozen definitely. Definitely Frozen. And so it’s really great to be a part of that and it’s really cool, because I’ve watched Disney my whole life. And it’s also really nice to know that-I was in the cinema and we saw The BFG trailer and all the kids-nobody knew it was me obviously-but all of the kids behind us were like, “Oh, that looks so good. Oh, we’re gonna go see that.” So, it’s really nice to know that people are gonna enjoy it and appreciate it. So, I’m very excited.
Steven: The virtue-Disney really doesn’t get enough credit for in all of its earlier animated feature films-just the virtue of a strong, young, female protagonist was very important to Walt Disney’s films. And you just go back and look from Cinderella to Snow White, from the earlier animated films. And you can even look at Dumbo’s mother, the strong, female role model of the mother in Dumbo, which is just an incredible character. He kinda put that on the map. You know what I’m saying? I think, to a great extent, he did a lot for women and the empowerment of young females both onscreen and off.
What was their favorite part of filming The BFG?
Steven: What was your favorite part of making the movie for you? And then I’ll say what it was for me.
Ruby: I think my favorite part of just making the film was kind of being able to come on set every day and see everyone. And even though at times I’d get a bit tired and things like that, but I think I also liked it, because it was really nice, because I got to act every single day, which I had wanted to do my whole life. And so, that was really, really great. And I also got to be with Steven and Mark every day. And I’d be on set like “Where’s Steven?” waiting for them to come and it…
Steven: We never waited for Ruby. She waited for us. She was always there earlier than any of us.
Ruby: It was always so exciting. You know, it’s just there’s such a magical feeling on set. It was so much fun to be directed by Steven and to work with Mark. And was great. I really enjoyed myself. What was your favorite part?
Steven: I think every time there was a scene where they spoke to each other, and every time there was a scene where they were in conversation with each other, where Sophie’s courage was growing and her empathy for BFG’s problems with his older brothers and the horrible things they were doing all over the world. That Sophie said we must find a way to stop the other giants. Any time they were engaged in any kind of conversation and even disagreement or even semantics about BFG being so ashamed of his use of the Wigglish language. He speaks terrible Wigglish. And Sophie says, “No, I think you speak beautifully.” He says, “Really? That’s the greatest thing anybody’s ever said to me in my entire life.” Any time they were in conversation, all those scenes were my favorite scenes.
Ruby: I’ve realized more about what the actual meaning of the story was, which is, two people who find each other and, BFG gets bullied and Sophie doesn’t have a family and she’s very alone and upset. And so it was really amazing to be a part of that type of story, actually.
Steven: It was a good message.
Why did he choose The BFG?
Steven: Well, I had read it to all my kids. That’s why I chose it, because I was very familiar with it. “I am the first BFG that ever spoke those words I think at least in the world.” Of course, I’m not. Every parent thinks they’re the first to play BFG. It’s really great when the dad reads BFG in BFG’s voice to his daughters. I have four daughters and three sons. And I read it to-certainly all my girls heard me read BFG. So, a few of the boys heard me read it. And, so I bonded with it a long time ago back in the late ‘80s. But then when Melissa Mathison, who had written ET for me, adapted the Roald Dahl book into a script that Kathy Kennedy was gonna produce and they showed me the script, I fell in love with all over again. And that was the first time I saw that it could be a movie then.
What should the audience take away from The BFG?
Steven: I just, I just want people to understand how important it is to both give and receive hugs. And it doesn’t matter how different the person looks or how tall they are or how short they are or what color they are or what language they speak or what their different beliefs are that we all need to hug each other and we have to hug each other more when we’re so different from each other. That’s what I hope people get from this.
Best. Interview. Ever. Stay tuned for full coverage of #TheBFGEvent right here on As The Bunny Hops!
The talents of three of the world’s greatest storytellers – Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg –finally unite to bring Dahl’s beloved classic The BFG to life. Directed by Spielberg, Disney’s The BFG tells the imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.
The BFG opens in U.S. theaters on July 1, 2016, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth.