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INTERVIEW: What The Giver author Lois Lowry really thought about Meryl Streep as Chief Elder

Perhaps you or child read this award-winning book in school. Well, you’ll be delighted to know its accomplished author gives her seal of approval on the film that took almost two decades to get made. Lois Lowry sat down with SheKnows to tell us about the very long process.

The Giver

Photo credit: The Weinstein Co.

We asked Lowry if she had any concerns about letting the Hollywood machine adapt The Giver into a feature film.

“A couple of my other books were made into movies long ago, but this particular book was optioned 18 years ago and was in the hands of Jeff Bridges all that time.”

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Lowry claims to have always been a big fan of Bridges, but back then it wasn’t Jeff who was going to play the Giver — it was his dad, Lloyd Bridges.

“Jeff wanted his father to star in the movie as the old man, but as time went on, eventually his father died. But, of course, Jeff was getting older too and he was able to play the role and does it beautifully.”

As Lowry met the producers, she said she had good feelings about them.

“There was nothing sleazy, nothing to worry about. The thing that was most impressive was that they all valued the book. Even though a movie is a different thing from a book and some changes would have to be made, they were all devoted to the book and maintaining what the book was trying to say. And I think they did that successfully.”

With all the page-to-screen changes, we wanted to know what surprised the two-time Newbery Medal winner the most when she watched the movie.

“This is an odd thing to surprise me because I wrote the baby in [the book], but watching the movie, the baby steals every scene he’s in. Of course they use twin babies, as they do making films. When I watched the film for the first time, I gasped when I saw one particular scene which shows that baby. That was a lovely surprise.”

The Giver

One big change made for the movie was making the young characters — Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) — a little bit older.

“In the book, they’re 12 years old, but in the movie they’re about 16. When I was told they were doing that, I did beg them to please not turn it into a romance and they haven’t. But there is a very sweet element of the relationship between the boy and his friend Fiona, which would not have been there if they were 12. It’s more of a wistful thing about what might have been.

“But, of course, given the plot of the book, which the movie adheres to, they are going to be separated at the end when the boy leaves. So you know that it’s not going to be a romance, but it does add an element of sweetness to the movie that’s very appealing.”

Lowry also thinks the filmmakers were wise to cast Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges to attract an older audience, not just young adults.

“Older people will come to see them, and not be worried whether it’s a film for young people or not. Meryl’s performance is chilling.”

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The Giver

Of course, any writer would be thrilled to have Streep play one of their characters on stage or screen, so we asked the author what it was like to see a relatively small character in the book expand for the film.

“The Chief Elder in the book is a female, but she’s a very bland role. But in the movie she’s Meryl Streep and she has a definite personality and there’s a little more conflict between her and Jeff Bridges than there is in the book and I think that’s appropriate and handled very well. He is the spiritual leader in the community and she is the political leader and both are very dynamic.”

Lowry was a trailblazer, having written this dystopian novel way back in 1993. We asked her why scary, futuristic societies are so appealing to young people.

“Young people are growing up in a world with so much uncertainty in it and there’s so much out there to be worried about. When I was a kid in the Eisenhower years, I never thought about the future, I assumed it would all be as pleasant as it was then.

“Kids today are more sophisticated than I was and they have access to media. I didn’t have a television growing up. I think they have cause to be concerned and to try to sort out what their role is going to be in the shaping of the future. That’s why they’re drawn to this sort of speculative fiction.”

The Giver opens in theaters August 15.

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