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The Fault In Our Stars: Q&A With John Green

John Green dishes on The Fault In Our Stars movie, including the casting process, the script and his biggest fear about the film.

The Fault In Our Stars: Q&A With John Green

I probably don't need to remind you that The Fault In Our Stars movie comes out on June 6th. You've already got it circled (and exclamation-pointed) on your calender, don't you? And you've bought your tickets! And you've stocked up on tissue! And the more people talk about it, the farther away June 6th feels, so I should really just stop driving you crazy by raving about the movie, shouldn't I?

Okay, no problem. I'll just let John Green do it instead!

Before our epic night of egging a car together, John participated in a phone interview about the film with a group of bloggers (including yours truly), and he gave us a candid and thoughtful glimpse into the process of adapting his wonderful novel into a wonderful film.

I know you were nervous to give over the rights to the film because the book was just so personal to you.  What was your biggest fear in doing so?

Well, I think it's really hard to make a movie that's serious or about serious topics without sentimentalizing it.  And so, I guess my fear was that it would become a sentimental story, which is what I most didn't want.  I was trying really hard to write as unsentimental and straightforward a story as I could. I was also worried that the characters would be defined by their disability, instead of having disability be part of their lives but not the defining feature of their lives. But, the people who ended up getting the rights at Fox 2000 and the producers, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, they just promised me that they wouldn't do that.  That was the first thing they said to me when we met, and I believed them.  I took it seriously, and they kept every promise.  They really did.

I was wondering about some of the backlash that the trailer got from people who haven't read the book saying things like Augustus is pretentious or that it's romanticizing illness. What do you think about that?

Well, I mean, Augustus is pretentious in the beginning of the book.  In fact, like, several characters--I mean, I think Hazel calls him pretentious at one point.  Isaac calls him a self-aggrandizing bastard.  The other characters are aware of Gus being sort of pretentious and performative. The journey that Gus has to make is a journey from strength to weakness.  I think the heroic journey that we're accustomed to is from weakness to strength.  But, Gus has to go from being this sort of performed, over the top character to being authentically himself. And that means being vulnerable and that means being scared.  And that's heroic, more heroic than his sort of swagger and pretentiousness toward the beginning of the story.  I think that you see that in the movie.  By definition, it's difficult to see that in a trailer. The like to dislike ratio on the trailer on YouTube made me very, very happy, and I continue to think the people who made the trailer did a great job.  But, obviously you can't chart the whole story in the trailer or there would be no reason to see the movie.

Where there any passages that you were adamant about staying in for the movie?

No.  I was so lucky.  Mike Weber and Scott Neustadter, who wrote the script, have such a deep love for the book.  They were really passionate about the book.  They wanted to preserve not just the tone and themes of the book but as much of the actual words of the book as possible, and I think they did an amazing job. Almost every line of dialogue is from the book.  If anything, I was like, "Guys, don't feel so married to the book."  But, they were.  They were also very conscious of what lines were important to readers, thanks to the gifts of Tumblr and Twitter and everything else.  They saw what people were responding to, making art about, and it was important to them to keep it in. There were a lot of lines I wanted to preserve if we could make them sound movie-ish and, you know, normal.  But I think they did an amazing job.  I think everything that fans want to hear they're going to hear.

Was there anything in the book, like a character or a scene, that the film adaptation made you see in a different light? 

When I was writing the book, I saw the world through Hazel's eyes.  I didn't imagine the world through Gus's eyes or the world through Hazel's parents' eyes as much.  I mean, I guess I connected a lot to Hazel's dad, so maybe there was some empathy there.  But, I was trying to stay narrowly in Hazel's mind and seeing the world as Hazel would see it. And so, seeing the movie, I thought very differently about Augustus and about Hazel's parents, and even about Van Houten.  Each of those actors brings to their performance a realness, a sense that they are the center of their own story, just as anyone is. 

It helped me to think differently and I guess more broadly about Gus, the challenges that he's been through before the story begins, how that's given him confidence but how also that confidence is real and it's earned because he has integrated this disability into his life.  But, it's also a way of protecting himself.  It's also a way of protecting himself against the things that are harder for him now, or the way that his life has been changed, physically and emotionally by his disability.

How involved were you in the casting process?  And did you envision anyone playing these roles when you were writing the book at all?  Did you see it as a film?

I couldn't imagine a world in which this movie would get made.  I never--it's not something I think about when I write, really, to be honest with you.  I mean, they never made a movie out of any of my other books, so I certainly didn't think they've make a movie out of this one. I don't really see--this sounds weird and I don't know how to explain it, 'cause I think most of my friends do see specific faces.  I'm really bad at looking at faces and understanding faces, I think.  So, I don't really see faces that clearly when I'm writing. 

Almost immediately, even when she was auditioning, Shailene became Hazel for me.  Hazel just looked like Shailene and talked like Shailene talks as Hazel.  In terms of casting, I had a voice.  You know, I'm not a casting director.  I didn't direct the movie, so it wasn't my decision, certainly. But, I definitely got to share my opinion, and I was lucky that, in the end, the cast that I dreamt of is the cast that we got.  I think Gus was the hardest role to cast for.  When Ansel was with Shailene, he just became Augustus to me.

At what point during The Fault in Our Stars did you allow yourself to think, "This might really happen. This is going to really happen" because I know you'd been through this with some of your other books.  Was there a point at which it just felt different and you really knew that it was going to all come together? 

When they hired Josh to direct it, people said to me, "They don't hire a director unless they're going to make the movie." But I still--I didn't believe that, because people in Hollywood say a lot of things.  To be honest with you, I flew out to Pittsburgh thinking that they might pull the plug at the last second.I remember asking the producer of the movie, "What is technically the commencement of principal photography," because that's when it gets very, very, very expensive not to make the movie. And he was like, "We're going to make the movie.  It starts filming tomorrow."  And I was like, "But, this is not technically the commencement of principal photography?"  And he was like, "No, that's tomorrow."  And I was like, "Well, we'll see." 

So, I mean, I did not let myself believe that it was going to happen until I was on set that morning, that first morning.  I saw Hazel and her parents walk out of their house together and the cameras were rolling, and then I knew.  And that was a great. It was a very special moment.  It was almost like they designed that whole first day to be metaphorically resonant for me, to have them walking out of this house that looked so much like the Hazel's house of my imagination and these people who looked so much like I'd dreamt of.  It was like having a hallucination but that happens two or three years after you think the thing.  It was very, very weird.

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Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).